Ufuk Necat Tasci

Known as Haftar’s henchman, Aguila Saleh, a prominent figure of Libya’s parallel regime in the east, has been refusing to approve the UN-backed government’s budget four months ahead of elections.

Embroiled in internecine warfare for a decade, the people of Libya are pinning their hopes on a UN-sponsored election, which is slated for December and aimed at stabilising the region, but warlord Khalifa Haftar’s sidekick Aguila Saleh is displaying a dog-in-the-manger attitude and blocking the passage of the election budget. 

A UN-mediated process earlier this year led to the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU), which was tasked with bringing together the warring sides and developing a constitutional framework for the December elections.

The GNU held extensive debates over a range of issues including the prospect of allowing dual Libyan citizens and former soldiers to contest the polls. 

For regional experts, the Saleh-Haftar duo is trying to throw a wrench into the works because they want to maintain their stranglehold in the country’s east.  

While they have been forced to recognise them (the GNU) publicly, they are keen to ensure de facto independence on the basis that the situation remains fluid, fragile, and that it is not a certainty that elections will take place or that a political solution will be reached,” Sami Hamdi, the managing director of International Interest, a global risk and intelligence consultancy, told TRT World. 

Hamdi said if the foreign players like the UAE are keen on pulling the Yemen stunt in Libya, which means partitioning the country, they must be preparing for one of the two scenarios.  

Either a renewed military effort, or entrenching themselves in preparation for partition,” Hamdi said. 

The reality is that the international community’s priorities favour partition over unity”.

The US, according to Hamdi, is keen on any long lasting  resolution so as “to focus more on China.” 

Russia is satisfied with its gains as it now overlooks the Mediterranean from both Syria and Libya. Democracy is not a priority for any of the parties and the future is therefore far from certain,” he said. 

Approving a budget for the December election was part of the UN-supervised process but the GNU hit a roadblock with Saleh, who controls Tobruk, refusing to cooperate. 

Saleh, the speaker of a so-called parliament (House of Representatives) in Tobruk, has rejected the 2021 budget bill on seven occasions.

Joining hands with Haftar, he supported the 2019-20 attacks on Tripoli against the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

His critics say that he has never been interested in working with the UN-led process of peace building and sabotaging the election budget is part of it. 

On the other hand, Saleh’s master Khalifa Haftar has consistently accused the GNU of failing to unify the north-African country’s fragmented institutions.

Displaying a similar hostility, Saleh recently threatened the GNU to establish another rival administration in the east a few days ago in case of a failure to hold elections in December. 

There is a plan A and a plan B. Plan A is that Haftar wins the elections and maintains control of the military forces. In this plan, the East swallows the West. Plan B is partition whereby the country is split into two spheres of influence, bringing about a calamitous tragedy for the country,” Hamdi said.


Is the UN finally toughening its stance against Libya’s warlord Haftar?

Although experts see the hardening of the UN’s position against Haftar as a welcome sign, they criticise the international body for giving him a free hand in Libya and complicating the conflict.

Jan Kubis, the UN special envoy to Libya, expressed his concern about the collapse of the ceasefire agreement in Libya, highlighting the main obstacles that are reversing all the peaceful gains the international community had made in the past year. 

While addressing the United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting on Thursday, Kubis lashed out at the so-called Libyan National Army, which is led by warlord Khalifa Haftar, for throwing a wrench into the works of peacemakers by disallowing the Government of National Unity to extend its authority to the LNA-controlled areas, a crucial step to reunify the country so that the international community can work toward conducting free and fair elections by the end of this year. 

Because of the LNA’s rigidness, Kubis said, “The Presidency Council and the Government have not been able to agree on the appointment of the Minister of Defence, a position crucial for the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement, for progress on disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of armed groups, security sector reform, and the reunification of the military.”

Old and new status quo forces are using diverse tactics and often legitimate arguments with only one result  – obstructing the holding of the elections. My predecessor who had his own experience with similar approaches called them “spoilers” – a correct description given the impact of their approach and maneuvering,” he added.

Kubis met warlord Khalifa Haftar last week to discuss the dismantling of armed groups under his control, the Government of National Unity footing the bill for the salaries of his forces. 

Since the UN previously allowed some pro-Haftar figures to participate in transitional government elections under the LPDF process, its stance in Libya has become debatable.  Several pro-Haftar allies have waged war against the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, which makes the UN’s soft stance toward Haftar questionable. 

According to Jalel Harchaoui, a research fellow at Clingendael Institute, a think tank in the Netherlands, neither the UN nor the US is putting any kind of pressure on the LNA.

Haftar’s rhetoric is ostensibly in favour of holding the elections in December 2021. His supporters are also making sure a military figure can run for president without resigning first,” Harchaoui told TRT World. 

Abdulkader Assad, the chief editor of The Libya Observer and Libya Alahrar English, believes that the UN has been well aware of Haftar’s hindrances to the peace and political process since 2014 when the warlord announced his military operation in Libya, rejecting the UN-led peace initiatives. 

The UN knows very well that Haftar and his militias are involved in war crimes and they are being supported by Russian Wagner Group, the UAE’s dirty money, France’s European lobbying and the US international impunity. The UN is dealing with Haftar as a key figure to the political process despite calls from inside and outside Libya to keep him out along with the militia leaders who attacked Benghazi civilians in 2014, Derna from 2016 to 2018, southern Libya in 2018 as well as Tripoli from 2019 to 2020,” Assad said. 

Commenting on the UN special envoy Kubis’ recent remarks during the UN security council meeting on Thursday, Assad said the UN’s statement about Haftar not allowing GNU to control eastern Libya is just a “very simple sentence” meant to “divert attention from the main issue, which is that Haftar is actually impeding the work of the GNU by instructing the House of Representatives and Aguila Saleh not to pass the budget and by continuing to act as an outlaw military leader based autonomously in the east.

Jan Kubis knows that Haftar is implicated in war crimes and that he is hindering elections and the LPDF roadmap, yet he met with him lately and proudly took a selfie with the criminal just like what all the previous envoys did. Bottom line, the UN mission is acting upon an agenda that works best for chaos and instability rather than peace and security in Libya,” Assad tells TRT World.

During the UN security council meeting, Libyan Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah also once again urged for the immediate withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libya, calling on the House of Representatives and High Council of State as well as Libyan Political Dialogue’s members to set aside their differences and do their jobs to allow Libyans to hold elections on time.

According to Assad, the Libyan prime minister’s statement about foreign mercenaries and fighters was “very realistic” as they are the “main threat against the elections.” 

Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah really lacked being vocal about who those mercenaries are, however,” Assad added. 

The majority of the Libyan public know for sure that Turkish forces are in Libya based on bilateral agreements made in the daylight and they are the reason why Tripoli wasn’t destroyed by a bloodthirsty warlord”,  Assad believes the Libyan prime minister failed to call out Russia and the UAE and fell short of naming Haftar as the main spoiler of the political process, which could be ominous to the whole process of elections.

Dbeibah is appearing in a weak position politically as he is avoiding addressing the main problem Libya has been suffering from in the last 7 years and more. He needs to raise the Haftar issue to have fair elections.

If he fails to do so, war is on the horizon, unfortunately!” Assad said.




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