Regional experts say warlord Khalifa Haftar is making desperate attempts to prolong his existence in the country but the ground is slipping under his feet.
Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, the self-styled commander of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), recently invited the members of the Government of National Unity, including Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah, to attend a military parade to commemorate the "Operation Dignity's" seventh anniversary at Benina Airbase in Benghazi on May 29.
During the Libyan conflict, breaking the truce became one of the main hallmarks of the warlord's menacing presence in the country's east. Despite violating dozens of peace and ceasefire deals, Haftar has made desperate attempts to sabotage and uproot the UN-recognised Government of National Accord.
For Libya watchers, Haftar is hardly concerned about building peace and stability in the North African country as his sole aim has always been to grab power in the country.
Although he has been supported by armed groups and foreign fighters full of criminals and mercenaries, a far cry from Haftar's description of his men being disciplined and professional, he claims that he and his men fought against Daesh in 2014 under the name of “Operation Dignity”.
Haftar's purported fight against Daesh became one of the main factors why he gained Western sympathies, which eventually helped him entrench himself in eastern Libya.
To commemorate "Operation Dignity," Haftar wanted to put up a show of strength by holding a military parade on Saturday, May 29. But his plans were punctured after Libya's Prime Minister Dbeibah, who is also the defence minister, and Mohamed Younis Ahmed al Manfi, the head of Libya’s presidential council, brushed aside his invitation, saying they were visiting Algeria and Tunisia respectively on Saturday. Many Libya observers believe that it was a gentle refusal to Haftar's parade, which reveals how weak his standing is in the grand scheme of things.
Abdulkader Assad, the chief editor of The Libya Observer and Libya Alahrar English, told TRT World that Haftar has the habit of using the so-called Operation Dignity to 'cover his crimes' and stay relevant in determining the future of Libya.
“Both Dbeibah and Manfi announced that they would visit Algeria and Tunisia respectively on Saturday, a sign of their escape from Haftar's parade," Assad said.
Although they distanced themselves from the parade, Assad criticised the timidity of the prime minister and the army chief on Haftar, the man who has committed "atrocious crimes" against Libyans.
According to Dr. Guma el Gamaty, who heads Taghyeer political party in Libya, Haftar invited state officials to witness the parade ceremony only to gain some legitimacy in the eyes of regular Libyans and the world.
“His military parade tomorrow is not endorsed by the legitimate political leadership and I do not expect Al Manfi who is going on a visit to Tunisia to attend or any other members of his council to attend,” Gamaty said.
Gamaty said Haftar controls the east and parts of the south by "de-facto force". not by any legitimacy, and yet he "pretends to be a prominent actor" in Libya despite facing accusations of having committed war crimes against the internationally recognised governing factions of the country.
Gamaty said Haftar's hunger for power would push him to take the election route since he failed to achieve anything from the military route.
He will either contest the presidential election himself or put one of his sons in the fray, Gamaty added.
Assad, another expert, said Haftar has no regard for the UN-backed election process and the GNU of Libya.
“Warlord Khalifa Haftar has publicly stated that his so-called General Command and self-styled Libyan National Army have no military or political links to the Government of National Unity (GNU). He announced through his mouthpiece, Ahmed Al-Mismari, that if the GNU wants to enter the city under his control, he should be informed in advance,” Assad said.
“The Benghazi visit earlier this month is living proof of Haftar's rejection of the GNU, as his militias encircled Benina airport and prohibited the GNU from entering the city to convene the third ordinary meeting of the government at the time”.
“As a military man and a person who is after bringing Libya back to the family rule and authoritarianism, Haftar has never believed in elections and his only role since he came back to Libya during the 2011 revolution against Gaddafi was to occupy high profile military positions and then move upward with his military junta ambitions,” Assad continued.
“He saw opportunities in eastern Libya, where major tribes backed his plans for military force and he received unquestioned support from Egypt, UAE, France, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Russia.”
The UN has repeatedly urged that foreign fighters and mercenaries must leave Libya "without any further delay", but Haftar refuses to pay any heed. He continues to fund and administer foreign mercenaries that are deployed in eastern Libya, ignoring the international community's calls. The move undermines the ongoing political process.
For Assad, Haftar's insistence on keeping the mercenaries deployed on the Libyan soil serves as a stark reminder that the warlord does not respect the Libyan aspiration for peace and stability, which can be possible with a fair and transparent election in December this year.
“One of his main supporters, Russian Wagner Group mercenaries, are still digging trenches in Sirte, while the Janjaweed mercenaries are roaming inside Al-Juffra. His plans have never changed. He wants to rule Libya and wants his sons and tribe to be his heirs to military rule, just like Gaddafi,” Assad said.
Like Haftar, Aguila Saleh, the head of the House of Representatives (HoR) in Eastern Libya, is also reluctant to follow the UN-led peace process. Saleh is the main supporter of Haftar. While Haftar likes to flaunt his military fatigues in public, Saleh is known for being his "suited up" version.
“Aguila Saleh is still head of the HoR and he is under pressure especially from the US government to approve the budget and the constitutional basis for elections. But Aguila Saleh is pursuing his own political ambitions, possibly standing as well for presidential elections. He is mainly controlled and manipulated by the Egyptians and Russians,” Gamaty said.
According to Assad, Saleh’s continuance in Libya's power politics is essential to Haftar’s future existence. It's with the support of Saleh that he claims to be the so-called general commander of the "Libyan National Army".
“Saleh is benefitting from the chaos Haftar creates through his militias. In fact, he gets to remain in the Presidency of the HoR as long as unrest continues, while Haftar's interest in Saleh is conversely the same. He is using Saleh as a political cover-up for his illegitimate military presence in the eastern region,” Assad said.
“Both Saleh and Haftar are vying for power, they want to remain in the political and military scene as long as they could live and then pass it to their family; it's like Gaddafi's tyranny runs through their veins. Saleh is working for his interests by hindering two essential needs of the Government of National Unity: budget and constitutional basis,” he added.