The Haftar-Sarraj Rapprochement and Prospects for a Resolution of the Libyan Crisis
The commander of Operation Dignity, Khalifa Haftar, shocked supporters even more than his opponents when he agreed to meet the Chairman of the Presidential Council, Fayez al-Sarraj, in Abu Dhabi on 2 May 2017, having previously refused to recognise him. This about-face may come as a result of acquiescence to direct international pressure by Haftar’s regional allies.
It is clear that Haftar’s acceptance of consensual agreement and reconciliation comes from a realisation that military action is unlikely to deliver control of the country. From his standpoint, it therefore makes sense to attempt to impose his conditions through negotiations, which means the Skhirat agreement could collapse or undergo the radical revisions that Haftar’s allies in the east are pressing for and which were previously raised by Ahmed Mismari, the official spokesman for the Libyan National Army.
If Haftar is compelled to opt for a negotiated resolution, obstacles remain. There is vociferous opposition to Haftar’s inclusion in the political process and the way he has exploited the tattered political, security and economic situation to cling to power. Al-Sarraj’s capitulation to Haftar’s terms could also stoke the anger present in several areas of Libya and increase tensions in Tripoli, potentially precipitating open clashes.
Moreover, the precarious situation and Haftar’s focus on the capital at the expense of settling conflicts in the eastern region, which has suffered enormously in the past three years, could spur his opponents in the east to mobilise against him on the basis of local and tribal loyalties, exploiting the shift in his position on the accord. It is under the general banner of his opposition to the accord that Haftar has created his own front, and any backtracking could lead to fractures within it.
These obstacles suggest other possible motives for Haftar’s abandonment of his previous stance on the Skhirat agreement and the Presidential Council. He could be feigning acceptance of the agreement to gain some breathing room and evade regional and international pressure, in which case he will return to his militant positions and a reliance on military force as soon as the opportunity presents itself and the pressure is lifted. Or Haftar could be gambling on a truce to pave the way for presidential elections, calculating that his chances of election are good. In this way, he would achieve his goal through peaceful means that meet with local support and foreign backing.