By R. S. Kalha
The gruesome photographs that flashed around the world showing the killing of the Libyan strongman for 42 years, Col. Gaddafi, certainly marked the end of an era. While the obvious joy and celebrations manifested the classic accoutrement of a military victory, yet few can answer with any semblance of clarity as to what lies ahead for the Libyans. There is no doubt that there is a huge sense of relief amongst the Western powers that Gaddafi was not captured alive, for with him would safely go all their secrets of rendition and torture that he had carried out on behalf of some Western governments, their ‘secret’ oil deals and there would be no show trial or fiery speeches a la Saddam Hussein to haunt them! Also safely buried would be the ‘deal’ that ensured the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted for life in Scotland, to be set free to return to Gaddafi’s Libya.
The National Transitional Council (NTC), supported by the Western powers, has a stupendous task before it. There is hardly any functioning government, no semblance of an army or a police force to keep the peace; and the oil industry – the lifeline of Libya – is in complete disarray. Libya has a small population spread out mainly along the coastal areas and which is divided along tribal affiliations with internal relations that are often fairly bitter. It was Gaddafi’s personality that had kept them from being at loggerheads. Therefore it is not surprising that the NTC reflects this basic disunity, composed as it is of various factions that had only united for the common task of overthrowing Gaddafi. The NTC remains without a Cabinet. The last one was sacked by Mustafa Abdul Jalil on 8 August 2011 for failing to investigate the murder of the military commander Abdul Fatah Younis. Ranged opposite the NTC are various political and military leaders of differing factions who control the local military councils. The Tripoli Council for instance has as its head Abdulkarim Bel Haj, who was renditioned to Gaddafi by MI6 and who was criticized by an influential NTC leader as a ‘mere preacher and not a military leader.’
Now that the aim of overthrowing Gaddafi has been achieved, it remains to be seen how long this unity will sustain. Will the factions indulge in vicious fights to attain supremacy? In the war to oust Gaddafi, many precious lives were lost. The question that therefore emerges is how many more lives will be lost before some stability is restored? And what is the future of the hundreds of young fighters who now will have nothing much to do? It will be very difficult to absorb them into a coherent unified military.
If we look at an earlier example, Iraq, the picture that emerges is not only not encouraging, but on the contrary very depressing. Post-Saddam Iraq is beset with frequent bomb blasts, suicide attacks and its body politic has descended into bloody tribal and religious factionalism. The Kurdish issue is no nearer a solution and for all practical purposes Iraq functions as a single country with two independent systems held together with American arms. What is in store for the ordinary Iraqi once the US army leaves, as announced by President Obama, by the end of the year? The future does not look very bright.
Given the present circumstance, Libya is going to need substantial outside help for a fairly long time. It will need food and medical supplies in the short term and technical assistance in the longer term. Far from becoming a democratic country over night, its institutions would have to be built up from the scratch, step by step. It may require a long gestation period. Unlike Egypt or even Tunisia, two countries that have also seen revolutions, Libya has no well educated middle class that can perform the basic tasks of democratic governance. It will require assistance from outside countries, even to get its civil works such as power utilities and waterworks and the banking system operating again. It will not be sufficient if these utilities function only in the capital city of Tripoli or even Benghazi. After the eight month long fighting, most Libyan cities are in a poor state, with bombed out infrastructure; with the communication systems in shambles, restoring them would require a massive infusion of capital. Cash strapped as most Western governments are and facing an increasingly volatile domestic opposition, the new Libyan authorities may have to turn to Asian countries such as China and India for long term financial help as also for construction and white collar workers. Simply restoring frozen Libyan financial assets may not be enough.
However, the biggest question mark is what will happen to the Libyan oil industry? If Libya had no oil, the Libyan people would probably not have had to face such a hostile environment and would have been left largely to their own devices. Therefore, like for the Iraqis, for the Libyans too oil is both a blessing and a curse! Oil has given the Libyans a standard of living that their forefathers probably never dreamt of, but it has also brought in external forces, conflicts and wars. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa with an estimated annual production of 1.69 million barrels/day. Of this nearly 1.49 mbd was exported mostly to European countries, with southern European countries being the main recipients. Libyan crude is much in demand for it is of a very high quality with low sulphur content; and situated as Libya is far away from the Persian Gulf region, it is free from the vicissitudes of Gulf politics. It is not surprising therefore that the present misery of the Libyan people can be directly related to the ‘black gold’ that lies beneath the sands of Libya.
The author is a former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, and also a former Indian Ambassador to Iraq. Email: rskalha[at]hotmail.com
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/PostGaddafiLibya-WhatHappensNext_RSKalha_251011