Hard to Replace Khalifa Haftar in Libya

[Manish Rai]

Khalifa Haftar, a veteran general and strongman in Libya has recently returned to his stronghold and headquarter in the eastern city of Benghazi following an extended absence, including reported treatment in Paris hospital for a stroke. General Haftar has been part of the Libyan political scene for more than four decades, shifting from the center to the periphery and back again as his fortunes changed.

Initial reports even suggested that the 75-year-old strongman who controls most of eastern Libya and oil crescent was seriously ill, incapacitated or even dead and in his Libyan National Army opening salvo in a battle to succeed him has started. But now all these rumors have been put to rest.

Haftar has been consolidating his position in Libya since announcing operation dignity against radical extremist’s forces in 2014. His forces have both strengthened their hold on their stronghold in Cyrenaica in eastern Libya and advanced westward into critical terrain since May 2017.

People were speculating he could make it to Tripoli soon either through force or even by winning Presidential elections. It’s a hard fact that significant number of Libyans now see Haftar as the only person which can bring some form of order in there lawless and chaotic country.

General Haftar commands the Libyan National Army which is the strongest force in Libya as of now. His forces are better equipped than any other force and Haftar even poses his own air force which includes MIG 21 fighter jets and combat helicopters. General has formed carefully his Libyan National Army (LNA) after taking into account social dynamics of Libyan society.

LNA consists of nationalist coalition of military units, local and tribal militias, Salafi fighters and Sudanese mercenaries, particularly from the Darfuri rebel groups. The LNA currently controls the populated areas of eastern Libya, the oil crescent region and strategic military sites in the southwest — factors that has boosted the role of General Haftar as the game changer in Libyan politics.

General also enjoyed unlimited regional support from the UAE and Egypt, as well as international support from France and to a lesser extent Russia. Haftar also commands greater degree of tribal support from most of major tribes like- Magharba, Baraasa, Hasa, Obaidat and Zintan which has most powerful tribal militia called Zintani brigades. Recently Haftar established contact with western Libyan tribes Warfalla and Tarhouna which lie on route to capital Tripoli and in future can facilitate him on his march towards capital.

Haftar casts himself as the person who can bring stability to Libya after years of conflict and areas under his control are relatively stable and have seen far less fighting. Haftar’s popularity has grown as his military governance structures provide a semblance of stability.

Although his way of rule is allegedly autocratic and undemocratic, it delivers to the people some form of much-needed governance. His stock is rising, especially given the growing dissatisfaction with the Government of National Accord (GNA), which merely rule in some parts of Tripoli, inter-militia warfare and the collapse of the Libyan dinar.

The flow of oil and stable security at the crucial Libyan ports has significantly increased Haftar’s political leverage and standing among both Libyans and the international community — something that has strengthened his negotiating position for any fresh political bargain. Haftar thus remains an important figure in the Libyan political landscape.

The problem with Haftar is that he believes he can impose his own conditions on the other parties, courtesy his importance in the political landscape. However, the reality differs from what Haftar believes.

Although the balance of power is largely in his favor for the timebeing, this will not last forever. Nor can he resolve the situation to his advantage solely based on military means.

It is therefore important on the part of Haftar’s regional and international backers to convince him to play a constructive political role and not just rely upon military means so that long-term stability can be achieved in Libya .

A comprehensive political settlement that includes all Libyan parties and influential forces on the ground in any potential settlement in the only way forward for Libya. Haftar has to be engaged heavily to contribute his part for any future political solution and he should be offered a greater role to play in any future arrangement.

Author Avatar | Oped Column SyndicationManish Rai is a Columnist for Middle East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency Viewsaround.

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