By S. Nihal Singh
Oct 22, 2011
Despite the manner in which the Muammar Gaddafi era was brought to a bloody end, Libya has a fighting chance to become something approaching a modern state. But immense difficulties lie ahead and the West’s military assistance on the ground and in the air under the fig leaf of a United Nations resolution ostensibly to protect civilians decisively to tip the scales in favour of the hopelessly outclassed rebel fighters will come to haunt the new Libyan rulers.
By all accounts, Gaddafi was killed by a rebel militia after he was found hiding in a drain pipe on the outskirts of his birthplace of Sirte. How he came there remains unresolved, but it is clear from accounts that a Predator overhead and a French missile unleashed on a convoy of cars trying to sneak out of the city that was precision-bombed that NATO was micromanaging the operation till the last moment. The unexpected ferocity and duration of the Gaddafi forces’ resistance in Sirte was due to the fallen leader’s presence in their midst. The rebel militias were riding on the might of NATO warplanes in the air and trainers on the ground.
The important question is: what next? In the wider context of the Arab Spring, Gaddafi is the first autocrat killed in the process of transition to bring about a more democratic dispensation. But the revolutions that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt met with greater difficulties as they spread to Yemen and Syria. The last two countries are still convulsed by fighting and bloodshed and there seems no early solution to their problems.
Libya has many advantages over Yemen and Syria. It has a small population, an immense area and oil wealth. But its disadvantages are great as well. It is riven by tribal divisions, used by Gaddafi for his own purposes. There is also the traditional east-west division; significantly, the revolt started in the main eastern city of Benghazi, and Gaddafi had conducted his coup against King Idris who came from the east. The biggest immediate task of the National Transitional Council (NTC) will be to form an inclusive administration.
It is difficult to see Mahmoud Jibril, the present head of NTC, as anything other than an interim leader. But claimants for a share of the pie of liberation are of two kinds. In the first category are those who have contributed to the success of the revolution under the wings of NATO. Misrata in particular demands a major say in the future of the country, given its fighters’ great contribution to the outcome; significantly, Gaddafi’s bloodied body was sent to Misrata as the NTC waited for confirmation of his death.
But there are other legitimate claimants for power: the hill tribes who came to take over the capital Tripoli, for one. And there are other tribes who chose to come over to the rebels’ side. Even more difficult will be the problem of winning over the Gaddafi loyalists who were not direct participants in the oppressive old regime. After the celebrations have died down and the celebratory gunfire has ceased, revenge must give way to winning over the hapless population that supported the late autocrat because it had no choice. It will be a difficult transition to make, but essential to the future of the country.
As the rebel leaders tackle their political problems, they have equally formidable challenges in the field of administration and governance. Gaddafi has left them nothing to bank on. He ran the country on the strength of his cronies and an extensive security network and prison system with surveillance of the population taken to extremes and torture and “disappearances”, normal methods of terrorising the people. The new rulers must therefore build the government from the bottom up. United Nations agencies and Western governments will help in the process, but the new dispensation must set its rules for outside assistance.
The West, in particular France, Britain and the United States, will demand its pound of flesh and it will be for a new Tripoli to define the limits. Understandably, some lucrative deals will go to those who assisted the rebels the most, but the Western tendency to be backseat drivers must be guarded against. The sooner the rebel leaders get their act together, the easier it will be for Tripoli to begin to build a new Libya.
Western military assistance to help in the process of a regime change disguised as a humanitarian intervention has soured the mood in the United Nations, expressed most recently in the veto exercised by Russia and China and in the abstentions of India among others in the Western-sponsored resolution on Syria. True, Libya received the Arab League’s nod because of Gaddafi’s bizarre nature and unpopularity among Arab leaders, and there are few takers for the abyss the possible fall of President Assad might lead to.
But the major powers, particularly the United States, must reconsider the uses they make of the catchphrase “humanitarian intervention” to bring sane discussion of crises in the UN Security Council. The 11-week bombing run over Serbia and Kosovo was undertaken by NATO without the UN imprimatur. Nevertheless, it raised valid objections from many countries, apart from Russia, and even murmurs from France. In this instance, France was a principal mover of bombing runs over Libya to change the course of events there.
While a great many Libyans are rejoicing, immense challenges lie ahead. Few in the world will be sorry to see the end of the Gaddafi regime, but it is equally important for the new rulers to start on the right note for the good of their country, the region and the world. The virtual civil war in the country lasted some eight months from its first stage of rebellion in Benghazi on the verge of defeat to the steady advance of supporters of the NTC — the capital Tripoli was captured with surprising ease — and the ultimate dogfight in Bani Walid in the south and in Sirte.
Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi