By Saeed Naqvi
18 Oct 2013
Protesters burn a replica of the US flag during a demonstration against the capture of Nazih al-Ragye in Benghazi
What makes America do such silly things?
Recent events in Libya remind me of my first assignment in that country. But first let us recapitulate the latest American adventure.
The world’s greatest power enters a sovereign country, Libya, and picks up Al Qaeda’s Abu Anas al-Liby, allegedly a fugitive from justice. Apparently he had been indicted in 2000 for the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
As soon as Secretary of State John Kerry announces that the Libyan government knew of the dramatic kidnapping, a handful of local militias, who stand in as the new nation’s army, are so enraged that they capture the nation’s Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan. They are angry because Zeidan helped the Americans in capturing Liby.
Local militias who stand in as the new nation’s army were so enraged that they captured the nation’s prime minister
The group which captures Zeidan explains their action to Al Jazeera TV: “in the light of the deterioration in security and damage to the country’s sovereignty by foreign intelligence bodies”, “we have arrested Zeidan.”
The operation appears to have been botched up in the sense that the more important target of American anger, Ahmad Abu Khattala, escaped. He is believed to have been involved in September 2012 attack in Benghazi which killed US ambassador Chris Stevens.
What really happened is something we shall know only after Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh publishes his book next year.
It is now of course fashionable for everyone to badmouth Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan strongman. But time was when he had his admirers even in South Block. That was when I first interviewed him.
In fact when President Ronald Reagan decided to bomb Tripoli and Benghazi in 1987, Non Aligned Foreign Ministers were in conference in New Delhi. As soon as news of the bombing came, the foreign ministers formed a delegation under the leadership of India’s Foreign Minister Baliram Bhagat, a great cricket enthusiast among other things. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi thought it was a brilliant idea to show solidarity with a fellow non aligned leader.
There were no mullahs in Libya. The most educated person in the neighbourhood could lead the Friday prayers
As theatre, Qaddafi was never less than riveting. But what left a great impression on Bhagat, his secretary, NP Jain (even the Yugoslav foreign minister shook his head in admiration) was the extraordinary position women had in his regime. The Qaddafi melodrama began even as you were escorted to his presence: two stunning female bodyguards, one chiseled ebony, the other white marble, always flanking him. Outside, there was an equal mix of men and women, carrying firearms. The world’s first military academy for women was in Libya. Women drove cars, worked in offices, schools, colleges, and hospitals. There were no mullahs in the country. The most educated person in the neighbourhood could lead the Friday prayers. Playing on popular superstition, Voodoo or other forms of African magic was a criminal offence.
A cradle to grave welfare system covered everything – food, housing, cars, medical help, total expenditure for higher education abroad. He had the oil wealth and could afford to foot the bill. How did that bother anybody?
Little wonder Baliram Bhagat was impressed. Bhagat learnt a thing or two about power in world affairs. As Bhagat entered his office in South Block, he found Jain standing there, looking pale. So angry had Reagan been with Rajiv, already smarting under the Bofors scandal, that he relieved Bhagat from the foreign office.
That was many moons ago. Recently, why Americans blundered into Libya remains a mystery. So badly had American fingers been burnt in Afghanistan and Iraq that Obama looked statesman like, shunning any foreign interventions. Then, despite themselves, Americans were pushed into leadership roles in Libya, Syria and now, once again, in Somalia and this badly planned kidnapping in Tripoli. Just when America was beginning to refurbish its image in the Middle East, comes this shocking misadventure.