As the Libyan conflict widens

Libya has become a battleground for regional countries and for competing militant outfits like IS

Rustam Shah Mohmand July 27, 2020
The writer is a former chief secretary K-P and former ambassador

The Libyan war goes on as the international community appears to have run out of options on how to bring the warring factions to the negotiating table. The GNA has been able to defend Tripoli against the onslaught of forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar. GNA has been recognised by the UN as a legitimate government. Turkey, Qatar, Italy are backing the government against Haftar’s militia. Haftar, in turn is being supported by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Russia.

Haftar is also a US citizen with CIA connections.

The situation has taken a dangerous turn as Egyptian parliament has given a green signal for military deployment in Libya in support of the Haftar militia. If this decision is implemented the conflict in the war-torn country would become bloodier as it would bring Turkey and Egypt in a headlong confrontation, starting a new race for hegemony between the two. It would not be confined to Libya but would spread to the Mediterranean Sea and the whole Middle East. This would create more polarisation and more militarisation of the area. The only beneficiary would be Western countries exporting weapons and Israel. There are confirmed reports of Israel extending support to Haftar — the CIA and Israel being on the same page.

Troops of the Tripoli government are now advancing on Sirte, city where the bulk of Libyan oil refineries are located. The fight for Sirte would determine the course of the war. If Haftar fails to defend it he would be marginalised as far as his dominance as a warlord is concerned. But if he is able to hold on to the oil rich area, the government in Tripoli would have received a serious setback and anarchy would follow.

It is pathetic to see the nonchalant attitude of most Islamic countries. The OIC, unsurprisingly, is nowhere to be seen. The UN has been unable to lend its weight to any concrete peace formula. Other than calling on parties to observe a ceasefire it has not initiated any real peace making endeavours. The arms embargo on Libya has been ignored.

Libya has become a battleground for regional countries and for competing militant outfits like IS. The country is awash with weapons of all descriptions including drones.

At the back of the turmoil is the deep-seated US policy to dismantle regimes that are incompatible with its strategic vision. Following the Arab Spring there was a well-orchestrated campaign to ignite passions and start an anti-regime movement in order to get rid of Gaddafi’s government. The US with its NATO allies began to lend support to rebels and bombing the Libyan Army and its installations. The Gaddafi government was overwhelmed and removed. Elections were held and a new government led by PM Fayez Sarraj was installed. But the opposition comprising refused to accept the outcome of the election.

Since 2014, fighting has been going on between rival centres of political power in East and West Libya. While Sarraj has held on to Tripoli, his rivals have decamped to East Libya and have set up an administration in Tobruk. It has nominated Haftar as the commander of LNA.

Russia has sent mercenaries and Sudanese men have been recruited to fight alongside the LNA. Turkey begun supplying weapons and has been using its airforce in support of the Tripoli government. The conflict has caused the displacement of more than 200,000 people; 1.3 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Turkey has intervened because it is seeking to access resources and maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean as part of its blue homeland doctrine. Libya has a maritime agreement with Turkey. Egypt wants to benefit from the oil resources of a neighbouring country. It also has strategic ambitions in its immediate neighbourhood and would not accept a permanent Turkish military presence there.

As the violent confrontation takes its toll, Libyans would recall with fond memory the halcyon days of a bygone era when the country, despite being ruled by a dictator, was peaceful where education and healthcare was free. Libya then had the highest standard of living on the African continent. Such a system had to be dismantled by those who could not see Libya as a prosperous Arab country! But who cares how the removal of Qadhafi was carried out and with what motives.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2020.

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