ISLAMABAD: Col Gaddafi’s days are over. He will never be able to rule over the people he calls vermin, traitors, infidels and rats. Much blood has already been shed and suffering endured by the innocent people in this Mediterranean country ,double the size of Pakistan with a population of less than seven million.
Pakistan should therefore not dither in deciding its direction for relations with post-Gaddafi Libya. I wonder if the Pakistan Foreign Office has as yet established any contact with the National Transitional Council ( NTC ) headed by Mustafa Abdel Jalil .
Pakistan always had good and friendly relations with Libya. Even during King Idris time in 1950’s, Pakistan provided some economic and technical assistance to the then impoverished country. Soon after the young 27 year old Col ( then a Captain ) Muammar Gaddafi , at the head of 11-member Revolutionary Command Council ( RCC ), staged a coup d’etat and overthrew King Idris Sannousi on September 1, 1969 his love affair started with Pakistan. His strongly worded letter to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi accusing her of aggression against Pakistan in 1971 endeared him to all Pakistanis. His place in the Pakistanis’ hearts was much in evidence in the stadium at Lahore -now named after him- when the full house attendance gave him a rousing reception as he arrived there to deliver a speech . This was when he visited Pakistan to attend the second Islamic summit conference hosted by the charismatic leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1974.
Col. Gaddafi has been a paragon of dictators, and for too long. During the forty two years that he has been in power in Libya we in Pakistan suffered three Military dictators , Generals Yahya, Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf. But it is ironic that Pakistan’s relations with Gaddafi’s Libya were not so good during the Military rules as during the civilian elected Governments particularly that of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
During Z.A. Bhutto’s time over a 100,000 Pakistani expatriates were employed on lucrative jobs in different fields in Libya. Pakistan also provided the services of a sizeable number of Air Force and Navy officers to train Libyans. When Bhutto was awarded death sentence, Gadhafi addressed a cable to Gen Zia , on March 20, 1978 for sparing Bhutto’s life and offered to receive him in Libya in exile. The news about Gadhafi’s message to Gen Zia was carried by Libyan Radio and TV the following day. After General Zial-ul-Haq refused Gaddafi’s plea, relations between the two countries took a nose dive. Number of Pakistanis employed in Libya was drastically reduced.
At home Gaddafi was not liked as much as the people abroad presumed. The apparent stability of Gaddafi’s rules did not betray the undercurrents of deep and genuine dislike of him by the educated and thinking classes of the society who disliked his antics and idiosyncrasies, and his lavish donations to ‘ freedom movements’ abroad. The outside world also remained unaware of the several attempts to overthrow or kill him. Those involved in the failed attempts were brutally eliminated by the firing squads or by dropping them in the desolate desert from the aero planes in the air.
The ‘ Arab spring’ triggered by the self immolation of Mohammad Bou Azizi in the neighbouring Tunisia gave heart to the Libyans .But they could not muster enough courage to rise against the dreaded dictator until the Egypians rose in revolt against President Husni Mubarik. Egypt has been the inspiration for the Libyans , hundreds of thousands of whom are related through marriages. It would be recalled that Gaddafi too was inspired by the nationalist Egyptian leader Col Gamal Abdul Nasser . As narrated by Mohamed Hasnain Heikal , the famous journalist and one of Nasser’s Ministers, in his book, “ The Road to Ramadan”, Gaddafi’s first message to Col Gamal Abdul Nasser was that he and his brother officers wanted union with Egypt. Gaddafi’s message conveyed through Heikal added: ‘ Tell President Nasser we made this revolution for him. He can take everything of ours and add it to the rest of the Arab world’s resources to be used for the battle( against Israel )”.
But as Gaddafi’s rule advanced in years and he had the full taste of absolute power, having reduced his RCC colleagues to non-entities, his interests became different and varied. His burning desire and resolve to defeat Israel was all but forgotten. He lost his love for the Palestinians. He now did not consider it necessary for the Palestinians to have their separate homeland either. In his 94 minute speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2009 Gaddafi presented a single- state formula which he named ‘Isratine”.
Once again the Libyans are now following the lead of Egyptians by rising in revolt against Gaddafi himself. It will not be long before Gaddafi disappears from the scene as he has disappeared from his Bab-el-Azizia compound in Tripoli. The rest of the world is already preparing to deal with his successors. Pakistan too will have to decide its future relationship with post- Gaddafi Libya.
It would be proper if the realities on the ground rather than our associations with Arab monarchical regimes determine our decision. Pakistan should keep its own interests and the popular will of the people in Libya in view rather than the apprehensions of some ‘brotherly Muslim countries’ . In the past unfortunately, Pakistan has been acting in deference to conservative Arab Kings . When the Palestinians were rallying under the banner of PLO and Yassir Arafat emerged as their effective leader, recognized by many countries including Malaysia, we refused him permission to open an office in Pakistan because we were still paying stipend to Mufti Amin-el-Hussaini.
In the 1970 civil war in Jordan we sided with the King and helped crush the Palestinians . In the dispute between Mauritania and Morocco over Western Sahara we sided with the King of Morocco. We did not support the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ‘s verdict in favour of the Saharui peoples’ right of self determination, a right which we demand for the people of Kashmir. Even in South Africa we were on the side of the insignificant conservative organizations of freedom fighters rather than the most popular ANC of Nelson Mandela.
This worked to Pakistan’s disadvantage in establishing close political and trade relations with the post apartheid regime. Mandela made an oblique reference to this in his speech in the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad during his visit to Pakistan.
Now in case of Libya we should not drag our feet in recognizing the popular will of the Libyan people. For once Pakistan should not be weighed down by the apprehensions of our ‘Royal friends’ that our support to the Arab spring would threaten their thrones. (The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Libya)