Syeda Dhanak Hashmi
Libya remains in a chaotic state after the fall of Muammar Gadhafi. The United Nations-backed government struggles to exercise control over territory held by rival factions, escalating geographical and political divisions between the East, West, and South. But it’s political and security crisis continues as the two authorities compete for legitimacy and territorial control and have left scores of thousands displaced inside Libya and interrupted access to basic services to the Libyans.
At present, a hazardous military conflict is ongoing in Libya between east-based forces loyal to Field Marshal Haftar and armed groups allied to the UN-backed government in Tripoli. The WHO has given higher estimates of casualties where 392 people have been killed and about 2,000 wounded in the ongoing armed clashes south of Tripoli. Recently, Khalifa Haftar’s bid to tumble the UN-recognized government has displaced 50,000 people and urged his forces to “teach the enemy a greater and bigger lesson than the previous ones” during Ramadan, saying the holy month had not been a reason to stop previous battles in the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna.
The armed militias and terrorist groups are using the nation as a base for radicalization and organized crime, further adding fuel to the fire and posing a threat to the region and beyond. The civilians are harassed and victimized by the militias and armed groups, but nothing has been done so far as the international involvement has remained too apprehensive to avert an all-out fight for the capital. The Courts, on the other hand, are semi-functional, and various impediments obstruct access to fair trials. Hence, there is a threat of proxy war between regional powers if this full-fledged conflict will remain unchecked. The UN is required to play an integral role by encouraging the parties to return to the negotiating table and proposing a new three-track strategy addressing the core political, military and financial concerns of both sides. If external actors are serious in their calls, now is the time to act to stop this full-fledged war.
The conflict escalates further when Libyan National Army (LNA) under Haftar’s command launched an attack, named ‘Flood of Dignity’, with the specified aim of capturing the capital, despite repeated warnings by Libya’s international partners. LNA began to advance on Tripoli after Haftar returned from Riyadh, believing that the international supporters, i.e., the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and Russia would stand by them. Although the US had warned him verbally not to move into western Libya, where the UN-backed government is based and has tried to influence Haftar to accept a political deal with Faiez Serraj, the head of the Tripoli-based government, to unify Libya’s divided institutions, including the military, making Haftar the head of the armed forces, but he disagreed arguing that the presence of militias in Tripoli would increase the security issue and frustrate the ordinary Libyans.
The military strength and external support of LNA is evident but its victory in Tripoli cannot be predicted. As for now, this conflict could spread to other parts of Libya, as Misratan forces have openly stated that they aim to cut-off LNA supply lines in central Libya which will eventually worsen the conflict. To avoid this catastrophic intensification in Tripoli involving regional powers, Libya’s partners should take serious actions. The regional powers should abstain from supporting the offensive militarily, and endorse their support for UN-led negotiations. Moreover, the UN Security Council should demand for an instant culmination of hostilities, and impose sanctions on military commanders and political leaders escalating confrontations.
Furthermore, the UN should introduce a three-pronged strategy including a political track, which should not only be restricted to a deal between Haftar and Serraj rather should also include political representatives from rival parties to ensure an equal and practical solution. Second, a military track should be presented, involving senior military commanders from both sides, along the lines of the Egypt-led military dialogue to agree on new security arrangements for the capital; and in the last place, a financial track, to bridge the gap of the financial institutions which emerged in 2014 as a result of political disturbances, by bringing together representatives from Libya’s divided Central Bank.
In conclusion, Libya has witnessed frequent setbacks and external interference over the past eight years which have facilitated the non-state actors such as ISIS to gain a foothold. Keeping in view the present scenario, the menace of terrorism could become a self-fulfilling prophecy as new jihadists are joining the conflict. What will happen in the fight for Tripoli is now largely reliant on how the UN and international players of the region will respond to it. Although the external powers, including the US, UK, France, Italy, the UAE, Egypt and Russia, have condemned the escalation, but none of them included the threat of sanctions and made any explicit mention to support the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli. Therefore, it can be assumed that the external powers are providing assistance to Haftar in his ambition to seize the capital and power.