Libya: Who can satisfy a rebel? – Asks Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The tired saying may be right after all: “Show me your friend, and I will tell you your character.”

Asia 728x90

Even without weighing the long-term implications of the African Union delegation’s “Road Map for Peace,” the Libyan rebels have rejected the offer to end hostilities and use political solution as the compass to show a new direction for their country. I am not in the least surprised at this rejection.

The rebels said they were rejecting the truce because it did not include plans for Col. Gaddafi to step down (according to the BBC news report dated 04/11/11). The AU delegation gave faint hints that such an issue was not completely ruled out of negotiations even though they would not openly confirm or deny it as part of the terms.

The presidents of South Africa, Mauritania, Mali, and Congo-Brazzaville, and the Ugandan Foreign Minister made up the AU delegation. We are told that the delegation’s mission was endorsed by the European Union/NATO, suggesting that the Western militaristic establishment has, after all, seen sense in a political solution to the crisis.

The rebels’ repudiation of the AU delegation’s overtures is not surprising since we know very well that the one and only factor that caused the rebellion was opposition to Gaddafi’s continued stay in office. Unlike the economic factors that motivated protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, and other parts in the Arab World, the Libyan uprising stemmed from abhorrence for Gaddafi’s long rule and fears that he might pass the baton on to his son—creating a dynasty. The Libyan crisis has more political currents than anything else. Thus, any solution that doesn’t overtly says that “Gaddafi must go” will be still-born. It won’t see the light of day in the camp of the rebels.

Also not to be considered as favourable is the part of the AU delegation’s term that calls for the suspension of NATO air strikes. The rebels know very well that without NATO air strikes, they stand no chance of realizing their aspirations against the pro-government forces. Rejecting the overtures on account of this term alone is a matter-of-course.

On its own, though, the AU’s peace plan isn’t skewed to favor Gaddafi. At least, the terms are clear. The AU deal proposed: An immediate ceasefire; The unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid; Protection of foreign nationals; A dialogue between the government and rebels on a political settlement; and The suspension of NATO air strikes.

Rather intriguingly, a spokesman for the rebels (Mustafa Abdel Jalil from the rebels’ Transitional National Council (TNC) had this to say at a news conference in Benghazi: “The African Union initiative does not include the departure of Gaddafi and his sons from the Libyan political scene; therefore it is outdated.” He added that “The initiative speaks of reforms from within the Libyan system and that is rejected.”

These words are not unexpected. The rebels know where their bread is buttered. The US, the UK and Italy have again said the Libyan leader must leave, which is the banner slogan for the rebels. Both NATO and the rebels are singing the same song and will not change this tune just because the AU says so. They know that the AU itself is under the armpit of the West and lacks bite. Its opposition to the military option is ineffectual as far as they are concerned.

The confidence level of the rebels is too high for them to descend from their high horse to accept the AU delegation’s proposal. Bolstered by the International Coalition’s persistent disabling of the pro-government forces’ military capabilities, these rebel forces may feel that they a military victory is certainly their gateway to ousting Gaddafi from power. They will not be willing to relent in this bid.

Furthermore, they are looking into the near future to conclude that they will soon have enough military hardware to face up to the pro-government forces. Why should they relent when there is a silver lining on the horizon for them? Having already dispatched the first batch of crude oil for sale through Qatar, they are assured of armaments and consider the sophisticated weapons to be given them by their backers in the West and Qatar as the succor they need to remove Gaddafi from office.

The assurances given by NATO and the persistent calls by high-ranking government officials in the West that the Libyan crisis can be resolved only when Gaddafi “goes,” seems to have impelled these rebel forces to fight to the end. They are confident that with NATO’s support, they will prevail over the pro-Gaddafi forces.

If the absence in the AU’s terms of any direct call for Gaddafi to hand over power and leave Libya is why the rebels have rejected the AU’s peace overtures, then, the rebels may be biting off more than they can chew. Or they may just not want to give peace a chance. They may be wary of the AU delegation’s motives, as they’ve already begun accusing it of taking sides and being sympathetic to Gaddafi’s cause. Of course, who will blame them? Knowing very well how much influence Gaddafi wields in the AU, the rebels should naturally be cautious in responding to the AU’s overtures. But rejecting it outright is impolitic because it immediately shuts the door on any negotiation that is envisaged under the peace plan.

On his part, Gaddafi didn’t hesitate at all in accepting the AU’s terms, which indicates that he is confident in a political solution, unlike the rebels who think that the military option is better.

By now, it must be clear that the Libyan political problem cannot be solved by the military option. Political problems must be solved politically, not militarily. At this time that NATO is seriously poised against the pro-Gaddafi forces alone, indications are clear that both sides have reached a stalemate, which the AU’s peace overtures can help resolve if accepted by both sides. Considering the ding-dong battles going on (and the shifting fortunes), it is clear that neither side can dislodge the other from territories under its control. Misrata, for instance, is shared between the pro-Gaddafi forces and the rebels. So also is Ajdabiya, which seems to be suffering a similar fate. Running battles are the order of the day.

As the stalemate drags on and NATO continues to destroy Libya’s military assets under the guise of incapacitating Gaddafi’s forces, the Libyan crisis will continue to attract public interest. The scenario is, however, likely to shift to a higher gear when the rebels receive consignments of weapons equal to what the Libyan government forces use or even more powerful than what they are scared of for now. With such armaments, they may have some confidence to extend their onslaught to territories now in the hands of the Libyan government. More blood will definitely be shed—but NATO and the UN or the West will cry foul only if it is the pro-Gaddafi forces that are alleged to be doing the killing. They don’t regard the atrocities committed by the rebels they are supporting as worth their (or anybody’s) bother.

I can infer from the hot-headedness of the rebels and their Western backers that they are bent on carrying the fight to Gaddafi in Sirte and Tripoli. Now that the rebels have begun flying MIG fighter aircraft, they may step up their invasion and hope that NATO will do the hatchet job to draw them close to the object of their hatred.

What lies ahead is frightening. For as long as the West props up the rebels and destroys pro-Gaddafi forces and arsenal, the Libyan crisis is nowhere near solution soon. The problem seems to have been compounded by this intransigence on the part of the rebels. By rejecting the AU’s peace initiative outright, the rebels have erected more barriers on the road. It is not yet clear what the AU will do next. If it decides to return to Benghazi, it will have to revise its peace plan and hold prior consultations with Gaddafi to work out the demand for him to leave Libya.

That’s where the sticky point emerges because Gaddafi has all along insisted that he will not leave his country on any account just to appease the rebels and their backers in the West. The stage seems to be set for a long drawn-out and complicated military engagement in Libya.

Maybe, as time goes on, public opinion in the West and Africa will shift to suggest more emphasis on the political solution. It must be clear by now that the military option will not solve the Libyan crisis. At best, it will only cause a total destruction of the country, which may be what the West is looking for because rebuilding Libya (in all senses) will be done by business interests in the West!!

On the other hand, if the crisis degenerates into a civil war, it will complicate matters further and prove to the West that they have all along been betting on the wrong horses in Benghazi. The Libyans themselves know the root causes of their crisis and should determine how to resolve it without all these sophisticated weapons being introduced into the equation.

The clock may be ticking slowly but it will definitely reach the point for those now bombarding Libya to the advantage of the rebels to realize that they have all along been chasing a mirage in the Sahara desert.