Libya’s chance for stability

A new army post that consolidates two of Libya’s many fighting factions offers hope

Khalifa Haftar in Abyar, east of Benghazi. (Esam Omran Al-Fetori / Reuters)
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There is no easy solution in Libya – that much has been clear since the rival militia groups that ousted Muammar Qaddafi (with Nato help) turned on each other. Today, the country has two rival parliaments and far too many groups with guns.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that many in Libya – as reported in these pages earlier this week – believe only a military council can end the political deadlock and instability and restore some semblance of a national state.

The man being touted to be the new army chief is a former general, Khalifa Haftar. He has what might be plausibly called a flexible military history: fighting alongside, then against Qaddafi, vanishing into exile for two decades in the US, before reappearing after Qaddafi’s fall. At least, however, Gen Haftar has military experience: he has fought against many of the militias that roam Libya, and has a particular distaste for religiously extreme groups.

Although a controversial figure, Gen Haftar has gained some additional legitimacy this week. Libya’s internationally recognised parliament – based in the eastern city of Tobruk rather than the capital Tripoli – on Tuesday created a new army chief post, who would lead the Libyan army. Sources in Libya indicated that Gen Haftar would be given the post, although, as yet, a formal announcement has not been made.

What this means is unclear. The UN has been sponsoring dialogue between the rival parliaments, in the hope of finding a political breakthrough. This week, the Tobruk-based parliament pulled out of the talks, accusing the Tripoli-based group Libya Dawn of – at the least – insufficient condemnation of attacks by ISIL-linked fighters.

Gen Haftar, then, may soon find himself and his fighters waging battle once more, this time in the name of the elected Libya parliament. Every avenue that Libya has explored since the end of the Qaddafi era has led to more bloodshed. It is only to be hoped that, at the end of this latest round, there is a political payoff.