Indeed, there's a widespread theory, confirmed by the word of just a few bit-players in the drama but lacking any more conclusive evidence, that certain parties who were utterly averse to the idea of an independent Touareg state -- the Malian government, Algeria and others -- either deliberately implanted AQIM in the region, or at the very least tolerated its presence there.
It was hoped that the strategy would attract military aid and doom the Touareg nationalist project to failure. The theory might seem strange given the damage that terrorism has wrought in both Mali and Algeria but most Touareg I know accept it as gospel. We'll probably never know the whole truth.
What's certain is that the Sahara is one of the hardest places on earth for an outsider to understand. Its interlocking cogs of power and influence -- geopolitical, regional, governmental, tribal, mineral, criminal, spiritual, clan and family -- are fiendishly complex.
No foreign intervention can hope to achieve any long-term benefits if it cannot get to grips with the underlying political and social mechanism of this vast region.
2011 brought the Arab Spring and the end of Muammar Gadhafi, who had long been a stabilizing force in the Sahel, and both a promoter and a hinderer of Touareg nationalist ambitious. His weapons arsenals were opened up to armed groups of every stripe and in January 2012, the Touareg used this opportunity to reignite their rebellion in northern Mali. But it was al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who eventually took control, either directly or through a network of alliances.
Now Mali's hopes lie with the French, who intervened on Friday January 11, after months of diplomatic wrangling at the U.N. and elsewhere.
So the world has a new front on the global war on terror and France has a new battle to fight in Africa.
Within northern Mali itself, however, and throughout the Muslim world, this is not seen as a war on terror but as a cultural conflict, one that pits a group of people who feel that the future of their society will be best served by rejecting Western liberal values and returning to the core tenets of Islam against another group who believe in religious tolerance, secularism, democracy and music.
This conflict turns musicians, artists and writers into frontline soldiers.
Saudi Arabia destroyed its mausoleums and silenced its musicians decades, even centuries, ago. In the Algerian civil war of the 1990s, many musicians, writers and cultural figures were killed, prompting others to flee overseas.