The violent death of Col. Muammar Qadhafi is the worst possible beginning for a new Libya where 42 years of dictatorial and whimsical rule by a strongman are supposed to make way for democratic structures. The exact circumstances in which Col. Qadhafi was killed are unclear. It is known that NATO bombed a convoy in which he was trying to flee a blockade of his hometown Sirte by forces allied to the National Transitional Council government. He might have been wounded in the bombing; subsequent video footage shows him asking for mercy from his captors. The NTC, which took power after over-running the Qadhafi regime two months ago with NATO's assistance, has said he was shot in crossfire between its forces and his loyalists. But reports from the ground suggest he was executed in cold blood. Libya has failed its first democratic test, with vengeance and bloodlust triumphing over due process, the rule of law, and justice. NATO is deeply complicit in this. The role of western powers, especially the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, through this sorry saga of violent regime change reiterates the question that has been asked ever since NATO began bombing Libya, ostensibly as a “humanitarian intervention” authorised by the United Nations Security Council: does the West want democracy in Libya or just any friendly regime that will give it access to the country's oil? It is disappointing that India, which opposed external intervention in Libya, has expressed no concern at Qadhafi's violent end.

Muammar Qadhafi will certainly not be mourned as a great leader of his people. His rule did bring about positive changes for his country, notably in health, education, and infrastructure development. In contrast to other Arab states, it also gave Libyans a consciousness about their oil wealth as a national resource. But he was a ruthless dictator, and his regime was infamous for crushing dissent by imprisoning, torturing, and killing a large number of political opponents. Qadhafi's Libya was also associated with deadly terrorist acts in Europe, including the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am plane over Lockerbie in Scotland, for which the world imposed sanctions on the country. It was only after 9/11 that both the West and Qadhafi saw opportunities in compromise: after condemning Osama bin Laden, he gave up Libya's nuclear programme and surrendered two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, in return for a lifting of international sanctions. With Qadhafi gone, the NTC will no doubt move to cement its hold on power. But if it genuinely wants to set Libya on the right path, it would do well to begin by conducting an honest and impartial investigation into Qadhafi's killing.

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