Hope is missing in post-Gaddafi Libya

The new post-Gaddafi Libyan government’s move against the militias smacks of inexperience and myopia if not insincerity.

In fact, rather than achieving victory over the different armed militia outfits, the government has actually complicated the situation further creating in Libya the right atmosphere which will certainly encourage proliferation of armed tribal rivalries, radicalism and opposition to the government. Over a dozen outfits including Ansar Al Sharia have already gone underground lock stock and barrel. And this has made the Libya observers rather nervous.

An outfit like Ansar Al Sharia going underground is an ominous prognosis of an impending disaster. The group has already shown perceptible inclinations to toe the jihadi principles of Al Qaeda and is believed to be responsible for the murder of the American ambassador, Chris Stephens and three of his colleagues. Rather than arresting its leaders and bringing the outfit down on its knees the first elected government in Libya since the fall of Gaddafi regime simply and inexplicably allowed Ansar Al Sharia to go underground with all its weapons and arsenal. Of the factors that normally allow terrorism and radicalism to sprout the first one was created by the government itself.

Ansar Al Sharia and others which have already gone into hiding will now change their modus operandi; split into numerous small units which will offer them quicker mobility and greater flexibility. But more than this the government has shot itself on its feet. It has sent damn wrong signals to all the militia outfits which have been operating in the country “with impunity since the fall of the Gaddafi regime” and have been locked in bloody turf wars with the state and rival groups in bids to control smuggling routes.

By issuing ultimatum to the militias to either disband or disarm and by storming a few of their headquarters the government has convinced them that it is no longer willing to move along any reconciliatory process but is more interested in direct armed confrontations. It was rather headstrong and absolutely bereft of rationale. The militias only reciprocated likewise.

And in here the Libyan government committed its first cardinal mistake which will, as has been well narrated by commentator Ranj Alaaldin, compound the problem and add to the volatility of the country. Libya is still “in an unstable post-conflict environment that has yet to remedy differences between existing rulers and their predecessors. It could also be detrimental because of the links militias have with local regions and neighbourhoods. Some have extensive tribal, political and familial ties. The ramifications of this will be all the more severe because of the lack of state control and a functioning security force”.

Very soon we may be witnessing Libya turning into another Somalia posing a serious security threat not only to its government and people but also to the entire region and Middle East. The new Libyan government has neither the experience nor the expertise to negotiate challenges it is almost certain to face sooner than later when large or mid size militia groups split into smaller units and start striking virtually at will and with impunity.

“The government could still try to eliminate militias in their new form, but it remains doubtful that the state army, usually suited to targeting larger military formations and identifiable headquarters, has the organisation, experience and effectiveness to combat smaller, dispersed units that might continue and even increase their hit-and-run operations.” The evolving situation in Libya can, therefore, not only exacerbate the security of this North African Mediterranean nation but may also put its fledgling democracy on a reverse.

The biggest danger that looms today over Libya is the fact that its downward spiralling volatility will only encourage global terror network like Al Qaeda to seek entry and strike roots in affiliation with Ansar Al Sharia and its ilk. Waning security has already introduced a new and a more perilous dynamic in Libya. The government is fast losing its legitimacy as more and more citizens are now depending on other factors to ensure their security. The emerging situation has magnified the appeals of extremism and Al Qaeda.

In Libya, the situation today is far from comforting. And with a population which has already become perceptibly “dissatisfied with the state’s slow progress in establishing itself as the principal power since the upheaval last year” Libya today offers a fertile ground for Al Qaeda and different Salafist organisations. The attack on the US mission in Benghazi was the second since June this year and came in the same month in which the British ambassador to Libya, Dominic Asquith, was also attacked.

Hope in Libya is missing. And it is no more a matter of conjecture that in post Gaddafi Libya authority and legitimacy of the new government has already weakened beyond any quick recuperation. Libya’s future remains mired in uncertainty.

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