By Seema Sengupta
As the United Nations brokered mid-August peace talks, aimed at forging a unity government in conflict-torn Libya concluded in Geneva on a positive note, the flame of hope is ignited yet again.
Indeed, post-revolution Libya, handicapped by the absence of one statesman who could have retrieved the country from the dark abyss of violence, social fragmentation and lawlessness that followed the toppling of Qaddafi, has descended deeper into chaos. And many Libyans, who opposed the Qaddafi regime tooth and nail, ended up questioning the West’s role, some of them even holding the western powers culpable for effectively turning their country into a failed state.
No doubt, even the staunchest supporter of western military intervention in Libya, launched under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, would find it hard to deny that an ill-planned military operation perpetuated Libya’s woe, unless a chaotic Libya offers valuable bargaining chips to someone somewhere for achieving permanent dominance in an extremely volatile yet economically strategic region.
Even veterans of Libyan politics, exiled for opposing the Qaddafi regime, admit in private conversations that the induced rebellion did not help install a democratic polity in Libya. Rather, a post-revolution Libya, engulfed by brutal internecine conflict, has become a realistic dystopia where the dreaded Daesh is successfully spreading its malignant influence.
Perhaps, the western powers need to go back to the drawing board once again to honestly assess the drawbacks in their policy that abetted the rise of Daesh in Libya’s backyard. After all, Daesh did not have a presence in Libya, despite its inner contradictions, prior to the NATO-led military intervention that toppled the Qaddafi regime in 2011. Is the onus therefore not on the western leadership to explain why Libya, which they promised to turn into an ideal democracy, is witnessing unrestrained fratricidal conflict, including indiscriminate persecution of minorities apart from Daesh’s ritual barbarism in the form of kidnapping and beheading of hostages?
Was “Operation Unified Protector” not supposed to be Libya’s stairway to a democratic heaven and not the hell that the country has presently become? Did the Libyans themselves envisaged that one day they will be forced to undertake perilous voyages across the Mediterranean in unseaworthy vessels, with scores of refugees having been drowned in such attempts thus far? And these hapless people fleeing their homeland in droves for the greener pastures of Europe are treated as a security threat.
The steady flow of desperate illegal immigrants from Libyan shores to southern European coastline is turning into a serious security issue and needs to be tackled holistically.
Yes, the European Union has tripled its annual funding for Mediterranean border patrol and assistance measures and also pledged to disrupt illegal-trafficking networks, bring the perpetrators to justice and seize their assets. But, mere expressions of concern about the deteriorating situation in Libya or upgrading surveillance in the Mediterranean to detect immigrant boats will not end this colossal humanitarian tragedy.
To address the fundamental problems that Libya is faced with today, there is an urgent need to improve the virtually non-existing national security infrastructure, enhance border security mechanism, engage the divergent stakeholders of Libyan politics with an open mind and above all formulate an effective strategy to counter a growing Daesh threat.
A strategic intelligence expert, who predicted post-Qaddafi Libya’s predicament years ago, had also warned that a motivated benefactor will do more harm to Libya, as its unique socio-cultural attributes and tribal psyche is often misunderstood by outside forces. Besides, he also warned of a bitter future given Libya’s personality-driven political fabric, further complicated by the in-built fragmented tribal structures and allegiance.
“For any worthwhile military power, Libya’s unique geographical position and abundant oil resources, will act as a strategic enticement” said the gentleman, adding that “installation of a remote-controlled regime can bring the entire MENA region under the strategic ambit of an imperialist power.” But then, according to this strategic security pundit, “It is a must to be able to decode the nuanced dynamics of Libya’s tribal culture or else Libyan territory will turn into an inescapable death trap for peace enforcers,” the reason why US President Obama was advised against “boots on the ground” intervention in Libya by his strategic security advisers.
Luckily, the international community seems to be waking up from the slumber. After the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ warning about an evolving humanitarian tragedy of epic proportions in the Mediterranean, the EU leadership has decided to strengthen EU-Africa coordination on the grounds. However, any long-lasting solution to the Libyan problem will remain unachievable without properly ascertaining the role of tribal dynamics in Libya’s future.
Let us be very honest about the fact that if Libya is to prosper and stay united, tribal institutions must be allowed a prominent role in nation building. Libya’s emancipation, at the end of the day, lies in the genuine harmonization of its bourgeois and tribal class. And the Arab leaderships’ push for involving the disparate tribal groups and civil society in Libyan national reconciliation is a masterstroke, as they are critical to restoring peace and stability.
Seema Sengupta is a Calcutta based journalist and columnist. She is a contributing writer for The Korea Times, South China Morning Post, Eurasia Review, The Bengal Post among others