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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Libya - looking to the future

Just back from France, where I took a bit of a break from the news, only catching the odd snippet of what was going on in Libya. We had sattelite TV, but I pretty much restricted myself to enjoying the denouement to England's 4-0 thrashing of India. Only the sixth series whitewash in Test cricket history, you know.

So, Cameron and Sarkozy prevail. The rebels, who looked for a time unlikely to be able to make an impact against the superior firepower of Gaddafi's forces, swept to Tripoli after more and more ordinary Libyans realised the game was up, and support for Gaddafi collapsed.

There's been no rush to claim "mission accomplished" from NATO or Western leaders. Cameron has rightly said that this is an end, but also a beginning.

Libya's reconstruction will be a difficult process, but one which holds much promise. Libya has the natural resources to deliver prosperity. Over the next few months, great care needs to be taken to deliver a political process to deliver the stability that will help Libya realise its potential.

The National Transitional Council will now need to earn legitimacy. Libyans will need to think harder, and be given the chance to decide, the future they really want. They wanted Gaddafi gone, but what do they want instead? There's a need for reconciliation, which will be difficult. There will be Gaddafi loyalists who need to be given the chance to be part of Libya's future, a culture of revenge and retribution will only prolong Libya's trauma. The NTC has set out a sensible process for that to happen. Similarly, Libyan institutions that exist, however disfunctional now, must be carefully reformed and renewed, not disbanded.

As for Gaddafi himself, we need to take care. Algeria may give him shelter, but its regime risks becoming the next North African regime to fall if it puts itself on the wrong side of history. NATO must act within its mandate, to protect civilians and not to go for the Colonel. It will surely be in Libya's own interests if Gaddafi is dealt with fairly and properly by the International Criminal Court.

He must be found and justice must be done. The moral high ground must be defended.

Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama can afford to be quietly satisfied. But we can't afford to take our eye off the ball. The UN's representative to Libya, Ian Martin, has set out the scale of the challenge; "there's essentially no living memory of elections, there's no electoral machinery, there's no electoral commission, no history of political parties, no independent civil society, independent media are only beginning to emerge in the east in recent times. That's going to be quite a challenge, sort of organisationally, and it's clear that the NTC wish the UN to play a major role in that process."

Look what happened in Afghanistan when the West armedthe rebel mujahideen to fight an - at the time - expedient war against a greater evil. We, and they, won - and we left a vacuum which allowed the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to grow new threats.

We need to keep up our focus, getting the right balance between not interfering or muddying the Libyan's ownership of the process, but influencing and supporting the transitional process to ensure that the new Libya is a safe and stable one.

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