After months of conflict, what may emerge as the greatest achievement of Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the rebel Libyan commander, may be a secret only a few are aware of. Abdul-Jalil was able to convince Gen. Barrani Ishkal, the head of the experienced and well-armed battalion in charge of guarding Tripoli against the rebels’ advances, to lay down arms, thereby avoiding a potential bloodbath at the doorstep of the capital.
It is now essential that experienced individuals like General Barrani, despite their ties to the Qaddafi regime, be included in a national reconciliation initiative in order to avoid a fate similar to the de-Baathification in Iraq.
The United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the two Arab states that provided legitimacy to the NATO-led effort, can leverage the substantial amount of goodwill they enjoy in Libya by turning their attention to the country’s order and stability. To maintain national cohesion, it is essential to decommission the large numbers of weapons in circulation.
Qatar has already assisted the Libyans with selling oil and creating and hosting a Free Libya TV station earlier in the revolution. Qatar has also taken a major gamble with directly supplying weapons to the Libyan revolutionaries, in a possible violation of arms-exporting treaty obligations, and must make sure that these weapons are now accounted for.
Qaddafi loyalists in particular may need some assurance that they will not be targeted once they hand their weapons in. Perhaps a weapons buyback program modeled on other post-conflict countries could be considered.
For a nation that has overcome 42 years of dictatorship, Libya has shown determination in in the face of brutal circumstances to reach this new chapter in its history. Given Libya’s potential, a little time, reconciliation and help from its friends will be needed. The Arab gulf states must spare no effort to assist Libya in rebuilding itself.
This article was originally published in The New York Times on October 5, 2011.