No doubt, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi will eventually be forced out of power. But forces loyal to the embattled colonel are likely to be as much part of post-Qaddafi reconstruction as they are part of the problem today.
That is the conclusion of government experts on nation building and development from the United Nations, the United States, Europe, Canada and Turkey who are consulting with the NATO-backed Libyan rebels’ Transitional National Council (TNC). The experts are using the transition in post-invasion Iraq as their model.
Preparations for a Libya without Mr. Qaddafi, who has ruled the country with an iron hand for 41 years, come as the United Nations quietly seeks to negotiate an end to the crisis. UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council earlier this week that a “nascent negotiation process” was underway.
Three of Mr. Qaddafi’s ministers were in Tunisia this week for talks with unidentified foreign parties. A senior TNC official, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, said last week that the rebel leadership had been in indirect contact with Mr. Qaddafi's government about a possible peace deal.
The immediate problems Libyans and the international community will have to address once Mr. Qaddafi departs are huge and so are the potential pitfalls. The problems include restoring and maintaining law and order; securing basic services such as food, water and energy; achieving international recognition of a post-Qaddafi government; resuming oil exports to ensure funding for the new government; and kick starting Libya’s stagnating economy.
All of this has to happen in a country that lacks institutions as a result of Mr. Qaddafi’s reliance on traditional tribal structures.
The pitfalls are equally challenging. A major conclusion of the experts is to incorporate existing structures and forces. The experts are drawing on the fact that a decision by the than US administration of Iraq to disband former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s military and police forces fuelled the bloody insurgency that savaged Iraq for years.
The need to rely on remnants of Mr. Qaddafi’s regime is reinforced by the fact that the untrained and inexperienced rebel forces are likely to be unable to maintain security on their own. Privately, Libyans in rebel-held territory concede that their most competent force consists of Islamists steeled by years of fighting in the 1990s against Mr. Qaddafi’s regime.
Ensuring the integration of remnants of the old regime into a new Libya may also pay political dividends. It would serve as a reassurance for those in Mr. Qaddafi’s camp who might still be willing to jump ship or even stage an effective coup against Mr. Qaddafi to remove him from power and pave the way for regime change. That reassurance takes on added importance following this week’s arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Mr. Qaddafi, his son, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi and Abdullah Senoussi, the head of Libyan intelligence.
Anticipating the need to maintain security, avoid violent revenge and retribution and ensure that a post-Qaddafi government gets off to a good start, some US commanders, including Admiral Samuel Locklear, NATO’s joint operations chief in Naples, and General Carter Ham, who runs the US military’s Africa Command, have suggested that United Nations or African Union peacekeepers would have to be inserted into Libya once Mr. Qaddafi has been removed from power.
Libya is expected to dominate the agenda of an African Union summit scheduled to open in Equatorial Guinea on Thursday. The leaders are likely to call for a democratic transition that excludes Mr. Qaddafi.
Like elsewhere in the Arab world, the Libyan police and parts of the military are likely to encounter popular distrust once the Libyan leader is gone because they are widely viewed as Mr. Qaddafi’s henchmen.
In post-revolution Egypt and Tunisia that meant that security forces were reluctant to engage in clashes with protesters and other groups because that would have undermined their efforts to improve their tarnished image and demonstrate that they are needed to maintain law and order.
This week’s clashes on Cairo’s Tahrir Square between protesters and police are their first major encounter since the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak four months ago.
The need for integration of and cooperation with remnants of the Qaddafi regime is evident to the rebels’ international backers. Among the rebels themselves and within the TNC, the issue is far more controversial and for many a bitter pill to swallow. Convincing the rebels to endorse such cooperation is going to take deft persuasion by the international community as well as by leaders of the TNC.
The alternative is a wave of bloody violence that is unlikely to bring Libyans any closer to their goal of greater political freedom and economic opportunity that they are fighting so hard for.
(James M. Dorsey, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com)