Time is now to plan for a post-Qaddafi Libya

Muammar Qaddafi has lasted longer than many expected. But now it's time to consider what kind of government will replace his, and how the rebel coalition will share power.

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Ever since the first protests in Libya in mid-February, Col Muammar Qaddafi has surprised the world. In the early days of the fast-moving Arab Spring, many presumed that Col Qaddafi, too, would have fled to gilded exile within days.

But six grim months later he remains in Tripoli, directing ruthless counter-attacks against a "popular movement" that is in danger of fracturing along lines of ideology and personality.

Military predictions are perilous; wars progress at their own uneven pace. Still, few would predict another six months for the current regime, as rebel forces advance, secret talks commence and western countries hand over Libyan assets - and open embassies - to the rebels' Transitional National Council (TNC).

But what might come after Col Qaddafi? How, if at all, can the rebels convert their ragtag military and splintering political movement into a government with the legitimacy and competence to move Libya beyond its appalling Qaddafi era? Remember that the revolt seemed to be collapsing until western and Arab nations intervened from the air, starting in mid-March. That widely welcomed decision has become a point of disagreement among Nato nations, as the aerial powers rediscover the old shopkeepers' adage: If you broke it, you bought it.

Nobody would say foreigners should meddle in the formation of a new government, yet the Nato coalition will have a moral obligation to the Libyan people. Will they be able to stomach helping the new leadership?

As revolutions near victory they often fission. The end of Col Qaddafi - whenever that comes - will be no guarantee of the end of fighting, as the July 28 assassination of rebel military leader Abdel Fatah Yunis shows.

Like many in the TNC, Gen Yunis was a former Qaddafi man. Such people make up one part of the rebels' loose coalition, along with social democrats, Islamists, expatriates, leaders of Libya's socially and militarily potent tribes and others. All of them are jostling for power. Islamist groups, which have contributed many fighters, rejected the first TNC cabinet, which was too secular for their taste. A new cabinet is now being formed.

Libya's tumult will not end with Col Qaddafi. It remains to be seen if people who lived under tyranny for so long can compromise going forward. But at the very least it's worth reminding Nato that these rebels are united largely in a desire to see Col Qaddafi go. They will need more than air strikes to keep that unity alive when he departs.