Published : Nov 18, 2011 00:00 IST

The body of Muammar Qaddafi lies on a mattress in a commercial freezer at a shopping centre in Misrata on October 21. - DAVID SPERRY/AP

The body of Muammar Qaddafi lies on a mattress in a commercial freezer at a shopping centre in Misrata on October 21. - DAVID SPERRY/AP

Muammar Qaddafi's killing is just a mission accomplished for the West, but it marks the end of an important chapter in Arab and African history.

PRECISELY a hundred years ago, on October 24, 1911, the Italian colonial army crushed in Tripoli an insurrection by Libyan patriots led by Mustapha ben Ahmad and shot summarily 40 of them. What happened in the city of Sirte in the third week of October is eerily reminiscent of the events that occurred in the country a century ago. Along with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, at least 53 of his fighters were executed on October 20. It has now been established that Qaddafi's convoy was bombed by war planes of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) when he was trying to escape from the coastal city. Two NATO allies are claiming credit for ensuring the death of the Libyan leader. The United States military said that its drones were responsible for bombing Qaddafi's fleeing convoy. The French insist that it is their Rafale jets that did the job.

An injured Qaddafi, his son Muatassim, and others who were with him were then left at the mercy of the rebel forces. Video footage has shown that Qaddafi and his son had wounds on their heads sustained from bullets fired at point-blank range. Both of them were captured before they were shot. Fifty-three bodies of pro-Qaddafi fighters, with tell-tale signs of summary execution, were found in the city. Joanne Mariner, an American academic and human rights activist, observed that according to the evidence on hand, Qaddafi was brutally killed in a display of revenge, hatred, domination, and fury and his body displayed for days as a trophy.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro, while expressing his indignation at the way Qaddafi was killed, said NATO had become the most perfidious instrument of repression the history of humanity has ever known. Castro, who on previous occasions had found fault with Qaddafi for many of his ideological positions and compromises with the West, expressed his admiration for the Libyan leader's determined resistance against overwhelming military odds. When NATO launched its war against Libya, Castro urged Qaddafi to resist and if necessary die with his boots on. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez described the killing of Qaddafi as an assassination. Chavez said Qaddafi would be remembered as a fighter and a martyr. He added that the most lamentable thing is the U.S.' determination, along with its European allies, to dominate the world. Both Cuba and Venezuela have said that they will not recognise the new Libyan government established with the help of foreign intervention.

Right from the time the NATO military campaign in Libya began in March, repeated efforts were made to physically eliminate Qaddafi. NATO did succeed in killing one of his eight children, Saif al-Arab, and three grandchildren in an attack on their private residence on April 30. Some reports suggest that more than 30,000 Libyans have been killed since March. NATO jets carried out more than 26,000 bombing missions in Libya until the last week of October. U.S. drones saw more action in Libya than in Pakistan. Western armament companies are now advertising the lethal nature of their wares in countries such as India, citing their performance in Libya as an illustration. The French are highlighting the performance of their combat aircraft Rafale, while the British are showcasing the prowess of the Eurofighter. Both these planes have been short-listed by the Indian Air Force to replenish its strike force.

By the middle of October, the entire world knew that Sirte's valiant resistance was about to end. The hypocrisy of humanitarian intervention was fully exposed when Sirte, a showcase city, was reduced to rubble after more than three weeks of relentless attacks led by NATO. The West had intervened in Libya on the specious plea that civilian lives were in danger in Benghazi, though there was no clinching evidence that the Libyan forces were even contemplating an attack on the city. The United Nations Security Council Resolution on Libya had after all authorised all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-protected areas under threat of attack. But NATO had different standards for the people supporting the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the people supporting Qaddafi. Benghazi remains intact while Sirte and Bani Walid, two Qaddafi strongholds, have become ghost towns, their citizens either killed or forced to flee.

It was clear since the beginning of the air and sea assault that the West and leaders of Libya's new government preferred to see Qaddafi dead than alive. Qaddafi, left alive, would have exposed his close relationship with the so called liberators and benefactors of Libya. Many of the leaders of the NTC were originally Qaddafi's hatchet men, complicit in his wheeling and dealing and in the cases relating to rampant human rights abuse. Other influential figures in the NTC are former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assets involved in previous coup plots against Qaddafi, and Islamists, who since the early 1990s were the main targets of Libyan security agencies.

