As long as the international community fails to recognise how much dynamics have shifted since 4 April, the longer the war in Libya will go on. Neither side appears to have the capacity for decisive victory. Instead, any state seeking to help end the conflict and stabilise Libya needs to think creatively about future conflict cessation efforts. It should be clear to everyone by now that Khalifa Haftar does not act in good faith in negotiations. In 2018 he promised in both Paris and Abu Dhabi that he would work with Presidency Council head Fayez Serraj on a peaceful solution to the political crisis but instead launched campaigns in Fezzan and Tripolitania in the beginning of 2019. Serraj has also demonstrated no control over policies or their implementation. Most notably, his toxic and dependent relationship on Tripoli-based militias became painfully clear during the iterative deadly militia infighting in the capital in both August-September 2018 and January 2019.
Yet there are powerful Libyan leaders who could make a difference and who have not yet been effectively incorporated into previous dialogue efforts. Fathi Bashagha — the pro-Government of National Accord (GNA) interior minister and, as of 14 April, acting defence minister — is one of those individuals. He is not dependent on militias for his power because he has considerable influence over both politicians and militias from Misrata. This background is an enormous asset because his approval of a peace deal could compel thousands of Libya’s best militia fighters to comply as well. His actions as interior minister since October 2018 have been widely interpreted by Tripoli residents as some of the only concrete measures that the GNA has taken to safeguard the capital’s population. This has garnered him a lot of local respect that very few Libyan politicians enjoy. Bashagha also has fierce enemies in the Haftar camp.
From the eastern camp, it is hard to find any figure untainted by association with Haftar. As the war has dragged on, the anti-Islamist rhetoric has increased among his supporters and this has limited his ability to future negotiations with rivals that are tied to political Islam. Once-admired leaders from the east, like Wanis Bukhamada, have declined from war heroes to potential war criminals.
Well-known politicians like the former Libyan Ambassador to the UAE, Aref Nayed, are viewed with deep suspicion for their rising anti-Islamist rhetoric since Haftar began his campaign in 2014. But Nayed has the trust of the Emirati government which is a trust that Haftar has violated several times. This relationship is extremely valuable given the current proxy war in which the UAE is an active participant in Libya.
It may just be that Bashagha and Nayed are the best alternative leaders to negotiate a peace given their local and international clout.