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Moammar Gadhafi (MAHMUD TURKIA)
Moammar Gadhafi (MAHMUD TURKIA)

Roland Paris

After the fall of Gadhafi Add to ...

If the situation in Libya seems messy, just wait until the war ends. Transitions to democracy can be nasty, brutish and long.

No one knows, for example, how Libya's rebels will behave if and when Moammar Gadhafi loses power. The Benghazi-based Transitional National Council has pledged to initiate a constitution-drafting process leading to elections, to respect the rights of all Libyans and to refrain from reprisal attacks against Gadhafi loyalists. This looks great on paper, but can the rebel council actually deliver on these promises?

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Col. Gadhafi could fall suddenly, unleashing a chaotic scramble for control of Tripoli. Rebel unity and discipline may be sorely tested in the absence of their common enemy. Preventing violent score-settling will be an early priority. The last thing Libya needs is for former Gadhafi supporters to become permanent enemies of the state.

The model should be South Africa's post-apartheid transition, which embraced reconciliation, not Iraq's ostracism of former Baathists, which fuelled an insurgency. But even an enlightened transition model will face the reality of a tribally divided society.

The rebel council insists "Libya is one tribe." Tell that to residents of rebel-controlled Misrata, some of whom have reportedly insisted that the inhabitants of Tawergha, a nearby town, are "traitors." This hostility is decades old but has been inflamed by the war.

The Misrata-Tawergha feud underscores an enduring truth of civil conflict: National councils may issue edicts from on high, but vengeance is almost always local. It's also a reminder of the complexity facing outsiders who seek to understand - or transform - the politics of this country.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird seems to be aware of this complexity. Libya's postwar political transition "won't be perfect," he said after meeting the rebel leadership in Benghazi last week. "I don't think we're going to move from Gadhafi to Thomas Jefferson."

Mr. Baird should provide Canadians with more information about our new Benghazi friends and the plan for Libya's post-Gadhafi transition. We need this information not only because we're now effectively fighting for the rebels but also because NATO, the United Nations and the "international community" have become invested in the postwar transition. They have encouraged the rebels to develop plans for democratic reform and offered to support them. Like it or not, the current war may only be the first chapter of a lengthy international involvement in Libya.

What role will Canada and other outside actors play in the chapters to come? After stumbling into an Afghan mission based on mistaken assumptions, surely we have an obligation to scrutinize the details of any plans for international participation in Libya's reconstruction, particularly if they include Canada, acting directly or indirectly through multilateral organizations.

Parliament spent a day debating the Libyan mission, and such questions barely came up. The opposition parties need to recognize that it's possible to support the NATO operation and grill the government on what comes next.

For starters, is there a plan to deploy ground forces in Libya? If so, under what circumstances? Who would provide troops? How quickly could they be deployed, where would they go, what would they do?

Another priority may be restoring basic services to the population, including food, medical supplies, health care, electricity, fuel, policing and justice. How can international actors help to provide these services without engendering problems of dependency, economic distortion and local resentment that are sometimes the unintended effects of massive aid interventions?

What about the work of rebuilding Libya? The rebel council's democratic principles offer a foundation, but a thin one. What role will the UN and other outsiders play? The notion that Libyans should "own" their political transition makes sense, but what does this mean in practice? What if Libya can't support Western-style democracy? In the wide spectrum between Col. Gadhafi and Thomas Jefferson, what outcomes would be acceptable, and to whom?

If we've learned anything over two decades of post-conflict peace-building, it's the need to think through the conditions for scaling back an international presence before it becomes inextricably woven into the local political and economic fabric. If a major postwar mission is planned for Libya, we need to think now about how it might end.

Roland Paris is director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa and author of At War's End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict.

 

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