Some 15 top diplomats of the Libya Contact group, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met in Istanbul today (Friday, July 15) to discuss “a political solution” to the conflict in Libya while coordinating aid for the rebels.
The meeting—the fourth so far—came in the wake of the protracted stalemate in the fighting between forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and his opponents. All those who mattered in the West’s political rhetoric about the NATO military campaign against Gaddafi attended the meeting.
China and Russia declined invitations to participate, which leaves lingering doubts on how acceptable any decision from the meeting might be to them and other countries critical of the military campaign or the West’s handling of the conflict.
The mere mentioning of “political solution” as the agenda for this meeting suggests that some common sense must be creeping into the heads of those war-mongers in the Libya Contact Group who have let loose their war-machine to cause needless devastation in Libya. Blinded by their love for military adventurism, they have refused to listen to reason or all suasion to abandon that option for a less costly political and diplomatic one. Now, they seem disillusioned and want to see things beyond their noses.
That it has taken them such a long time to come to this realization is regrettable but unexpected because it is characteristic of war-mongers who repose more trust in armaments and raw military muscle than common sense in attempting to solve another country’s internal political problem.
Even then, their kind of “political solution” is suspect because it is not different from how they’ve been handling the Libyan conflict since they rushed into it on March 19. In substance, the “political solution” and the NATO military campaign are two sides of the same coin. The only difference now is that the Libya Contact Group is plastering the NATO military platform-of-action against Gaddafi with a political veneer and pretending to be approaching the conflict from a new angle altogether.
Their so-called “political solution” has nothing to recommend it as such except that it will be enforced through channels other than or in support of airstrikes on pro-Gaddafi forces and territories. I wonder how it can stop the hostilities or remove the Gaddafi menace to make it possible for the rebels to assume unfettered control of the country.
That’s why the emerging signs that the International Coalition or Libya Contact Group is still insistent on sidelining the Gaddafi faction or not seeking input from there as part of the political solution should be viewed clearly and condemned. The limitations of such a narrow-minded approach far outweigh any perceived benefit. Unless all the interested parties (the Gaddafi government, the rebels, and the external forces stage-managing the rebels conduct) see eye-to-eye on what constitutes a political solution or how to implement that solution, these highly one-sided efforts stand doomed even before they begin being made.
As usual, the meeting was attended by a representative of the rebels [the de facto Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Jibril] while no one from the Gaddafi government took part. Is this how to solve this intricate national problem? I don’t think so. No firm strategic measures seem to be put in place to ensure trust and commitment. It’s all the same arm-twisting tactics to force Gaddafi out of the way.
This lopsided approach to handling the issue is one of the main problems that the Libya Contact Group has failed to recognize or solve. They can’t hope to reach out successfully to all the parties involved in this conflict with this one-sided approach. The rebels have already sided with them, meaning that they have no hurdle to clear by way of seeking their support for whatever they have up their sleeves.
The Gaddafi government is the primary area of interest to connect with, but has consistently been excluded from such deliberations. How does the Libya Contact Group hope to arrive at an acceptable and workable solution to the conflict if it handles issues in this biased manner? Does it hope to make decisions and force them down the throats of the Gaddafi side? Such an imposition will not help ensure trust and commitment and will be the basis for failure.
We already have evidence of the measures that this Libya Contact Group has drawn up without input from the Gaddafi side.
In a final statement, the Contact Group raised a range of points, including an agreement by the participants “to deal” with the NTC “as the legitimate governing authority” in the country „until an interim authority is in place.“ It also welcomed monetary pledges and encouraged financial help.
“Noting that the unfolding situation in Libya since mid-February has disrupted the operations of foreign companies and contractors, the Contact Group welcomed the commitment of the NTC to open up Libya to foreign investment as soon as possible and its commitment to honour any existing legal contracts signed under the Gadhafi regime,” it said.
It also cited “the need for establishment of a genuine cease-fire and provision of safe humanitarian access remain as urgent as ever.”
The group “urged all relevant parties to explore ways and means of paving the way for the formation of an interim government to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition of power with the widest popular support possible,” it said.
