Resolution 1973 adopted by the UN Security Council of March 18 authorised the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya in a bid to protect civilians under attack by the Gaddafi troops. Within a short time the United States, France and Britain began air strikes on Muammar Gaddafi’s military defences.
The main problem facing the coalition countries at this stage is that while they have largely succeeded in preventing the rout of Libya’s rebels by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces in the eastern part of the country, the coalition now remains divided over the ultimate goal and exit strategy from Libya.
The US, trying hard not to risk another Afghan or Iraqi stalemate, is pushing for the overthrow of Col Gaddafi from within. The President of France who, on his part, is seeking to re-establish his popularity at home, has at last found his little war whereby to achieve this aim. He has even gone one step further by actually recognising the rebels in the east as the legitimate representatives of Libya. The new Prime Minister of Britain, acting under the heavy shadow of a previously popular Prime Minister now demonised for having been very economic with the truth in undertaking the war in Iraq, has made it clear that his country will stick very rigidly within the parameters of the UN resolution.
However, in enforcing the no-fly ban, the resolution clearly prohibits a “foreign occupation force of any form on any part of the Libyan territory”. This was an obvious message of conciliation to the Arab world in order to obtain its much-needed support. In real terms, however, it would exclude a ground operation that seems now the only way left for toppling Col Gaddafi and his entrenched entourage (especially his powerful sons). Thus the UN resolution goes far but not far enough to erode the remaining pillars of Col Gaddafi’s rule.
In this scenario it is very possible for Col Gaddafi to dig his heels in and stay in power. In such circumstances it is not far-fetched to also assume that the Fezzan district in the southwest, representing the largest area in Libya and populated mostly by the Warfalla tribe, would continue to give its support to Col Gaddafi. It is well known that many of his mercenaries are black-skinned Libyans recruited from Fezzan. Thus the end result of a stalemate would leave Col Gaddafi in power in the Tripoli district and also over the Fezzan district and the anti-Gaddafi forces ruling the eastern part with Benghazi as the capital. This would still leave Col Gaddafi with the largest swathe of Libya in terms of area and allow him to continue exercising worldwide clout because of the huge oil reserves in his possession.
The presence of a Gaddafi government in Tripolitania and Fezzan would have serious consequences on the rest of the world. History has persistently shown that sanctions do not work in the long run. George Thomson, commenting years later on the ineffective sanctions by Britain against Rhodesia after the latter’s declaration of UDI in 1965 stated: “It did our standing in the world, our programme, and most of all our self-respect, incalculable damage.”
Col Gaddafi will, in time, re-establish himself. Russia and China (and other minor countries, including India) will, no doubt, fill the void left by former Western countries who (in his estimation) left him in the lurch when the wind of revolt looked as if he had become a tottering ruler with his days counted.
The picture of a country divided and into a permanent state of civil war does not augur well for the future. Once the Western powers lower the guard and turn to other more urgent and pressing affairs, Col Gaddafi will probably resume his onslaught on Cyrenaica in the east. He is a past master of terrorism. Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary in the British government and well known for his bluntness, is reportedly to have recently stated in The Guardian that it is his opinion that Col Gaddafi would unleash again acts of terrorism on the coalition countries and the breakaway region of Cyrenaica once he is again secure of his power and hold over the country – it would be “the old Gaddafi looking for revenge”. Mr Clarke ended his interview with the telling comment: “I’m still not totally convinced anyone knows where we are going now”.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton recently stated that quite a number of Al Qaeda operatives had been traced as originating from the eastern part of Libya. The Provisional National Council in this part of the country has ruefully acknowledged that it has done a poor job organising itself and presenting a coherent message to the world. Col Gaddafi himself has more than once declared that Al Qaeda was behind the insurrection in Libya. If his claim proves to be right, one cannot discount a transformation and a direction of the revolt that would bring about the establishment of an Islamic Republic in the Cyrenaica district in the eastern part of the country and a rabid anti-West leader in the Tripolitania and Fezzan districts comprising the rest of the country.