In what looks like the dangerous unravelling of the 23 October 2020 Ceasefire Agreement, which has been the bedrock of the relative peace and stability in Libya since, Khalifa Hafter’s five representatives in the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC) announced yesterday the suspension of their participation in the JMC until their demands are met.
The JMC has been instrumental in the holding of the ceasefire agreement and the subsequent peace after the end of Hafter’s unsuccessful war on Tripoli.
Hafter’s JMC representatives made four alarming demands of Hafter:
- Stop the export of oil
- Close the coastal road linking eastern and western Libya
- Stop all aspects of cooperation with the Tripoli-based Abd Alhamid Aldabaiba Caretaker Government of National Unity and its components
- Stop operating flights between east and west Libya
They accused Aldabaiba of practices that contradict the political agreement and a flagrant violation of human rights in accordance with international and national standards and covenants.
They also accused Aldabaiba of ignoring the important national role that the (Hafter-led eastern-based) armed forces have achieved in combating terrorism and guarding oil fields, which are the main source of sustenance for Libyans and their role in the protection of the borders of the Libyan state, which were a hotbed for organized criminal gangs.
This comment alludes to the fact that Hafter’s armed forces have not been paid by Aldabaiba. The Aldabaiba government insists that Hafter’s armed forces personnel are identified individually through their unique National ID Numbers and get paid directly from the state. Hafter wants a lump sum transferred to his administration to distribute. As a result Hafter’s army has not been paid.
Moreover, the Hafter JMC members noted that these illegal actions of the Aldabaiba government happened in full view of the United Nations, its Mission and the international community, which did not move a finger in the face of these developments and this dangerous slide.
Raising the stakes to install Bashagha in office?
The move is seen as an attempt by Hafter and House of Representatives (HoR) Speaker Ageela Saleh to raise the political stakes in order to install their man, Fathi Bashagha, as Prime Minister in Tripoli.
Having appointed Bashagha as the new Prime Minister and having decided not to use force to enter Tripoli and take over as PM at the Cabinet Office in Tripoli, Hafter and Saleh have been confounded as to what to do next.
Aldabaiba does not recognize the legality of the selection of Bashagha and has refused to give up office.
Their decision not to use force has limited their options at a time when the east has always had limited political options to maneuverer in order to coerce western Libya and Tripoli into accepting Bashagha as the new PM.
They had hoped Aldabaiba would eventually blink and leave. He has not. They had also hoped enough of Misrata, its militias and the Tripoli militias would tip the political balance by supporting Bashagha and forcing Aldabaiba to quit. This too did not happen.
Hence the move yesterday by Hafter’s JMC representatives to increase the stakes and political tensions.
Assessing Hafter’s options
Three of the four demands made by Hafter’s JMC are soft options. Closing the west-east road and flights will harm eastern Libya as much if not more than the west. They will definitely not hit the western political / military elite as much as the poor average citizen on the street.
As for stopping all cooperation with the Aldabaiba government, cooperation is already minimal. The east needs the west to continue sending it money and paying state-sector salaries. Anyway, none of these are likely to be decisive and tip the balance.
The war option?
The only real action that has been available to the east is war or closing the oil supplies. Hafter has already failed to impose his political will on western Libya through war. There is no reason why this option should succeed second time around. Turkey’s military intervention is still active.
Closing the oil supplies?
On the other hand, closing the oil supplies will hit every Libyan – east and west – including its political and military elites. Its Hafter’s only real effective option – if he is serious and feels he can pull it off. It will conflict with his civilian ambitions to be elected by all Libya as president in any forthcoming elections.
In the short term the Tripoli-based Central Bank of Libya will, like all previous crises, dip into its savings and reserves. This will have a negative long-term effect on Libya’s financial and economic standing and may lead to a further devaluation of the dinar and loss of purchasing power for the average citizen.
Unravelling of the 23 October ceasefire agreement?
What these proposed measures will mean is the unravelling of the 23 October 2020 Ceasefire Agreement that officially ended Hafter’s war on Tripoli. This would not bode well for Libya’s political progress away from polarised confrontation and war.
Libya has enjoyed a period of relative calm, stability and slow progress towards elections and political dialogue – rather than the language of war – since 2020. This move by Hafter is now taking Libya into the dangerous territory of escalation.
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