As soldiers loyal to Moammar Gaddafi appear to have retaken the city of Bin Jawad through a violent counter-offensive against rebel forces, fears are growing that Libya has sunk into a stalemate that could split the country apart into two nations.
While opposition forces had made some impressive advances against government troops in recent days, Gaddafi loyalists now have turned back some of these gains.
All this, despite the continued bombardment by western and Arab coalition air strikes on Gaddafi’s strategic targets and despite the London summit where various nations are hammering out a post-Gaddafi future in Libya.
A BBC correspondent, John Simpson, reported that Gaddafi’s soldiers are consolidating their control over the western half of Libya up to Sirte, while the rebels reportedly are in the charge of the east, which includes many of the country’s oil properties.
Simpson wrote that “a senior official close to… Gaddafi whom I have been speaking to said he thought the government here could accept that Libya was now irrevocably separated into two parts.
After a ceasefire, he said, the two sides could get down to negotiations and work out a deal, which would have to include the division of oil revenues.”
Simpson cautioned that such compromise might “be much too optimistic, but it reflects a sense of genuine relief here that the rebels are no longer threatening Sirte and the west.”
However, the division of the country would seem to reflect the realities of Libya – Gaddafi remains relatively popular in the west (which includes the capitol Tripoli), while he is widely hated in the east.
Simpson also squelched rumors that Al Qaeda agents have infiltrated (or have inspired) the rebels – an accusation that Gaddafi and his minions have peddled. Even a top American military official, US Admiral James Stavridis, recently suggested this same possibility.
“Having reported extensively on the rebels in the past month, I can say with some confidence that there is very little sign of Islamic fundamentalism among them,” Simpson wrote.
At any rate, while the partition of Libya may seem logical in some quarters, there are some very bad precedents from history.
The forcible partition of British India into a Hindu-dominated India and a Muslim-dominated Pakistan in 1947 uprooted millions of lives, created the largest mass migration of peoples in history, and led to the murder of untold millions of people.
Of course, Libya of 2011 bears little resemblance to India/Pakistan 1947 – Libya is after all a relatively small, sparsely-populated desert county, but recent events suggest the same proclivity form violence as witnessed on the subcontinent 64 years ago.
Perhaps a more appropriate example would be the partition of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which (at the time) resulted in the creation of six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, as well as two autonomous provinces within Serbia: Kosovo and Vojvodina. Ancient ethnic hatreds exploded and the region was thrown into a nightmarish maelstrom of civil wars, ethnic cleansing, death camps, mass murder, forcible deportations, etc.
The partition of Libya, with its various tribal loyalties (not to mention, its vast oil wealth up for grabs), may also lead to unimaginable bloodshed for years to come.