The ICG On The Mindanao Conflict

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The ICG is the “International Crisis Group”. According to Wikipedia:

“The ICG is considered the world’s leading leading independent, non-partisan source of analysis and advice to governments and intergovernmental bodies like the United Nations, European Union and World Bank, on the prevention and resolution of deadly conflict. Its primary goals are a unique combination of field-based analysis, sharp-edged policy prescription, and high-level advocacy, with key roles being played by a senior management team highly experienced in government and by a highly active board of Trustees containing many senior diplomats….

“The ICG maintains teams of analysts in 17 field offices worldwide, who are dispatched to areas at risk of outbreak, escalation, or recurrence of conflict.”

The ICG was organized in 1995 and currently it is co-chaired by Chancellor of Oxford University and former European Commissioner for External Affairs Christopher Patten and former US Ambassador to the UN Thomas R. Pickering. Its president and chief executive is Gareth Evans, the former Foreign Minister of Australia. Its international headquarters is in Brussels, Belgium. In 2006, 40% of its funding came from governments, 32% came from philanthrophic organizations and 28% came from individuals and private foundations.

In May 14, 2008, ICG issued its Asia Report No. 152 titled, “The Philippines: Counter-Insurgency vs. Counter-Terrorism in Mindanao”, days before the start of the current AFP-MILF war in Mindanao. Having analyzed the interplay of the GRP/AFP, MILF and MNLF since the ’90s and its different responses to terrorism, part of its report might have bearing on the current war and its possible consequences. I quote (and be chilled by its cutting perspective):

The seizure of the MILF’s principal bases on Jolo [in 2007] recalls the MILF experience from 2000 to 2003. Relatively disciplined and hierarchically accountable guerilla formations have again been dispersed into an anarchic environment where there are many possibilities–and even imperatives–for them to deepen collusion with terrorists.

In counter-insurgency terms, capturing guerilla strongholds may be seen as a victory. But from a counter-terrorism perspective, anything that drives mainstream guerillas and jihadis closer together is a defeat. On Mindanao, the AFP’s occupation of the MILF’s Camp Abubakar, from July 2000, did impede the JI training facilities–though this was not presented as an objective at that time. But smaller groups of freelance foreign jihadis have continued to seek partnerships with militants inside, as well as outside, the MILF and MNLF.

The most dangerous of these liaisons came about as a direct result of Balikatan’s [the joint RP-US military exercises] “success” in Basilan. As described above, driving the ASG core group onto the mainland [because it too “hot” for them in Basilan] had the unintended effect of cementing its alliance with radical MILF commanders….Though the story remains untold in the official account, it holds important lessons…for many situations where terrorists are embedded in popular insurgencies.

Where distinguishing between insurgents and terrorists is possible, encouraging the first to cooperate against the second, rather than collude with them, must be a central pillar of government terrorism programs. Moreover, in the longer term, such cooperation helps build mutual trust necessary for a durable peace agreement. Quiet MILF cooperation against ASG and foreign jihadis continued until shortly after…21 June 2007. An ASG plan to re-infiltrate mainland Mindanao [Note: the report earlier acknowledged the late Chairman Hashim Salamat’s cooperation in the expulsion of the ASG in mainland Mindanao], due to intensifying pressure from Oplan Ultimatum in Jolo, was frustrated in November 2006. Bashir Takasan, an MILF member…from Davao Oriental, where the jihadis had hoped to land, “died in the line of duty preventing their re-entry.

A chilling observation of the conflict, indeed. Does this forecast the long-term defeat of the government’s strategy of “all-out war”?

[This article is a response to my article, “The MILF Has Been Suckered Into War: The Peace Agreement As A Trojan Horse”, 11/19/08]

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