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August 2011, Week 4

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Mon, 22 Aug 2011 20:41:32 -0400
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Reconciliation is Crucial to Rebuilding Libya

By Jonathan Steele Guardian (UK) 22 August 11

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/22/
reconciliation-libya-rebels-gadaffi-nato

The rebels have so far shown restraint with Gaddafi's
allies - good news for a NATO fearful of a repeat of
Afghanistan.

Now that the military battle for Libya is all but
finished, the challenge for NATO is enormous. Britain,
France and the United States, in particular, have acted
as the decisive weapon on the rebel side and they bear
a huge responsibility for ensuring a calm and orderly
transition.

It has long been apparent that NATO's agenda was regime
change rather than the humanitarian imperative of
protecting civilians on which it based its pleas to
Russia and China not to block a UN security council
resolution to set up a no-fly zone in March.

NATO air power played a vital role in destroying
Gaddafi's fixed-wing aircraft in the early days after
the resolution was passed. Later, NATO attacks on his
helicopters helped to level the pitch and make it
easier for the rebels to pursue their advance. Although
the rebels often complained that NATO was not doing
enough, it is clear that without NATO they would have
been able to do very little at all.

The supply of radios and other communication equipment
from NATO over the spring and summer was vital and in
the past few weeks British, French and other special
forces have been on the ground in Libya, helping the
rebels to co-ordinate the various anti-Gaddafi fronts
and providing intelligence to NATO helicopter pilots
and the alliance's other target selectors.

It is an almost exact repetition of the way US aircraft
and missiles enabled the Northern Alliance warlords to
capture Kabul from the Taliban a decade ago. Three
weeks later, with the help of US special forces as well
as massive bombing, Hamid Karzai and other anti-Taliban
commanders entered Kandahar, Afghanistan's second city.

Thanks to its crucial role in tipping the military
scales in Libya, NATO and the rebels are inextricably
linked. Gaddafi had few supporters in the Arab world
but there is a justified perception on the Arab street
that the rebels are over-reliant on western support and
that the overriding western motive is access to Libya's
oil. Hence the rebels' attempt to distance themselves
by calling for NATO to leave now.

Even among the nine states of the 22-member Arab League
that voted in March to support a no-fly zone (the rest
were absent or voted against), discontent with NATO's
stretching of the UN resolution had become visible. For
the same reason the Syrian opposition is adamant that
it does not want foreign military support in its
struggle against the Assad regime.

The best revolutions are homegrown as they were in
Tunisia and Egypt. Those who took to the streets in
Tunis and Cairo's Tahrir square wanted to regain their
country's national dignity after decades of seeing
their rulers doing the bidding of France and the United
States.

The new rulers in Libya face a long road ahead in
establishing their legitimacy on the Arab and African
stage. The west will repeatedly insist, as Barack Obama
said on Sunday night, that Libya's future is in Libyan
hands. NATO cannot be expected to micro-manage every
detail of the post-Gaddafi arrangements, and the
rebels' political leadership in the National
Transitional Council will not allow it anyway. But NATO
cannot pretend it has no responsibility for the way its
allies behave.

The risk of score-settling and unjustified reprisals
against members of Gaddafi's tribe will be high. They
may also be excluded unfairly from the new dispensation
as it moves towards a decent constitution and
elections.

So far the rebels' actions have been correct and
balanced. They have not tortured or assassinated
Gaddafi's two captured sons. Calling on their own
supporters to show restraint, their leaders are
pledging that the new regime will be inclusive.

The real test will come in the next few weeks, when the
international spotlight is off. The experience of post-
Taliban Afghanistan is not encouraging. Succumbing to
triumphalism and impatience, a new administration was
put in place which marginalised large parts of the
Pashtun population of the south and restored warlords
in power in Kabul, thereby undermining the value of the
expensively organised but easily manipulated new
electoral system. The Taliban soon found it had a
fertile soil on which to reorganise.

Libya's ethnic makeup is obviously different, but the
fact remains that it is a disparate country with
significant tribal differences which has never had a
central government that commanded much respect.
Reconciliation must be the key value in the forthcoming
transition. In July, General Abdel Fattah Younes, who
spent years in Gaddafi's inner circle before defecting
to become the military chief in the rebel National
Transitional Council, was murdered by other rebels. It
was not a good omen.

Even as Tripoli and Benghazi celebrate today, it is
vital that the world does not lose interest in the
weeks ahead. If things go wrong, NATO will share the
blame.

___________________________________________

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