The Algerian Connection Explains France's Shadowy Deal with Sudan

August 22, 1994|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris.--The United States has Sudan on its list of outlaw states, saying that Sudan sponsors Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. France finds that a logical reason for getting on better terms with Sudan.

Who better to talk with about the problem of terrorism than those in a position, if not to call it off, at least to damp it down?

A number of large conclusions has been drawn from Sudan's handing over of Carlos the terrorist to French justice. The principal significance, however, is what it reveals (or confirms) about French foreign policy.

A major preoccupation of French policy is Islamic fundamentalism. Algeria until 1962 was an administrative region of France and not a colony. It retains a special relationship in terms of the legal status of Algerians in France and their right to travel between the countries.

France also has considerable investments in the Algerian economy and until now has retained a significant influence in Algerian education and cultural life. All this is jeopardized by the tTC attempt of extreme Muslim fundamentalists to drive foreign influence out of Algeria.

The French also fear that a fundamentalist victory would inspire not only much of the French-speaking middle classes of Algeria to seek refuge in France, but also hundreds of thousands of ordinary Algerians.

The policy of Paris therefore is a double one. France formally supports the present military-backed ''transitional'' Algerian government's harsh campaign against fundamentalist militants. (The fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of national elections in 1991; the government canceled the second round, and there has been mounting violence ever since.)

France is also reinsuring, however. There have been complicated and ambiguous transactions conducted in obscurity between France and Sudan. Some, allegedly, facilitate the Sudan government's war against Christian and animist peoples in south Sudan who resist the Islamic regime.

France's intention is to gain Sudan's help in dealing with the Algerian fundamentalists. Not in communicating with them -- which could be done in a Paris restaurant -- but in influencing them.

The supposed theoretician of Sudan's military government is a Paris-and-London-trained Muslim intellectual and academic, Hassan Tourabi, formerly a government official and now dean of the Khartoum University Law School. He is accused by many in the West, as well as by the Algerian and other secular Arab governments, of being an ideologist of terrorism.

He is, however, quoted as criticizing the Iranian revolution for its ''lack of maturity and of values.'' He says the fundamentalist government of Saudi Arabia is merely a family dictatorship where, among its other faults, ''the situation of women is very bad.'' His own country, he says, is trying ''an experiment which has only begun,'' which is meant to avoid the excesses or errors of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The French believe that he is at least a man the West can talk with. They acknowledge (as a profile by the French journalist Gilles Millet observes) that he speaks ''a double language,'' simultaneously lending support to the most radical fundamentalists abroad and ''affirming to the West that he is capable of controlling them.''

It is a characteristic French policy, supple and realistic in French eyes, duplicitous or immoral to others. But it is a coherent policy, one consistent with what always has been France's policy in post-colonial Africa.

The French have always attempted to maintain stability and peace in their African zone of influence by supporting the powers in place, so long as those established powers do not become totally repellent. When that happens, Paris tries discreetly, usually but not always with success, to facilitate their replacement.

Paris is considering the future. The present Algerian government's days clearly are numbered. The power that succeeds has to be acknowledged and dealt with and influenced. The gift to Paris of Carlos was merely an incident in events larger than himself. He was a good-will gift.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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