Libyan strong man Haftar combines force and now politics
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar commander in chief of the Libyan National Army associated with the House of Representatives(HoR) government appears to have given in to pressure to join in a political process to form a unified government.
|The HoR government based in Tobruk is a rival to the UN-backed Government of National Accord ( GNA). Serraj Faiez is the head of the nine member Presidential Council(PC) of the GNA. According to the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in Skhirat Morocco in 2015, the HoR must vote confidence in the GNA before its term starts as well as amend the Constitutional Declaration of 2011 to include the GNA. The HoR has twice voted a lack of confidence in the GNA, most recently on August 22nd, 2016.|
Unsurprisingly, optimism soared among diplomats and policymakers when news came out of an Emirati-brokered meeting on 2 May held in Abu Dhabi between Fayez Serraj, head of the UN-backed and Tripoli-based Presidency Council, and Khalifa Haftar, the “field-marshall” who heads a rival administration in the country’s east.This is somewhat of an amazing description of Haftar. As a matter of fact it is Ageela Saleh who is head of the HoR administration not Haftar. Haftar was appointed commander in chief of the HoR armed forces as depicted in the appended photo. No doubt Haftar has control over the HoR and that is why you have the anomaly of one head of government not negotiating with another head but the commander of its armed forces. Toaldo notes that just hours after the meeting contents of a supposed deal that he claims included some of the following elements were posted on some pro-Haftar Arab media sites:
A new, smaller Presidency Council of three (down from the current nine members) including Serraj, Haftar and his political arm, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aghila Saleh. Haftar’s acceptance of civilian oversight by this body in exchange for him remaining as head of the army. A quick path towards new presidential and parliamentary elections to be held early in 2018.Supposedly Serraj and Hafter agreed to finalize the deal last week with the blessing of Egyptian president el-Sisi. This did not happen. The elements of the deal quoted by Toaldo were simply the negotiating position of the Haftar side. Serraj`s statement issued some while after the conference mentions only an agreement to a ceasefire in the south and a peaceful transfer of power.
In most Western and regional capitals, there was talk of a “breakthrough” and of the need to accelerate the political process to include Haftar in the LPA and hold elections in a few months. A new emerging consensus focuses on accelerating the political process through a meeting of delegations from the House of Representative and the Tripoli-based High Council of State and a roadmap for parliamentary and presidential elections. The plan could then be endorsed by the UN at its highest levels.If the demands of Haftar being met are preconditions to an agreement then there is almost no chance of any actual agreement. However, if they are not met then the meetings will have been in vain.
Haftar’s new strategy is to abide by a reformed LPA with solid guarantees on his role as both military and civilian leader while pushing to have presidential elections early in 2018. The anti-Islamist former general would run in those elections as his moves to recruit campaigners throughout the country indicateToaldo thinks that he would win elections and then ask for help crushing his opponents and entering Tripoli.
Ultimately, Haftar’s plan is not to abandon war to enter politics, but rather to use politics to strengthen his hand in a military battle that he knows he can’t win under current circumstances. For him, war is not the continuation of politics by other means, but rather the other way around: politics is a way to expand his support base and continue fighting.Toaldo warns that Europeans and Americans should think twice before supporting these negotiations that could lead to more war and help empower Haftar to take on well-armed militias in western Libya. Toaldo suggests that a better plan would be to concentrate on stabilizing the GNA government and making it more functional. This sounds sensible but seems unlikely to happen as most in the international community seem bound and determined to continue trying to give Haftar a prominent role in any unity government. It should have been evident some time ago this is not possible because so many are opposed to it.