Dar es Salaam- Tanzania (PANA) -- Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) must engage dissidents among the country's insurgent groups in order to strengt h en its authority and combat al-Qaeda inspired extremists, the International Cris i s Group (ICG) has suggested.
''The government must reach out to elements of Harakat Al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (the Mujahideen Youth Movement) that are disenchanted with the influence of fore i gn jihadis in the group and the al-Qaeda sympathies among its leadership,'' ICG s aid in its latest briefing, titled: 'Somaliaâ?s Divided Islamists'.
In the briefing, the ICG reviewed the religious, ideological and clan rifts that have developed between Somalia's main Islamist factions since the election of S h eikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as leader of the TFG.
It also suggests that many in the Somali nationalist Hizb al-Islam (Islamic Part y) could be more receptive to TFG overtures.
''The mounting internal divisions within the insurgency have given the TFG, the UN and donors many opportunities to reach out to less hard-line elements'', said Crisis Group Horn of Africa analyst Rashid Abdi.
''The best opportunities may ha v e already been wasted, but with the right approach and incentives, some might ac c ept a peaceful settlement.
'' In the Group's view, Somalis have historically accepted many interpretations of Islam, most of them moderate.
But starting in the 1960s and fuelled by the count r y's instability and poverty, as well as cash from Saudi Wahhabist groups, extrem i sts began to gain ground.
Islamists briefly seized power in 2006 but were defeated by invading Ethiopian t roops.
When the Ethiopians withdrew in early 2009, a moderate Islamist coalition took p ower and committed to implementing Sharia (Islamic law).
The jihadis, caught off guard by the move, denounced the regime as a puppet of the West, but cracks have since formed in the Islamist insurgency.
The ICG also observed that Al-Shabaab leadership's disregard for Somali national ism and clan loyalties have put it at odds with Hizb al-Islam's commanders.
As a result, open hostilities have broken out between the two movements.
''To use this division to its advantage,'' the ICG argues, ''Somalia's governmen t needs to both improve its military capabilities and win the hearts and minds o f clan leaders and impressionable young Somalis.
'' The Group said the UN and donor countries also must realise that the failure to reach out to dissident Islamists only empowers the hardliners to continue their r ecruitment and attacks on the feeble government.
''If the foreign jihadis fend off their local challengers, Al-Shabaab's rapid tr ansformation into a wholly al-Qaeda franchise might become irreversible,'' said F rancois Grignon, Crisis Group's Africa Project Director.
''That could cause havo c even well beyond Somalia's borders, and the TFG and the international community cannot choose to be bystanders.