Do We Need a New Negotiation Initiative?
After PM Thinni’s visit to Khartoum in the past few days, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti has reportedly announced the devising of a Sudanese plan to host talks with all relevant Libyan actors and facilitate the reaching of a political deal. The ‘Sudanese initiative’ thus becomes the third publicly announced plan aiming to reach a political solution to the current Libyan crisis after those promoted by Algeria and the UNSMIL.
Both the Algerian and UNSMIL-brokered initiatives were expected to have meaningful sessions undertaken throughout the month of October, which has been instead characterized by a spike in violence in Benghazi and by the less bloody but equally crucial battle for the control of financial and oil-related institutional assets. In the past days, UNSMIL’s Head Bernardino Leon has been effectively working hard to bring forth the second round of UNSMIL-sponsored talks by meeting with a number of representatives from both camps, including with the highly controversial Mufti al-Ghariani. These talks, however, have been so far inconclusive and failed in getting opposing camps back to the negotiation tables.
On the other hand, with the benefit of (limited) hindsight it is worth appreciating the ongoing evolution that the Misratan and Tobruk-based camps are undergoing vis-à-vis external pressures. With regards to the Tobruk camp, it is worth looking at al-Thinni’s trip to Sudan in itself. Only a few weeks ago, Khartoum was accused by the Tobruk establishment of arming the Misratan camp and breeding Islamist militias throughout the country. Thinni’s trip, however, should not only be seen as an attempt to restore ties with this strategic partner, but also as a sign of the dissatisfaction of several HoR members with the government’s previous stance towards negotiations. In this sense, Thinni’s recent openings to rival militias, as well as the overtures made by his newly appointed Foreign Minister, show signs of mounting internal pressure from the HoR camp to dismiss the hardline stance adopted by the Prime Minister after his appointment in September and push for a political deal with moderate counterparts.
As for the Islamist camp, Borzou Daraghi reports for the Financial Times on the somewhat under-appreciated dynamic by which the broad alliance of Islamist-leaning forces, established by virtue of the overtly-aggressive rhetoric employed by Haftar which lumped them all together, is actually facilitating the tilt of more moderate forces towards the radical end of the spectrum:
During the past few months, as war has intensified between the Haftar camp and Libya Dawn, evidence has grown of strengthening ties between the extremist groups and the mainstream Islamist militias, even as their political allies continue talks with western diplomats and the UN aimed at ending the stand-off.
Mr Hassi recently acknowledged that his allies in Benghazi were fighting alongside Ansar al-Sharia against the forces of Mr Haftar and the Tubruq government. “Ansar al-Sharia are part of the brigades defending Benghazi against outlaw forces,” said Ali Ramadan Abu Zaqouk, one of about 30 members of the recently elected parliament close to Mr Hassi.
Nonetheless, although not necessarily encouraging per se, these shifts and tensions within camps tell us the story of relatively fluid blocks which are not yet crystallized in a Syrian-like scenario, where envisioning negotiation talks is now a wild fantasy. As Leon recently reiterated, however, the clock is ticking fast and Libyan actors must avoid the further deterioration of this situation beyond the point of no return. With three negotiation initiatives available on the market, it is now up to Libyan buyers to act more decisively to make them successful.
Finally, as analysts and observers focus on developments in the political arena and in the coastal areas, the southern Libyan mainland is being dangerously overlooked. Even though the events of In Amenas have not been repeat as of yet, it is best to assume that this is the result of a tactical choice by armed groups active across the Sahara, rather than the consequence of their eradication and defeat following from French intervention in the region. You can read my take on this in my contribution to this piece on The National:
Jason Pack, a Libya expert at Cambridge University, says militants pushed out from northern Mali have set up training camps in Libya’s south, adding that the region has become “much more” than a transit route for gunmen and smugglers.
“Drones have spotted training camps and Western intelligence officers have been to these places,” he said. “I don’t have precise figures. But I’m sure that there are Libyans among these jihadist groups.” Both Mr Pack and Mr Fazzani also drew links between extremists entrenched in Libya’s remote south and powerful Islamist militia in the north and east of the country.