Bamako: Three months after the completion of a peace deal to end decades of conflict in northern Mali, stability remains an elusive dream undermined by tribal rivalries and internecine power struggles.
Underlining the turmoil, the government this week announced the indefinite postponement of local elections, pointing to poor security, the absence of government in several areas and a lack of progress on refugee returns.
Divided into rival armed factions, plagued by drug trafficking and at the mercy of jihadism, Mali`s desert north has struggled for stability since the west African nation gained independence in 1960.
The militant Tuareg movement has launched four uprisings since 1962 to fight Mali`s army over the territory they claim as their homeland.
In spring 2012 northern Mali fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda who imposed a brutal interpretation of sharia law on the region, with the country reeling from a military coup.
The Islamists were largely ousted by the French-led Operation Serval launched in January 2013, although they have since launched sporadic attacks from desert hideouts on security forces.
Anti-government and loyalist armed groups came to the table earlier this year under the supervision of neighbouring Algeria and the United Nations for talks which led to the Algiers Accord, a deal for lasting peace.
Yet stagnation in the process set out by the agreement has been highlighted by the fact that its monitoring committee is not yet up and running, a full three months after its inception.
"Alliances are made and broken between Tuareg and Arab tribes of the north and, obviously, some do not want to see others sit on the monitoring committee," said an official from MINUSMA, Mali`s UN peacekeeping mission. In early September MINUSMA came up with a solution, suggesting that armed groups be "members of the monitoring committee" while other interested parties others could be "guests of the monitoring committee".
Beyond the politicking, the points-scoring is playing out for real on the ground, with the latest example the tit-for-tat changing of the guard in the northeastern town of Anefis.
The Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), the Tuareg-led former rebel alliance, retook the town last week, buoyed by the withdrawal, under immense political pressure, of pro-government groups who had themselves ousted the CMA only a month earlier.
In the north are two opposing coalitions formed along tribal lines, both signatories to the accord.
On one side, the Tuareg of the Imghad tribe and their allies, composed of one branch of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) and small sedentary armed groups, support the government.
On the other is the CMA, composed mainly of members of the Ifoghas -- considered the most noble Tuareg tribe in the feudal hierarchy -- and another branch of the MAA.
"The time when we, the Tuareg of the Imghad tribe, were regarded as the serfs of the Ifoghas tribe is over," said Ahmed Ag Iknane, a university academic and supporter of the pro-government groups.
"We are the most numerous of the Tuareg tribes. Democracy means one man, one vote, and that is what we must have."In the struggle to come out on top in the new Mali, the rival sides have been vying for control of trafficking routes and strategic military positions, mindful of an upcoming disarmament of their fighters, who will be confined to around a dozen cantonments.
The pro-government groups want to occupy positions near the northeastern city of Kidal, a stronghold of the rebellion but also the homeland of numerous Tuareg loyalists, so as not to abandon their brothers.
Added to this internal strife is the infighting tearing apart the Arab tribes and the financial burden imposed on armed groups on both sides by traffickers who control the drug routes, according to a private MINUSMA report seen by AFP.
The document says that the "absence of the state, the anarchy that reigns on the ground, means that drug traffickers with enormous resources are preventing the peace process from following its normal course".
According to a regional security source, "at least two small planes have come to drop cocaine in northern Mali, with the complicity of some fighters" since the beginning of the year.
As for the jihadists, their repertoire of suicide bombings, mines, ambushes and mortar and rocket attacks has made MINUSMA the world`s most deadly most peacekeeping mission since Somalia in the 1990s.
Despite all these obstacles the government has no choice, say observers, but to keep pushing for peace, even if only to avert the return of a jihadist threat now spreading beyond the north, to central and southern Mali.