What this meeting has achieved is nothing but the rubber-stamping of predetermined measures to increase support for the rebels militarily and financially. Thus, with the consensus reached at today’s meeting, it will not be surprising if all forms of assistance start flowing in to Benghazi to boost the operational needs of the rebels.
Such a move will not solve the country’s problems or remove the Gaddafi menace. At best, it will only strengthen the hands of the rebel administration and help consolidate its hold on Eastern Libya. Until such time that Gaddafi’s hold on Tripoli and many cities in Western Libya is neutralized, his government will continue to call the shots and his loyalists will continue to disregard the rebel administration.
The upshot, then, will be the splitting of the country into two, as we have already predicted and as has been confirmed by unfolding events. Unless Gaddafi is killed and the potency of his loyalists neutralized, no one should start celebrating any success for the rebels.
The outcome of today’s meeting underlines the West’s half-hearted approach toward resolving the crisis through political means and not the wrong-headed military option that has exposed NATO’s weaknesses instead of helping it and the rebels achieve their objective of forcibly evicting Gaddafi from power.
As the Libya Contact Group pursues its own version of a “political solution” to the Libyan crisis, it’s worthy of note that such a move will be still-born unless the military option is relegated to the background. Perhaps, that’s why we haven’t heard of any more airstrikes in Tripoli by NATO. For as long as NATO ramps up its military sorties and devastation, it can’t expect anything by way of a political solution to the conflict. But on the ground, the fighting between the Gaddafi loyalists and rebels continues.
Or that may explain why today’s meeting stressed the need for a ceasefire. The problem with this bent toward a ceasefire, however, is that the Libya Contact Group has shifted the burden to the Gaddafi faction and made a number of demands. Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the decision left Gaddafi “no other option” but to leave power.
He said the UN special envoy to Libya, Abdul Elah al-Khatib, would take the contact group’s ceasefire proposals to the Libyan leadership, and negotiate on their behalf. “This political package is a political offer, including a ceasefire,” he said.
As is to be expected, Gaddafi has already rejected the proposal and any demand for him to step down and leave his country. His resolve has been strengthened by thousands of his followers who attended rallies in Tripoli and Zlitan in his support. It seems Gaddafi is determined to remain in firm control, contrary to France’s claim.
In this case, then, what will the Libya Contact Group do but return to the military option? There is a conscious attempt to set the stage for running around in circles. That’s not how to solve problems.
What we can say for now is that the Libya Contact Groups’ so-called “political solution” means nothing to Gaddafi. Not only that but the exclusion of the African Union’s proposals for a political road map also shows the extent to which the Libya Contact Group’s unilateral actions and measures have disregarded other perspectives. This insistence on pushing through their own version of the “political solution” is disappointing, to say the least.
Probably, in the effort to prop up the rebel administration, the Libya Contact Group will continue to support NATO’s airstrikes of pro-Gaddafi territories while the rebels intensify their anti-Gaddafi manouevres through underground contact cells in the hope that his opponents in the territories currently under his control will muster up enough bravado to incite uprisings for them to capitalize on.
Such measures have their negative backlash too. Now that Gaddafi has begun appealing to the nationalist spirit of his loyalists and given out millions of AK 47 assault rifles to them, it is obvious that the situation is definitely building up to a catastrophic point. I foresee violent confrontations and the likelihood of bloodshed. The immediate future looks drearier than expected—rather paradoxically so in a situation where people claim to be looking for a political solution to the crisis but are instead only reinforcing earlier hostilities against the Gaddafi faction.
What makes the Libyan crisis particularly intriguing is the fact that it is a civil war, not just an uprising by civilians to oust Gaddafi from power. What has happened since the Benghazi-based rebels over-ran the local military base and armed themselves to the teeth to fight Gaddafi is complicated and defies the military solution that the West quickly went for.
In this intricate web of a civil war—and considering the protracted stalemate that the military option has wrought—any effort to solve the problem must be holistic. It must be made in good faith and the interested parties totally committed to making peace and restoring normalcy to the country.
No half-hearted approach by way of discrimination against any party will lead to an amicable resolution of the conflict. Unfortunately, though, that is not what today’s meeting has provided. This so-called “political solution” will definitely add to the nightmare that the Libyan conflict has turned out to be for those who have unwittingly underrated Gaddafi’s resolve to resist his opponents.