Almost a decade after Libya descended into chaos thanks to an ill-conceived and half-hearted operation on unjustified grounds, the world powers seem to have become serious again with respect to finding a political solution for the oil-rich country.
Starting with an ‘almost’ meeting hosted by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome and a Russian-brokered dialogue the following week, the multilateral conference in Berlin that was attended by all key stakeholders, including leaders of over 13 states, finally happened. These included the governments of Algeria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Congo, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. High Representatives of the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the League of Arab States were also present.
For a conflict that was triggered by politicians who hardly had any regard for the Libyan people, it was fitting then that a conference to find a solution for the country was held in the chilly winters of Berlin, hosting all the players Chancellor Merkel felt were the stakeholders.
What was agreed upon?
At the end, a 55-point consensus was reached by the attending parties on topics ranging from a ceasefire to financial reform. The parties called for an end to military movements and disarmament.
Most significantly, a 5+5 commission was agreed upon made up of representatives from the GNA and Haftar in equal numbers. This will convene during the coming week in Geneva to finalise the temporary truce, proposed by Erdogan and Putin, as an official ceasefire.
With a ceasefire laid down as the first step, the official communique then goes on to discuss the need for a political process, which should be Libyan-owned and led. “We also call for the establishment of a functioning Presidency Council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”
Citing UN resolutions 2259 and 2441, the text also recognises the National Oil Corporation as Libya’s sole independent and legitimate company. It is worth mentioning that currently Haftar and his forces control much of the country’s oil-rich east and had seized some terminals to block the export of fuel, which will further squeeze the Tripoli-based government.
An International Follow-Up Committee (IFC) comprising of all state and multilateral attendees was also created in order to maintain coordination in the aftermath of the conference, which would come under the UN.
The proposed committee will meet on two levels:
“One plenary at senior official-level, to meet on a monthly basis with an UNSMIL chair and, additionally, a rotating co-chair and locations. The IFC would be responsible for tracking progress against implementation of these conclusions and exert leverage where necessary. At the end of each session, a conclusion acknowledging specific achievements or compliance would be presented.
“Four technical working groups with closed meetings at expert-level will take place twice a month during the first implementation stages. The working groups will be based on these conclusions’ baskets. Each group will be led by a UN representative. In closed sessions, participants will (i) address obstacles to implementation, (ii) share relevant information and (iii) coordinate operational requirements and assistance without prejudice to the mandate of the UN Security Council.”
The Berlin process, however, was just the beginning of what is supposed to be a long exercise. Just four days after, on Thursday, Algeria hosted representatives of six African states – Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Sudan and Niger – to get major continental players on the same page, many who were unhappy with being left out by the overlords in Berlin. Ironically, in Algiers too, they spoke against foreign intervention while no Libyan could be seen.
War of the many
The conflict in Libya has lately become a war of the many where everyone is fighting for a piece: Turkey and Qatar for the UN-backed GNA, Egypt and the UAE to contain the influence of a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired government, and France for, well, securing oil interests. Russia too is in the game and is backing Haftar’s rebels while Germany probably felt a little left out of the scene and thus called the talks in Berlin.
But not all players are on the same footing. Ankara, for example, has upped its support for the Tripoli government, even signing a memorandum of understanding for troops to be deployed. On the other hand, Russia, through its Wagner group, has mercenaries on the ground. These two states brokered talks in Moscow two weeks ago, which gave a glimpse of the influence each exercises. While Turkey’s Fayez al Serraj, signed the long-term peace deal, Haftar left without his written consent, hinting that he has more puppet masters with whom he needs to consult.
For any peace to materialise, the process will have to be organic and not decided in European or Asian capitals, but with input from Libyans themselves. The Berlin process recognises this, but the actions of those involved offer a completely different picture altogether.