It does not portend well that member countries of NATO have given a unanimous extension to its mission in Libya by another 90 days beyond the initial deadline of June 27. This means the air-strikes, which began in March following Resolution 1973 of the United Nations Security Council, will continue. The resolution authorised “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya from a crackdown by Muammar Qadhafi's regime on an anti-government uprising. Air strikes are a strange way to go about protecting civilians — despite all their precision equipment, bombardment by fast-moving aircraft will result in indiscriminate casualties. The Libyan regime claims that 718 civilians have so far been killed and over 4,000 injured in the bombings that began on March 18. If these deaths are proved, the participating powers — the U.S. and its allies in Europe — will have to answer for what amounts to no less than the war crimes a United Nations-ordered investigation has recently accused the Qadhafi government of committing. From the extended timeline, it is clear that the west's real intention in Libya is to use the U.N. resolution to effect a regime change in an oil-rich country. This conclusion is bolstered by the Obama administration's invitation to the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council to set up a representative office in Washington even as the conflict in Libya remains stalemated. The only lesson western powers seem to have learnt from the U.S. folly in Iraq is that invading a country to topple its leader is all right as long as you stick to bombing it from the air.

There is undoubtedly a strong movement against the Libyan strongman within his country, carried by the winds of democracy blowing throughout the West Asia-North Africa region. But it is crucially important that any regime change is brought about by forces within Libya. The Tunisian revolt would not have inspired similar movements in other countries in the region had it been the result of western intervention. Outside intervention, with its own agenda, is sure to rob the movement of its momentum and indeed legitimacy. That self-interest, not democracy, is at the top of this agenda is evident, else why would the U.S. be so unabashedly non-supportive of a similar movement in Bahrain? Colonel Qadhafi is no longer in complete control of the country; defections are depleting his coterie; diplomatically he is at a dead-end even on his home turf after the failure of a mediation effort by the African Union. But for this to move towards a positive conclusion, the west must take its hands off Libya. The air strikes must end, and the people of Libya must be left to determine their own destiny.

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