The country’s elections and transitional justice process will fail without holding Khalifa Haftar and his supporters accountable.
Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar said on Monday that his so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) does not come under any government authority. During his speech commemorating the 81st anniversary of the foundation of the Libyan army, he also said that his forces are "the cornerstone for people's demands of the Libyan Army when their lives are in danger.”
He added that he is with any party that wants to achieve justice and peace, saying he won't recognise "humility agreements" and there will not be any kind of unity government and elections without his forces.
Although his forces are accused of committing war crimes, Haftar claims that his forces have never been a part of any acts of aggression or oppression.
According to the recent UN-brokered Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), as the chief commander of Libyan army, the Presidential Council is the only legitimate actor which can appoint military officers.
However, Haftar has ignored that and kept appointing military officials. In his most recent move, he appointed the head of the ex-parallel government in the east, Abdullah Al-Thini, as the Director of the Political Department of his forces.
Following Haftar’s move, the prime minister of the Government of National Unity, Abdulhamid Dbeibah said: “Those who choose war as way to reach power are delusional and presumptuous, reminding everyone that capitals of states are supposed to be secured by the army forces not attacked and demolished by them.”
Mentioning the mass graves found in Tarhouna which were dug by pro-Haftar Al-Kaniyat militias, Dbeibah added, "We won't allow war to erupt again in Libya. Previous wars have taken enough of our young people and have cost the country and civilians a misery of a lifetime."
Haftar’s moves come after rumours that he and Aguila Saleh, who is the speaker of the parallel government’s parliament in the east (House of Representatives), are set to form a new government in eastern Libya.
Experts say the peace and election process will fail without prosecuting Haftar and his supporters.
According to Abdulkader Assad, the chief editor of The Libya Observer and Libya Alahrar English, Haftar has always been an obstructionist to any attempt at democracy in Libya.
“When there were elections in 2014, he announced Operation Dignity and led a coup against legitimacy, splitting the country into two governments: east and west. He has always said in public that he doesn't support elections this time,” Assad told TRT Word.
“Haftar’s latest statement that the army will never be part of the political process and that he doesn't recognise any political party to be a commander of the military institution is his true intention and the UN Support Mission in Libya [UNSMIL] as well as the international community know it.”
“That is why the US ambassador and UNSMIL Head have been holding meetings with Haftar to convince him to play along, because deep down, they know that even if elections were to be held in December, Haftar would do something to foil the results and bring Libya back to war,” Assad added.
According to Samuel Ramani, a doctoral candidate in politics and international relations at Oxford University, following the creation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in March, Haftar first tried to present himself as a more moderate figure who could work within Libya's institutions.
“This shift in messaging was likely triggered by his external sponsors, such as the UAE, France and Russia, who realised that overtly destabilising Libya would damage their reputations. He leaves the door open to submitting to an elected government, but will not subordinate himself to a government lacking an electoral mandate,” Ramani told TRT World.
“If the elections are delayed, he will likely call the GNU illegitimate much like he did with the GNA, and revive his military activities. His external sponsors might back these military efforts too. If elections are held on schedule, he will try to work within the system or coordinate with Russia, the UAE and other external powers to ensure a conciliatory figure is elected,” he added.
On the other hand, Abdulkader Assad also believes that Libya's peace process can never be completed without transitional justice.
“War criminals like Haftar and his political supporters like Aquila Saleh,” according to Assad, “must be held accountable for the crimes they have ordered so that impunity can end and real national reconciliation can begin.”
Explaining the main logic behind the warlord’s moves, Assad says he is monopolising the military institution and Saleh is controlling legislation orders in the country.
“These two are behind the split of Libya between east and west and they are working to deepen the fragmentation so that they can benefit more and more from the chaos. Democracy and elections are a threat to their very existence, they know it and they are using the support of their allies: France, Russia, UAE and to some extent the US, to hinder elections,” he tells TRT World.
Ramani believes that Haftar and Saleh’s enduring influence complicates Libya’s path to elections as does dissent within the LPDF.
According to Ramani, “right now, international actors are united around holding elections and will try to influence the voting process” so their preferred candidate wins.
“To that end, we should watch for Haftar's efforts to grant Libyan nationality to tribal groups on the Egypt-Libya border, and more overt acts of election interference. The Wagner Group's presence in Libya, which expanded in April, could also create grounds for election interference too,” Ramani said.