South Yemen Sees Secession as Route to Defeating al-Qaeda

Exiled Former Ruler Says Militias Fighting Against Ansar al-Sharia in Abyan

In much of the world, a successful secessionist movement rests almost entirely on securing Western (read: US) acquiescence. This is particularly true of Yemen, where US drones loom overhead and the US is loudly and aggressively backing the new Hadi regime.

To that end, the long-standing secessionist movement in southern Yemen, which aims to recreate a state in the territory that was once the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), is couching its ambitions as a surefire way to defeat al-Qaeda.

The northern mentality cannot live within a state, whereas the mentality of the south cannot live without one,” insisted former PDRY President Ali Salem al-Beidh, who said he believes that an independent South Yemen could make quick work of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) by virtue of its more centralized nature.

This is a big part of the narrative on both sides of the secessionist issue, as Yemeni officials have routinely conflated the various secessionist movements, Ansar al-Sharia and AQAP under the term “al-Qaeda” in statements, even when it makes no sense to do so. Beidh insists pro-secessionist militias have been at the forefront of fighting Ansar al-Sharia in the Abyan Province. Abyan was initially part of the PDRY’s territory.

Whether selling South Yemen as a tool for the US war on terror will work is unclear, but it follows in the trend of similar efforts at Balochistan’s independence from Pakistan, which also presented it as a way to secure supplies into occupied Afghanistan and to install a more pro-US regime in Quetta.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.