By Libya Herald reporter.
Tunis, 01 November 2015:
Speaking to the UK House of Commons Committee on Libya, former UK Ambassador to . . .[restrict]Libya Dominic Asquith indirectly criticized the international community and the UN’s Bernardino Leon’s efforts to achieve a peaceful solution in Libya.
Speaking to the “Libya: examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options’’, Foreign Affairs Committee last week, Asquith said mistakes were made by the international community in Libya.
He felt giving the militias the responsibility for security was a mistake and once control over militias had been lost the international community could not help any Libyan government. Giving control of Libya’s security to the militias was exploited by the Islamist militias, he explained.
‘‘There were early mistakes made by the Libyan leadership in terms of giving militias a role in establishing security of the state, which was replicated once Tripoli fell in August and particularly in October 2011 when there was a higher security council (the Supreme Security Council – SSC) which in effect became the operating base for the Islamist militias’’.
‘‘They (militias) were provided, therefore, the opening and authority in the capital for security. We were therefore constructing a Ministry of the Interior and a Ministry of Defence in a context where there were agents inside those Ministries determined not to let a national institution be established, because their benefits were better served by having disparate elements loyal to other people’’.
Asquith saw this as a pivotal point. ‘‘Our inability to correct that was when we lost the ability, as it were, to buy in the militias. The plan was to give them salaries from the central Government and in return for them to be loyal to be central Government rather than to a militia leader or a factional leader’’.
‘‘Collectively, the Libyan leadership and the international community failed, for a variety of reasons, to be able to manage that. As soon as we lost control of the militias—I think the latest figure is 200,000 and something: a ridiculous number of people on the payroll as providing security—it was very difficult to create the conditions for a Government of any kind to be able to exercise its role as the Executive, if, as regularly happens, the Prime Minister and his Ministers were taken hostage by armed groups’’
Asquith did feel that there were windows of opportunity to reverse this situation that were missed by the international community.
‘‘I think there was a key bit when Chris Stevens, the American ambassador, was killed and the people came out into the street to protest against the activities of the militia. I think that was a point at which, if the international community had come in and made clear that they were going to support the streets and protect a Government from the activities of the militia, we might have turned the tide’’.
The former ambassador was clear that any agreement and resultant Government of National Accord (GNA) reached by the two main opposing coalitions would be of little value if the issue of the militias and military protection for the GNA is not addressed.
‘‘A piece of paper that is not enforceable is worse than the current state of affairs’’, Asquith told the Committee. ‘‘We would have raised expectations of a solution only for them to fall much more violently when that Government is first attacked—as it will be, because some people will be opposed to it—and you cannot be confident that it will have the capability to resist that attack. Therefore, unless we are prepared to come to its defence, we will fail’’.
‘‘If you are going to work as internationals with a Government of Libya, which does not have the security wherewithal to protect itself from attack—that is fundamental to what we are talking about—in my view you have to be honest that the international community has to find a way to provide it with that defence or come to its defence if it is attacked’’.
‘‘If you are not prepared as an international community to commit forces on the ground to do that, or there is not the appetite in the UN to have a blue helmet force to do that, you have a problem. There are a variety of ways of trying to do that, but you ultimately are having to deal with this question of how you persuade people’’.
‘‘If you are not prepared to commit the force on the ground, how do you persuade people to put in place a demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programme against the will of some of them? And if you do not have the ability to exert direct pressure, it is quite difficult to see how you achieve the end that you are looking for. That is the position we were in in Libya. There was no willingness on the part of the external Governments helping Libya, in any of their constituencies, to commit troops on the ground’’.
Asked about the failure of Leon to set a fixed deadline to negotiations and at what point would the ever ongoing talks be declared a failure, Asquith implied that Leon was to blame for revising the initialled of 11 July 2015.
‘‘When do you declare failure? We have had a number of deadlines—I have lost track of how many—but the deadline is always extended. There is clearly a strong desire from the international community to keep the political negotiations going, come what may. Despite the latest deadline being crossed, I suspect they are still in play, even though it raises interesting questions about who has legitimate authority in Libya today’’.
‘‘I will go back to the 11 July agreement that was initialled. At that point the negotiations had been going on since September the previous year. An agreement was initialled, and I would have argued that that was the point at which the international community said collectively, “That’s the agreement that we’re going to get behind and the Government that emerges from it will be the Government with which we operate.” That did not happen. Peculiarly, three months later, a very different agreement emerges from the UN that, to an outsider, appears to have had no substance in a negotiated exchange between it and, at least, the guys in Tobruk’’.
Asquith felt that there is a loss of trust between the UN and the negotiating parties as a result.
‘‘It is essential that the UN restores trust from the parties, particularly the elected House of Representatives and the Government that they appointed in the east. They initialled, as did others in Tripoli, an agreement that emerged on 11 July. They were dismayed to see a very different text emerge out of the UN on 8 October, but that came at the end of a series of to-ing and fro-ing between the negotiators—between the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the UN—over the past year, where they sensed that too much weight was given to those who displaced them from Tripoli. In my view, there is unquestionably a requirement to rebuild trust’’.
Asquith suggested that a one-off conference between the contending parties is held where a resolution of the conflict is reached at the end.
‘‘I suggest that, if we are going to reach a political agreement, the next stage will require a more collaborative, concerted and decisive operation by the international community, of which the UN would clearly be part, but in the sort of Dayton model, where it sits the people down and does not let them out of the room until there is an agreement’’. [/restrict]