Libyan Islamist militants fighting in Afghanistan had formed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) with CIA funding. When Osama bin Laden broke up with the CIA, the LIFG followed suit. Qaddafi in fact invited the CIA and Britain's MI6 to Libya in 2001 to help his government root out the LIFG. They did help but in the process co-opted many of the leading LIFG activists and helped set up a broad opposition front against the government in Tripoli. The indigenous uprising that led to NATO intervention was organised by many of these assets, remote-controlled from Paris, London and Washington. When the Arab Spring hit Benghazi, the Islamists, including the top LIFG leader, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, joined the anti-Qaddafi forces, seeking revenge for past massacres, including the killing of more than 1,200 activists during a riot in Tripoli's Abu Salim prison in 1996. That incident provided the spark for the unrest that eventually led to the tumultuous events this year. Families of those killed in the prison riot were among the first to protest in Benghazi. After taking Tripoli, the rebels released from prison more than 600 Salafists, who had fought for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Intimate with the West

Qaddafi's relationship with the West had become very intimate in the last couple of years. The Barack Obama administration had been supplying him arms until the Benghazi uprising earlier this year. The Bush administration had sub-contracted torture jobs to the Libyan government. Qaddafi was on excellent terms with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Four years ago, the French government tried to sell Areva nuclear reactors and Rafale jet fighters to Tripoli. Most of the recent Libyan oil contracts were going to Western oil companies. As soon as it appeared opportune to them, they accepted and armed Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein as allies. As soon as it no longer appeared opportune, they began pointing out the indisputably disastrous human rights records of both the leaders, observed the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung. An analytical report from a London correspondent of Reuters said that a trial for Qaddafi would have embarrassed the Western governments.

The death of Qaddafi marks the end of an important chapter in the contemporary history of Africa and the Arab world. Qaddafi rose to power in 1969 when the decolonisation process in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa was gaining momentum.

Despite his imperious and often anarchic style of rule, what is indisputable is that soon after he seized power along with a group of fellow officers, Libyans started enjoying the highest standard of living on the African continent. One of the first things the new government did was to wrest control of the oil industry from Western multinationals and ask the British and the Americans to vacate their military bases in the country. Most of the oil revenues were gainfully used for the welfare of the people. Libya's child mortality rates are among the lowest in the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO), in a report published before NATO launched its Operation Odyssey Dawn, said that health care was available for all citizens free of charge. Libya boasts the highest literacy rates in North Africa.

The young Qaddafi was an avowed admirer of Gamal Abdel Nasser and his ideology of pan-Arabism. Despite being the leader of a sparsely populated country, Qaddafi punched beyond his weight in international affairs for most of the years he was in power. Libya under Qaddafi continued to be active in various international forums, including organisations such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). In the last years of his rule, he distanced himself from fellow Arabs and chose to portray himself as an African statesman. Qaddafi played a key role in the creation of the African Union (A.U.), the successor to the largely ineffective Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Libya was the biggest aid giver to the African National Congress (ANC) when it was waging its liberation struggle.

Before Yasser Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, Libya under Qaddafi was one of the biggest supporters and financiers of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Qaddafi was openly critical of the Oslo accords. In a characteristic display of authoritarian whim, he ordered thousands of Palestinians working in the country to leave. This authoritarian streak coupled with eccentric behaviour was visible throughout his long years at the helm of affairs. Though he never officially held the position of head of state, the brother leader was the longest-serving ruler on the African continent. Islamic socialism was adopted as one of the guiding principles of the September 1969 revolution but Qaddafi was no socialist in the accepted sense of the term. He created a Parliament but banned all political parties and trade unions. His version of Islamic socialism envisaged a partnership between capital and the workers. Trade unions, he decreed, would be replaced by syndicates of engineers and technicians. In the last years of his rule, the only people who had real authority in Libya were Qaddafi and his sons.

The rule book

In the Green Book, which spelt out the Libyan state's guiding principles, Qaddafi's third universal theory talked about improving on both communism and capitalism. He declared that his theory of permanent revolution would make both capitalism and communism irrelevant. In actual fact, in the early years of his rule Qaddafi directed his ire at the communist parties in the Arab world that were quite influential at the time. In 1971, he helped the Sudanese strongman, Gaffar Nimeiry, put down a communist coup that was on the verge of succeeding. It was only in beginning of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Socialist bloc, that Islamists became his principal enemies. One of the first known Al Qaeda attacks took place in Sirte in 1994 when two German counter-terrorism agents were gunned down by the LIFG. Libya was the first to issue a warrant of arrest against Osama bin Laden, in 1998.

As the bloody events of recent months have shown, Qaddafi's real nemesis was the West, which had never really forgotten or forgiven his past actions. The Libyan government was an open supporter of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Basque separatists when the two groups were waging a violent guerilla wars against the British and Spanish governments respectively in the 1970s and the 1980s. The Saudi King Abdullah openly accused Qaddafi of hatching a plot to murder him. The military action by the U.S., France and the U.K. had the strong backing of the Gulf monarchies. Qatar recently admitted that it had military boots on the ground.

