The End of Gaddafi, the Beginning of Unknown

Journal of Foreign Relations column – 

After sustained NATO bombing of Libya for five months, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s rule is over. The fall of Gaddafi will be a welcome event to many, but Libya is no Tunisia or Egypt. Unlike Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, the collapse of Gaddafi’s dictatorship is a result of massive military intervention. Two points should be made at the outset. Libya is the second oil-rich state after Iraq to be a target of U.S.-led intervention since 2003. A small country of just over six million people, Libya is also endowed with vast high-quality oil reserves. Assuming authorization to “protect civilians” under a United Nations Security Council resolution in March, NATO flew nearly 20,000 missions over Libya, including 7,500 bombing missions. NATO air power imposed a no-fly zone, and destroyed much of Gaddafi’s air force, tanks, armored vehicles and heavy artillery in the initial phase of its operations.

British, French and Italian special forces were deployed as “advisers” in Libya, although foreign forces were forbidden under the Security Council resolution. NATO played a big role in helping the rebels storm Tripoli. Then, British and French took on the job of guiding anti-Gaddafi fighters toward Sirte, his birthplace and last major stronghold. To insist, as NATO did, that regime change was not its objective is far from the truth. The international community, within the United Nations and without, did not have the appetite to send a peacekeeping force while the no-fly zone was enforced.

According to the most trustworthy data available, nearly 13,000 military personnel across 18 countries were involved in the operation, including 8,000 Americans. The weight of the conflict also fell upon Britain, France, Italy and Canada, leading Western allies in America’s militaristic foreign policy project, as well as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. British Prime Minister David Cameron was a leading advocate of intervention in Libya. He, with President Sarkozy and President Obama, will have to carry the responsibility for what happens in that country. Already, there are powerful critics of the path Cameron has chosen, not unlike that of his recent predecessor, Tony Blair, with George W. Bush.

As the Transitional National Council representing anti-Gaddafi forces issued statements about new Libya’s constitutional shape, acts of looting were taking place in Tripoli, including Gaddafi’s compound. Men were helping themselves with guns and reports of insecurity were emerging. Channel 4 News correspondent Alex Thomson’s account from Tripoli’s main hospital and mortuary gave a taste of things. Reports of revenge killings, acts of kidnapping and intimidation of foreigners abound.

In a country known for some of the best medical treatment facilities, hospitals were full of wounded people. Shortages of food, water, fuel and medicines were acute and there were electricity blackouts. It all reminded of Baghdad in 2003. The risk of the Libyan armed forces disintegrating must be high. The military and security services personnel, who fought on Gaddafi’s side to the bitter end, and did not defect, owed everything to him. For them, defection to the anti-Gaddafi camp is not a safe option.

At this point, it is important to note that many in the Transitional National Council are Gaddafi’s ex-apparatchiks, including its leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who was his justice minister until a few months ago. Another prominent figure, Mahmoud Jibril, a U.S.-trained political scientist, was head of the National Economic Development Board in the Gaddafi regime before his defection. Western allies of the new power elite in Libya face an acute dilemma. To what extent will the culture of Gaddafi’s successors be different? Will they be able to control the instinct for revenge and appreciate the difference between justice and vengeance? Will they be effective in restoring order in a country in which people are now extremely heavily armed? Will they unite Libyans?

Despite the TNC’s claims of unity, Libya is a very diverse, and now deeply split, country – a sparsely populated vast desert land. It has tribes; ethnic Arabs, Berbers and smaller African minorities, Tuareg and Tebu nomads; and opposing ideologies: Islamism, nationalism and Gaddafi’s own brand of Arab socialism, though its time must surely be at an end. The celebratory mood in western capitals must not be allowed to overshadow a sense of foreboding and a desperate desire for a return to some sort of order. A failure of the Libya project is unlikely to absolve Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama of their responsibility by claiming that there were no foreign troops on the ground in that country.


Anthony Martinez on Anna Hazare Ends Hunger Strike

Anthony Martinez on has a roundup after Anna Hazare ended his hunger strike. Transcript of his video report: 

Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has agreed to end his 12-day hunger strike. This, after the Indian parliament resolved to endorse some of his demands for a new anti-corruption bill. Here’s France 24 with the details.

“That bill would create an anti-corruption agency to deal with citizens’ grievances and protect whistle blowers. The legislation has been on the table for nearly four decades, but now with massive popular support behind Hazare, parliament is scrambling to pass it. MP’s have already agreed in principle to Hazare’s demands to strengthen the bill, including extending the law to cover all civil servants.”

And now, thousands of Hazare’s supporters are celebrating the endorsement, though the activist himself says the victory is only half-won. As one writer for First Post says…

“…Anna Hazare’s fast didn’t achieve all its goals. … He didn’t even get a resolution passed in favour of his three sticking points. Parliament asserted itself, bent a little to his will, and finally did its own thing.”

