By George Grant
The capture and death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on 20th October is an unquestionably critical, if not conclusive, development in the Libyan conflict. For 42 years, Colonel Gaddafi was the face not just of the Libyan regime, but of Libya itself. His ‘Jamariyah’ system of government was hierarchal in the extreme, a pyramid of power that placed Gaddafi alone at the very summit.
It is for this reason that many Libyans interviewed in the immediate aftermath of initial reports of his capture maintained that this development superceded the fall of Tripoli on 23rd August in terms of importance, and even the fall of Sirte, the last pro-Gaddafi stronghold in Libya, which also took place on 20th October.
Only now can the hard business of reconstruction and reconciliation truly begin, and the experiences of other post-conflict environments in the last decade have repeatedly served as a reminder that this latter process can be more hazardous than winning the initial conflict itself.
Indeed, the great difficulty that National Transitional Council (NTC) forces had in capturing Sirte reaffirmed their relative inutility when it comes to successfully confronting determined armed resistance. The comparative speed with which Tripoli and the surrounding towns of Zawiyah and Garyan fell in August had much to do with the success of the NTC strategy of encouraging popular uprisings and defections in those places as they approached, and little to do with their competency on the battlefield. Indeed, Gaddafi’s Bab al-Azizya compound in central Tripoli fell so quickly precisely because barely a shot was fired.
The lesson for the NTC now, therefore, is absolutely clear. Reconciliation with former Gaddafi loyalists must be an absolute priority. The NTC Chairman, Mustafa Jalil must once again make it absolutely clear that reprisal killings by anti-Gaddafi militias, of the kind that have been reported in recent days, are an aberration that Libya simply cannot afford. If former Gaddafi loyalists are compelled to take up arms once again, the NTC will have great difficulty in restoring the peace a second time.
As a first step, the NTC must complete its move from Benghazi to Tripoli, a symbolically important process for an organisation that maintains it wishes to rule a “United Libya with Tripoli as its capital”. Following that, the NTC must finalise and announce the makeup of an inclusive transitional government, in which former Gaddafi loyalists play a part.
As per the blueprint drawn up by the NTC in conjunction with the British Government and others before the fall of Tripoli, the new post-Gaddafi state architecture must include as many former Gaddafi security forces and civilian personnel as possible, provided they are not found guilty of serious crimes. Their inclusion in any post-Gaddafi settlement will be vital not just because of their expertise, but also because of the importance of incorporating potentially antagonistic constituencies into the transitional framework, thus maximising its chances for success.
The international community must also recognise its important role in providing technical, and if necessary, temporary financial assistance, during this early transitional period. In particular, getting Libya’s oil industry functional must be a clear priority. Unlike many other post-conflict societies, Libya is a comparatively small and ethnically homogenous society with ample capacity for economic self-sufficiency. A mixture of political and economic grievances caused this Arab Spring, and rectification of both in Libya is therefore essential. Without question, however, today’s events are an exceptionally important step in that direction.
George Grant is the Director of Global Security at the Henry Jackson Society.