The mysterious disappearance of Imam Mousa Sadr, an influential Iranian-born Lebanese Shiite cleric, while on a visit to Libya 30 years ago has been blamed on Qaddafi and has made him unpopular in Iran and Lebanon. Sadr was a founder of the Lebanese Amal Party, which is part of the government in Beirut. In the 1970s and 1980s, Qaddafi poked his nose in the affairs of many African countries. He, Ghana's Jerry Rawlings and Burkina Faso's Thomas Sankara were the African radical leaders who railed against neocolonialism and the structural policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Sankara was killed in the early 1980s, Rawlings embraced multiparty democracy and faded away, while Qaddafi continued ploughing a lonely furrow. In between, Qaddafi fought a brief war with neighbouring Chad over the disputed Aouzou Strip on Libya's southern border. Qaddafi's penchant for interference in the domestic affairs of other countries extended all the way to the Philippines. He was a key supporter of the Moro Liberation Army fighting for the independence of Mindanao.

During his early years in power, Qaddafi had a special relationship with Pakistan. But after the hanging of his friend, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the relationship was not the same. The Gaddafi Stadium, the venue for Test Cricket, was named after the Libyan leader after he gave a speech at the 1974 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) conference supporting Pakistan's right to possess nuclear weapons. The government in Tripoli also supported left-wing liberation movements on the African continent and was against the U.S. policies in the region when the Cold War was at its height. The Libyan government was accused of fomenting terrorism in Western capitals. Tripoli and Benghazi were bombed on the orders of President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Qaddafi narrowly escaped with his life when his residence was targeted by U.S. missiles.

Libya's alleged involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie plane crash led to the West imposing draconian sanctions on the country. However, it was the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that unnerved Qaddafi. Washington had indicated that Libya too would meet the same fate. Qaddafi thought he could avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein by making unilateral concessions to the West. Among the major concessions were the handing over of two suspects in the Lockerbie case for trial, the dismantling of Libya's weapons of mass destruction programme and allowing many of the Western oil companies to reinvest in Libya's lucrative hydrocarbon sector.

The new government

The moves of the new government in Libya, consisting of different factions ranging from Islamists to secular parties, will be closely watched. Factionalism seems to have already become a serious problem with the various armed militias refusing to disarm even in the capital Tripoli. The various tribal groups that joined in the NATO-led campaign want a big slice of the oil revenue. There are predictions that Libya will go the way of Lebanon with more civil strife around the corner. Even as the Security Council voted unanimously to end the no-fly zone with immediate effect on October 29, the transitional council has appealed to NATO to extend its stay in the country. Interim leader Mohammed Jibril urged his NATO benefactors to stay on at least until the end of 2011 to prevent Qaddafi loyalists from leaving the country. He may also need protection from the Islamists. A prominent Islamist leader from Benghazi, Ali Salabi, recently said that the NTC was filled with radical secularists trying to sideline the religious groups. He accused Jibril of planning to usher in a new era of tyranny and dictatorship.

Qaddafi's eldest son, Saif al Islam, who was the de facto number two in the previous government, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al Sanussi, have promised to continue fighting though reports from the International Criminal Court claim that both of them want to surrender to the international court. Saif would have interesting stories to tell as he was his father's envoy and bagman. In one of his last statements before the NATO attacks, he said President Sarkozy's election campaign was funded with Libyan money. The junior Qaddafi was also known to be close to former British Prime Minster Tony Blair. Western Intelligence agencies, according to media reports, estimate that at least 20 per cent of the populace still supports Qaddafi.

The comparatively light-skinned Berbers and other tribes from the north and east of the country have viewed their dark-skinned compatriots as enemies. Many of them were killed on the mere suspicion that they were mercenaries from neighbouring sub-Saharan countries. Tens of thousands of workers from these countries, who were mainly employed in low-paying jobs, have been forced to flee. Asian workers hurriedly left when the civil war erupted. The U.N. and groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch did not find any merit in stories put out by the international media about mass rapes and other atrocities allegedly committed by troops loyal to Qaddafi. Instead these groups have accused the NTC of serious human rights violations, especially during the siege of Sirte.

The A.U. has accused the NTC of killing black Africans indiscriminately. The new government is expected to turn its back on Africa and enmesh itself with the West and its other proxies in the region. The government in Tripoli has been the first Arab government to recognise the Syrian opposition. Britain, France and the U.S. expect more contracts in the oil and defence sectors. Countries such as China, Russia and India are waiting to see if the new government will honour oil contracts they signed with the previous government. The civil war had virtually brought production to a halt. The rebel leaders have said on several occasions that the countries that made their victory possible, notably France and Britain, will be rewarded adequately.

Meanwhile, sophisticated armaments from Libyan arsenals have flooded the region. Neighbouring governments have said that a significant amount of the weaponry has gone to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Some of the Libyan weapons have reached up to the Gaza Strip. Libya itself has no army left now. The various militias, whose way to Tripoli was paved with NATO bombs, are now refusing to give up their new-found power and influence.

As Hugo Chavez said, the fighting in the North African nation is not finished yet because Libyans are a people of dignity, and the Yankee Empire will not be able to dominate.

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