Defining Haftar's role vital to rescuing Libya's political agreement

Defining Haftar's role vital to rescuing Libya's political agreement
Comment: Now is not the time to scrap Libya's political agreement, improvements can and must be made if Libya is to find the road to peace, writes Guma ElGamaty.
7 min read
19 Jan, 2017
Security and socio-economic conditions in Libya continue to deteriorate, writes Gamaty [Getty]

One year on from signing the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in Morocco on 17 December 2015, Libya's trajectory remains ominous, and its path to peace tortuous.

Divisions are deepening and uncompromising positions are becoming ever more entrenched; as yet, there seems to be no glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. The UN Security Council, in its report on Libya a month ago stated that "one year after the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), its basis of support has not broadened and its implementation has been minimal."

The UN seems to place part of the blame for the continued conflict in Libya on the negative interference by various other countries. The report went on to say that "despite several international meetings on Libya, divisions among the parties continue to be fuelled by regional and international actors".

Meanwhile, as the political wrangling among Libyan and international players goes on, ordinary Libyans inside the country are faced with continually worsening security and socio-economic conditions.

Security has deteriorated dramatically with cases of kidnapping and killing becoming a daily occurrence, especially in the capital Tripoli and its peripheries. To add to this, many people cannot get access to their salaries because banks have run almost dry on cash.

Security has deteriorated dramatically with cases of kidnapping and killing becoming a daily occurrence

Prices of essential commodities have spiralled up, compounded by the tumbling of the value of the Libyan Dinar against foreign currencies. Electricity blackouts have reached chronic levels, averaging periods of 20 hours a day in the last few weeks.

Despite all this suffering and despair, many people still believe that a political solution (based on a compromise agreement between the main protagonists in the Libyan conflict) is the only way out.

The LPA, for all its faults and design weaknesses, still provides the best viable framework and is currently "the only game in town". What is needed is not so much to start all over again, but rather to address the weaknesses of the LPA and save it from a total collapse, in order to avert potentially catastrophic consequences for Libya.

Read More: Rival Libyan factions 'agree to talks' in Cairo

One of the main points of contention concerns a provision of Article 8, which makes the nine-man Presidential Council (PC) of the Government of National Accord (GNA) the commander in chief of the armed forces.

General Haftar and his backers within the Tobruk-based parliament (HOR) - including its president Ageela Saleh -refused to accept this, and insist on its amendment; keeping the president of HOR as the Commander in Chief.

They have repeatedly stated that Haftar should remain the General Commander of armed forces, with effectively a free hand. Haftar's opponents, on the other hand, insist that he should be accountable to the civilian political leadership in order to thwart what is suspected as being his ambition to return Libya to an absolute one-man military rule.

An inclusive approach with General Haftar contained within an agreement could very well curtail his ambitions for a military imposed rule

Another serious criticism of the LPA has been the composition of the PC; composed of nine men whom were supposedly chosen to represent different regions and sides of the conflict. However, one year on, it has become apparent that the PC simply cannot function as a cohesive unit and provide the leadership that is vitally necessary.

The PC has been marred with internal feuds and open vocal disputes that rendered it ineffective at a time when Libya needed decisive, effective leadership to manage the many crises it faces.

In a detailed critique of the LPA, the Brussels based "Crisis Group" (CG) has identified the lack of a clear security element and the lack of involvement of the powerful military actors on the ground as a major weakness.  

The CG argued that "the absence of a security dialogue and agreement among competing internal and external actors has rendered the well-intentioned Skhirat accord impossible to fully implement at this time". 

It is however, important to remember that the powerful military actors in Libya - on both sides of the conflict - have been conducting almost a proxy war on behalf of their regional and international backers - who continue to pour oil on the Libyan fire.

Read More: Will Russia be winning card for Haftar in Libya?

They do this by providing arms, ammunitions, training, intelligence and other logistical support, which further prolong the Libyan conflict. This detrimental external interference has been a major contributor to making the LPA unworkable, by encouraging the factions to pursue an elusive military victory strategy, rather than a peaceful political settlement based on compromise and a win-win outcome.

There has been a recent flurry of political meetings and diplomatic activities inside and outside Libya involving Libyan, Arab and international players. They are all attempting to craft initiatives that can break the impasse and save the day for the LPA.

Egypt and Algeria - Libya's two most influential neighbours - have played host to various meetings with the main Libyan political figures. By working constructively together and having a shared vision for how to move forward, both Egypt and Algeria are in a position to facilitate real progress by persuading the main factions in the east and west of Libya to come to a compromise.

The foreign ministers of the six neighbouring countries of Libya met in Cairo on 21 January, a crucial consultation for the Libyan Dialogue Group - which produced and signed the LPA - is scheduled for this week in Tunisia.

The African Union (AU) High-Level Committee on Libya, made up of seven African countries (including Algeria and Egypt), is also scheduled to convene in Congo on 24 January. These meetings are expected to discuss a much talked about initiative for Libya, to be proposed jointly by Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.

How could the Political Agreement be improved?

Ideas for revisiting the LPA include the establishment of a defined role for General Haftar, confining him to helping rebuild a united Libyan army without interfering with the political process.

There also seems to be a consensus that the PC has been dysfunctional and cannot continue with its current nine member composition. Suggestions for reform include a more practical three member PC (a president and two deputies), or a new executive tier with a separate prime minister running a cabinet made of technocrat ministers, under the supervision of the PC.

Many international observers also point out that any power sharing agreement that can deliver peace and security to Libya must involve the two main military powers in the country: the Haftar led Libyan National Army (LNA) with its support base in eastern Libya, and the armed groups from the city of Misrata and its allies in the west.

After one year of attempting to implement it, the LPA has simply not worked

Getting these two main military powers to reach an agreement "could generate a minimal security environment that could underpin an effective political agreement and the formation of a more effective government in Libya" writes the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS).

An inclusive approach with General Haftar contained within an agreement could very well curtail his ambitions for a military imposed rule.

After one year of attempting to implement it, the LPA has simply not worked and it is time to shift efforts and focus on achieving a comprehensive accord that can accommodate all the main political, military and regional players.

The internal dynamics and conflicts within Libya, being a sparsely populated country with vast natural resources, are mainly driven by the absence of a social contract that allows for a fair way of sharing power and wealth. Resolving this root cause could provide the main underpinning of peace and stability.

Furthermore, although international intervention has been instrumental in aiding Libyans to win in their revolution of 2011, some regional and international interferences (post-revolution) have been very damaging to say the least.

As the DIIS states, "the international community should pressure all regional partners to stop interfering in Libya by proxy to ensure that a truly local dynamic of power sharing and peace-making can take root".

Given the current political and diplomatic efforts to end the Libyan conflict, and provided that all the main regional and international players involved have a genuine will to converge - while aligning with the interests of Libya and its people as a whole - there is a good chance the LPA can still be saved. The agreement can thus serve as a foundation and the best framework for moving forward.

Guma El-Gamaty is a Libyan academic and politician who heads the Taghyeer Party in Libya and a member of the UN-backed Libyan political dialogue process.

Follow him on Twitter: @Guma_el_gamaty

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab