Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Libya’s Transition, Afghanistan’s Police, and More

by Isobel Coleman
September 16, 2011

France's President Sarkozy; NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil; Mahmoud Jibril, head of NTC executive; and Britain's PM Cameron address a news conference in Tripoli, Libya, September 15, 2011 (Anis Mili/Courtesy Reuters).

In this week’s Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights developments from Guatemala to Nigeria, with several stops along the way. Please share your views on these or other stories from the past week. Enjoy!

  • Libya After Qaddafi: Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France became the first Western leaders to visit post-Qaddafi Libya on Wednesday. They received a warm welcome from officials of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC). The visit comes as the NTC seeks to consolidate its authority and launch a successful transition. Various groups are jockeying for position, revealing fault lines over regional influence, Islamism, and the role of leaders who returned from abroad vs. those who resisted Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi from within. The BBC and the Los Angeles Times report this week on the NTC’s struggle to assert control over the militias that effected Qaddafi’s ouster. The New York Times has a piece on the controversial influence of Islamists. But the Economist thinks the authorities are off to a “remarkably hopeful start,” with even Islamists such as Tripoli’s military commander, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, making moderate noises. What will be the international role in aiding Libya’s transition? Cameron and Sarkozy pledged continued help for the government and people. In a Washington Post op-ed on Monday, the Libyan ambassador to Washington, Ali Suleiman Aujali, requests technical support for democratic institutions and the economy, as well as the unfreezing of Libyan assets abroad. And on CNN.com, Blair Glencorse urges international actors to help Libya build a strong legal system and government institutions that can competently manage its wealth, among other priorities.
  • Afghanistan’s Problematic Police: Afghanistan’s military and national police are often cited as the central elements of the U.S. and NATO exit strategy. But the United States is also backing another force, the Afghan Local Police (ALP), which Gen. David Petraeus has called “a community watch with AK-47s.” According to the Long War Journal, the local forces are meant to complement Afghanistan’s military. Now their conduct is under fire. A Human Rights Watch report this week cites a range of ALP abuses, including beatings, theft, illegal detentions, rape, and unjustified killings. This raises “serious concerns about ALP vetting, recruitment, and oversight.” The report puts the ALP in the context of various militias and local forces that the Afghan government and outside actors often see as a “quick fix” for security as international forces prepare to draw down. But when they abuse and alienate citizens with impunity, Human Rights Watch suggests, such groups can do more harm than good.
  • Terrorism in Nigeria: On August 26, a car bomb exploded at the UN office in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja, killing 23 and injuring dozens more. Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group based in the largely Muslim north, claimed responsibility. Long a violent force in Nigeria, the group has grown increasingly radical in recent years, according to this CFR.org backgrounder. With its increasingly audacious attacks, many fear it has teamed up with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. CFR’s John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, addresses the threat from Boko Haram, and the proper response, in a recent piece on ForeignAffairs.com. He explains that President Goodluck Jonathan has pursued “an exclusively security-driven strategy” by installing police and military forces in the north. But this, Campbell writes, is the wrong approach. Instead, Nigeria’s government (encouraged by the United States) must tackle the roots of Boko Haram’s support: poverty and “corruption-driven alienation.” Income inequality, military and police brutality, and the belief that Jonathan stole last April’s presidential election from his northern rival are all factors. Campbell recommends a softer approach based on better security tactics, education reform, and public diplomacy. U.S. relations with “Africa’s largest Muslim population” are at stake.
  • Guatemala’s Presidential Race: Guatemalans went to the polls last Sunday in the first round of their presidential election. Retired general Otto Pérez Molina came in first but failed to win the majority needed for an outright victory. Instead he will face businessman Manuel Baldizon in a runoff in November. The central issue is Guatemala’s spiraling crime, tied in part to drug trafficking that has spilled over from Mexico. Pérez has promised an “iron fist” approach to the problem, as his party’s logo vividly shows. But while Guatemalans are concerned about crime, some also have doubts about Pérez’s military past; he held several senior posts during Guatemala’s long civil war. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Pérez faces “swirling allegations of human rights abuses” from that era, though the Economist writes that “nobody has turned up specific evidence of wrongdoing.” This is related to the larger question of whether a military push would succeed in improving security. CFR’s Shannon O’Neil writes on her blog, Latin America’s Moment, that the Guatemalan military has neither the capacity nor the legitimacy to combat crime. For many citizens, an aggressive military effort would raise uncomfortable memories of the civil war, something this New York Times piece also alludes to. O’Neil suggests that Guatemala’s police, though imperfect, are the best tool for boosting security.

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  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    From what I understand, Qaddafi’s government still holds a seat at the United Nations. Yet press reports generally describe him as a deposed leader, and much of the world is acting as if his government does not exist. The UN Security Council voted for a no-fly zone, but did not put into place any measures that would have prevented nations from taking advantage of the situation to overthrow the regime. It seems to me that Qaddafi has the obligation to protect his country against an uprising, and against foreign invaders. All this tells us that, if there were a legitimate reason to overthrow the Qaddafi regime, it was a matter that should have first been adjudicated, and then acted upon. There seems to be a lawless element in the celebration of Qaddafi’s overthrow, akin to an impromptu public lynching. We also saw this theme playing out in the alleged bin Laden assassination. Is this the mood world leaders are playing on to change the rules of the game to no rules? CFR President Richard Haass has written that the NATO action over Libya was not for humanitarian purposes after all.

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