Ansar al-Sharia "Partisan of Sharia" is a relatively new armed force, which controlled towns and Directorates in Abian, Shabwa and Lahj. It has got ambiguous relationship with al-Qaeda in Arabia Peninsula "AQAP" which recently used Yemen as its base. Qaid al-Thahab, the spokesperson of Ansar al-sharia group, which months ago had controlled Rada' town said in a statement to al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, before his slaughter, that, " we are not with al-Qaeda, but we are proud of our relation with them."
This means that the group did not join the international organization of al-Qaeda but they are pursuing the same method and means of the organization and share the same intellectual view point and doctrine of al-Qaeda.
The history of this group shows that it appeared before al-Qaeda, where some of its leaders belong to Aden-Abian Army organization, that used to be chaired by Abo al-Hassan al-Mihdhar, who was sentenced to death in the nineties of last century. It was then led by Khaled Abdulnabi who seemed to have abandon working with them lately.
This issue had been addressed before in another place. However this is not the matter, but the matter is the possibility of holding dialogue with Ansar al-Sharia, within the dialogue that is scheduled to take place in implementation to the requirements of the GCC initiative.
Let's suppose that the relationship of Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen with al-Qaeda is similar to the relationship of Taliban with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Let's say that Ansar al-Sharia is the Taliban of Yemen. Could there be dialogue with them , especially that they are threatening and controlling whole directorates, and became a source of security scare that cannot be ignored?
My personal opinion, which should not necessarily be approved by Ambassador Feierstein is that the Yemeni leadership should hold dialogue with Ansar al-sharia. Hadn't America held dialogue with the Taliban of Afghanistan? Or ,is dialogue only allowed when the Americans are among the victims and is forbidden when the victims are from both Yemeni sides?
Despite the announcements of the Yemeni officials that al-Qaeda (Ansar al-Sharia,) will not be invited to the dialogue conference, however indicators show that dialogue with the group is inevitable.
And we hereby present some facts.
If dialogue is carried out with Ansar al-Sharia, it will not be the first in Yemen. Dialogue had been held with al-Qaeda elements in prisons in the period of 2003- 2005. Some of them came out of prison and many of them left prison and had been persuaded to abandoned their old thoughts, though some of them resumed joining al-Qaeda.
Those who re-joined al-Qaeda have their reasons which are attributed to failure to employ them after their conviction that the course they were leading was incorrect. This means that the failure was not in the dialogue which led to the persuasion, but it was rather in the failure to intake these elements, making them victims of ignorance and procrastination
They are forced to return to al-Qaeda again. Some of the leaderships who returned to the armed activity had done so in ambiguous situations, within al-Qaeda in Yemen "political recruitment game," which is not disclosed yet, and which some of them had been mentioned in some publicized American reports.
The dialogues took place under the observation of the Intellectual Dialogue Committee, chaired by the former Endowment Minister Sheikh Hamoud al-Hittar, who said in an interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, " the problem of the extreme militants is intellectual, and the thought should be faced with thought because the intellectual issues cannot be resolved through force, as force makes them stronger. "
It is true that the dialogues of the committee used to fall under the religious advise policy to those who were in prison, and this may differ from the political dialogue. This kind of dialogue points out to the possibility of the political dialogue.
Despite all that, dialogue had been held with Ansar al-sharia, regarding the field situations in Abian. They came out of Rada' through dialogue with the dignitaries of Rada' and local officials, and following dialogue the Ansar al-Sharia withdrew from Rada' in return to meeting some of them their demands.
Ansar al-Sharia is not a homogeneous ideological organization as it is portrayed by media, who think that the community members are atheists that should be fought. This doesn't mean that the organization doesn't contain groups which think all the society are unbelievers. A great number had joined it for reasons that are not linked to the jihadist ideology.
Many of them were of the armed militia of the Southern Movement, which joined this organization so as to weaken the grip of the army and security in the southern part of Yemen so as to achieve their dream of separation.
There are some who joined them for they were needy. Others joined them for tribal reasons. A few of them who were wanted or hunted abroad had found a safe haven in Yemen.
If we admit that the group is an inhomogeneous mixture that is not based only on the jihadist ideology, then dialogue will work with them, because they include the pragmatists who would be involved in dialogue on political or material basis. They also contain the misguided youth who could be persuaded through intellectual religious dialogue, which had unfortunately stopped after 2005.
It is proved that the security solution is a failure, because everyone who is killed in Ansar al-Sharia contributes to their gaining at least ten sympathizers. This is a great gain to them. We saw how the Houthis in a similar situation had exploited their war with them to gain more of the misled to fight on their side.
Moreover the Ansar al-Sharia had become a great power in some of the regions in the south, that is why it is necessary to hold dialogue with them.
It is true that most of the countries which adopt the war on terror projects consider dialogue with al-Qaeda and the terrorist groups as a red line, however it is also true that the criteria of terror classification are not constant. The Americans had classified Taliban as part of the terrorist evil axel, and we saw how they held dialogue with them.
It is true that Yemen has its own characteristic regarding terror fighting, given the fact that dialogue with al-Qaeda is a sin from the American perspective, however the Yemeni odd situation requires that this dialogue should be held, because the American pressure for military confrontation to al-Qaeda will lead to the same consequences of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ansar al-Shria say that they don't resort to the military option (jihad,) before substantiating evidence against their opponents. This means to them advising people and holding dialogue with them.
Regardless of their reasons in dialogue, it means in principal their readiness for dialogue.
It is not acceptable for the government to hold dialogue with the Houthis who killed thousands of Yemenis, and refuse to hold dialogue with Ansar al-Sharia, who killed less than one thousand Yemenis , taking into account that the killing of one person is like killing all people.
Moreover, holding dialogue with them doesn't mean accepting their demands or the compliance with their project, for dialogue is often held between different visions. It is a sort (substantiating evidences against them ) if we use their own intellectual dictionary, and it will be a way of pulling the rug from under their feet if they refused the decisions of the dialogue.
The proximity of the Islah party, with their Islamic orientation to power in Yemen, put on them a historical responsibility regarding this file, making the dialogue's opportunity more favorable than before.
Are Ansar al-Sharia going to be invited to the national dialogue conference in Sana'a to save the country more bloodshed. I think there are three persons who can answer in Yes or No. They are President Hadi, Abdulwhab al-Anisi, the General Islah Secretary and of course the American Ambassador in Sana'a, who, despite refusing some of his statements, had played a distinctive role in achieving the political agreement in the country.