Interestingly, Times of India notes– Hazare’s efforts were already close to an end even before the parliament passed its resolution.

“…little did the government know that Team Anna was precariously poised on the edge of defeat. Hazare’s sliding health and the threat of the burgeoning crowd going out of control would have led Team Anna to throw in the towel if the government had hung in for another day.”

So what’s next for Hazare and the Indian Parliament? One India News explains there’s some room for last minute opinion against the resolution…

“Last night we were assured that Parliament would pass a resolution to include Anna’s demands… which would be voted upon… Now we are being told there won’t be a resolution. There will only be a discussion and some sense of the House will be conveyed to us. This won’t be helpful or meaningful at all.” 


When State Power Faces People Power …

Journal of Foreign Relations column –

While Britain reeled from the recent violence and looting, extraordinary events were taking place in India last week. On August 16, plainclothes police turned up at a suburban apartment in the capital, New Delhi, and took a septuagenarian activist, Anna Hazare, into custody. He was just about to begin a hunger strike as part of an anti-corruption movement. The decision to arrest Hazare and take him to the Tihar jail, a notorious high-security prison with inmates locked up for corruption and other serous crimes, triggered a public backlash not witnessed in India for decades. Demonstrations broke out across the country and were spreading rapidly. Within hours, the Indian government was beginning to back down. The official campaign to demonize and dismiss Hazare was crumbling.

What followed was a spectacular assertion of people power against a government described by India’s leading newspaper, The Hindu, as corrupt, repressive and stupid. The events in India reflect the same public sentiment of anger and frustration against the authoritarianism of the ruling elites elsewhere. But the manifestation in India, at least for now, shows that a different outcome is possible, provided there is leadership. Such leadership is lacking in many other places in these critical times.

A Gandhian, Hazare has received some of India’s highest honors and commands respect for transforming communities in his home state, Maharashtra. More recently, he has harnessed the widespread public discontent against official corruption and has become a thorn in the government’s side. In essence, Anna Hazare’s objective is to prevent an anti-corruption bill that the Congress-dominated coalition government plans to introduce in Parliament, under pressure of the gathering protest movement. Why? Because the government-sponsored bill would exclude the prime minister and other senior officials, in effect giving them immunity from investigation and prosecution under the proposed law.

The government, and some others in India’s parliamentary opposition, assert that only Parliament has the right to make law. Hazare and his supporters accept this. But they want the civil society to have a say. Their version of the bill would provide for a public ombudsman with powers to investigate all politicians and bureaucrats without the government’s prior permission. First introduced nearly forty years ago, the bill has consistently failed to secure the passage through Parliament. In the meantime, official corruption has become rampant on all levels of Indian society.

Emboldened by the exhibition of state power in other parts of the world, the Indian authorities decided to act against Anna Hazare. Vigorous attempts were made to prevent his hunger strike at a public park in the capital. Suggestions were made that he should stage his protest in his village in western India. His hunger strike was intended to be indefinite, but the authorities insisted that it ended on the third day. No more than five thousand people must gather and cars at the site must be limited. Hazare and his associates, who include many prominent activists, social workers, lawyers and a senior ex-police officer, refused to comply with these conditions. The issue became one of Indian citizens’ constitutional right to protest. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, described by critics as the most corrupt since India became independent in 1947, wanted to stop the agitation gathering momentum. The object of Hazare’s movement was to mobilize mass support in the wake of high-profile corruption scandals.

Hazare represents a phenomenon different from violent expressions of public rage and the authorities’ thirst for retribution in Britain and other countries. Prior to his arrest, Hazare urged people not to resort to violence, not to damage property, and not to give up the struggle. He called upon his supporters to fill India’s jails and workers to go on mass leave for a day. News of Hazare’s arrest spread rapidly and demonstrations broke out in cities and towns throughout the country. However, as the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar remarked, not a single stone was hurled, not one glass pane broken. The movement had demonstrated the power of non-violence.

It took three days of political theater to settle the details of Hazare’s protest. Sensing the nation’s mood, the authorities first announced that he was a free man, only for Hazare to refuse to leave the prison. After frantic negotiations, the government conceded that the fast would take place in a public park in the capital and would be “indefinite,” although reports suggested it would last up to fifteen days, or until his doctors said his health allowed him to continue.

So Hazare’s hunger strike goes on in the full glare of publicity. His movement is attracting large numbers of Indians while the governing coalition is on the defensive. Questions about the future of the contested bill remain. For it is not only the government that is mired in scandals, but opposition parties, too. At the moment, the Congress-dominated government is under the spotlight. The opposition rightwing Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, is ready to jump on the bandwagon. And the question is whether any political party would be willing to bring a law that might come to haunt it one day. But the people of India have made a clear statement. Any official attempt to infringe the right of peaceful protest is a step too far.