by Umair Khan
Every little thing counts in a crisis
|Under the cynical cover of addressing a humanitarian crisis in Libya, the US and its European allies are intensifying military operations and economic measures directed against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Faced with a popular uprising and mass slaughter in Libya, one of the world’s major oil producers, President Barack Obama spoke of “freedom,” “justice” and “dignity,” while warning that his administration is preparing a “full range of options.”
The oil picture is always complex, but right now things are about as complicated as they can get. The unrest in Egypt has settled, but the future there is not yet clear, as the military takes control on promises of free elections. Tensions are rising in Algeria, where the unofficial unemployment rate is along the lines of 40% and protesters are demanding change. Yemen, Bahrain, and Oman are unsettled, to say the least. And now Libya is embroiled in the most violent protests to rock the Middle East during the current wave of uprisings, with 41-year ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi using snipers and helicopters to shoot down protestors in the capital city Tripoli and sending fighter jets to fire missiles at rebel forces.
Since Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi came into power over 40 years ago in a coup, he has been seen as an international pariah and his brutal willingness to kill civilians that threaten his position has been clear for all to see. Yet, until the recent crisis, the West had been opening up to him and was keen to do (mostly oil and some arms) business with him — as they have been with various others in the region.
What is happening in Libya is more than a mere protest to oust the Gadhafi regime. It is a full-scale war and demands the implementation of all conventions regarding war situations. Rebel forces have reported gaining the upper hand in the fierce fight going on with the pro-government forces, and even showed news reporters the wreckage of a downed warplane near Ras Lanuf in eastern Libya.
Unilateral economic sanctions imposed by the Western powers are being used to try to cripple the Gaddafi regime, and seize Libyan assets. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the US had frozen about $32 billion in assets held by the Libyan Investment Authority, Libya’s sovereign wealth fund. Obama described the measures as the “most rapid and forceful set of sanctions that have ever been applied internationally.” On the same day, the British government froze similar assets, including holdings at the HSBC bank, worth about $3.2 billion, on top of about $1.6 billion in assets linked to Gaddafi and his children.
The West appears to have responded with what looks like a genuine humanitarian intervention attempt. Yet, when looked at a bit more deeply, there are many murky — often contradictory — issues coming to the fore that complicate the picture. As we continue to monitor closely the Libyan crisis, we should not lose sight of the fact that the massive involvement of weapons in the uprising imposes an additional burden on us. How do we ensure that weapons don't become the main tool for determining the outcome of the conflict? Africa already has too many conflict situations, which imposes too much on the UN and other agencies. We shouldn't allow the Libyan one to add to the lot. That's why all efforts must be made to tackle the crisis without creating conditions for a prolonged internecine (civil) war in Libya