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Learning from the Tripoli lesson

Apr 22,2014 - Last updated at Apr 22,2014

The kidnapping of our ambassador  to Libya, Fawaz Al Aitan puts the country suddenly before a painful human tragedy as well as a grave political crisis.

Imagine the impact of the shock on the ambassador’s immediate  family, his wife and his kids with him in Tripoli, who must be traumatised by the constant fear of what awaits him.

Equally paralysing must be their darkest thoughts about the conditions he could be subjected to at the hands of his ruthless captors.

Without any doubt the same applies to his larger family back home, his friends, his colleagues and all Jordanians.

The news that the ambassador is safe and well are certainly comforting, and hopefully true, but hardly assuring.

If such claims are to be accepted as reliable, then those who reported them should know who the kidnappers are and where they are keeping Ambassador Aitan, but that sounds incompatible with previous Libyan authorities’ denial of such knowledge.

At this point, nothing seems certain, but there is hope that this agonising episode ends happily.

The kidnapping has also placed the Jordanian government before a crisis, and as such, every potential has been mobilised to handle the situation efficiently, but delicately, to secure a safe and a dignified return of the ambassador to his family and his country.

The dilemma in such situations is that despite the criminality, the despicable behaviour and the outrage of the criminals, they must be approached cautiously and softly to prevent any possibility of harm to their victim.

However, soft dealing sounds like rewarding the crime and therefore encouraging more kidnappings in pursuit of material or political gains, when principled logic dictates that negotiating terrorists’ demands for freeing their captives should never happen.

But that formula cannot be taken for granted. Neither can one deduce from past experience a pattern of the behaviour of outlaws who resort to trading innocent life for securing the fulfilment of  illegal demands.

Each past case carried its own risks, with some ending peacefully while others tragically, with or without engaging the criminals. But the risks are always higher when shunning any contact with the kidnappers.

Therefore, the option of discussing the kidnappers’ motives should not in this case be eliminated.

The release of our ambassador is worth any price. The authorities should spare no effort towards that end, which is absolutely and urgently required.

In similar situations, it was routine for every government to deny any attention to negotiate with terrorist kidnappers, but almost all do in a variety of ways.

Terrorists’ political demands were in past cases met and cash ransoms were paid when that saved lives and reduced pain.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour did indeed confirm that discreet efforts are already under way to secure the ambassador’s safe release.

It has also been reported that the kidnappers are asking the release of a Libyan serving life in a Jordanian prison for being convicted in a terrorist crime.

His release may involve a large compromise that should in normal situations be firmly ruled out, but not in this case.

This demand must be carefully assessed for the significant purpose it could serve.

In the last three decades, there were countless terrorist attacks on  many of our serving diplomats worldwide, with some brutally assassinated, others seriously harmed, kidnapped or subjected to constant threat.

Many of our diplomatic missions were also ransacked by hostile rioters and their contents were completely destroyed. But we are not unique in this case, as what happened to our diplomats and missions happened, and still happens, to many others.

It is unlikely that we will see the time when such criminal acts would cease. The risk, it seems, is part of the practice, and as long as we continue to send and host diplomatic missions, we should be prepared for unpleasant surprises.

The question, however, is whether we should take greater risks in sending our men and women to serve in dangerous places where chaos, rather than law and order, prevails and therefore the safety of those dedicated foreign service staff is not guaranteed.

Since the situation in the Libyan capital — in fact all of Libya — has proved to be anarchic, and most definitely unsafe, did we really need to keep a functioning diplomatic mission there?

Was not the recent Tripoli kidnapping of the former Libyan prime minister from his hotel bedroom by one of the many armed gangs roaming the country, the forcing of another prime minister out of office under similar humiliating threats, and the kidnapping of other ambassadors and regular citizens adequate warning for our government to withdraw our embassy staff until the Libyan security mess is over?

Earlier in Benghazi, the American ambassador was brutally assassinated and the American consulate was attacked and burnt. Benghazi witnessed, and still does, unrestrained lawlessness and violence at the hands of identified outlaws operating all over the country.

Evidently the Jordanian decision to open a resident diplomatic mission in Tripoli soon after the overthrow of the former regime was meant to offer support to the new administration there, a decision which is absolutely positive and correct. But few at the time expected the inevitable transitional precariousness to turn into total anarchy with no visible existence of the central government.

Diplomatic missions with all their staff are entitled to the full protection of host countries.

Jordan is the perfect example of complete protection offered by security apparatuses to foreign missions.

We should be careful sending our people to any country that fails to reciprocate safety guarantees.

The days ahead are going to be tough while waiting for the outcome of this crisis.

Let us hope it will end peacefully and the ambassador will be united with his family and return safely home.

Let us learn from this lesson — by no means the first, and probably not be the last — that we should only open embassies in places where the full safety of our men and women can be secured and where law and order prevail.

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