India's strategic role in Pakistan and Afghanistan should not be underestimated

The following article was published in the Independent

India is key to solving Afghanistan

It beggars belief that a fellow Commonwealth country - both a democracy and a nuclear-armed power - can be talking about an invasion of Pakistan

20 May 2010

When will the Commons start telling the truth about Afghanistan? Other than immigration, no other subject was raised so often on the doorstep in the election. But no other issue was less discussed by the party leaders. There is an ever widening gap between the military-political establishment and the people of Britain who fail to understand why so many of their own people are dying or returning home hideously maimed. This is not the Falklands or even a conflict to stop the UK being blown apart by unionist bigotry and IRA terror bombs.

Conservatives talk grandly about creating a "war" cabinet to wage war in Afghanistan. Mr Cameron should find a word other than "war" to use. We are winning battle after battle: when British troops take on the Taliban face to face, there is only one winner, despite the sad sacrifices that are made. But the notion that we will win a war in Afghanistan commands no serious support anywhere, even among those who support our presence there. Talking of war implies victory. It is the dream of the generals as they send young officers and men achieve the unachievable – to win a war in the sense of the destruction of Nazism in 1945.

Can containment replace confrontation as policy? After 1945 the democracies adopted a philosophy of containment rather than military destruction of opposing ideologies. So too in Afghanistan; we cannot keep on sending British soldiers to die in the will-'o-the-wisp search for an ultimate military victory. Instead of warcraft we need statecraft and that must involve a stronger relationship with Pakistan. There has been much talk about Pakistan and the solution to Afghanistan. But there will be no solution in Pakistan until India changes its strategic approach in the area.

According to a report in Le Monde earlier this year, The Times of India reported a secret conclave of the Indian general staff at Simla in December, at which they discussed a "double-front" strategy – an assault on both China and Pakistan. General Kapoor, the Indian chief of staff, has talked about a limited military attack on Pakistan. It beggars belief that a fellow Commonwealth country and nuclear-armed power – and a democracy to boot, can be talking about an invasion of Pakistan, when what we need is a complete re-setting of India-Pakistani relations. As is well known, in 1989 democracy was suspended in Kashmir, and 500,000 Indian troops moved in. Since then, between 50,000 and 70,000 people have been killed in probably the biggest bloodbath of Muslims in recent times under the Indian army occupation. Some of that was in response to Pakistan-initiated terrorism – the horrible explosions at Srinagar and elsewhere, but India is not even on the way to finding a political solution to the problem of Kashmir, and it is under pressure given the Mumbai massacres and other issues.

Britain has long been in thrall to its 250-year-old love affair with India. Today India fits the lines from Oliver Goldsmith: "Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, / Where wealth accumulates and men decay." India has more billionaires and millionaires than Britain does, but this fabulous wealth co-exists beside more absolutely poor people than live in sub-Saharan Africa. After more than six decades of democracy, India still has hundreds of millions of its citizens who cannot read or write or who do not have access to clean water and sewers. But whereas Pakistan has to put up with a condescension and patronising sneers from a pro-Indian establishment in London, India's failure to create peace on its border with Kashmir rarely if ever gets criticised.

I have sought on several occasions in the House of Commons to get the then Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to acknowledge that India should do more to bring stability to the region by seeking to become part of the solution to Kashmir instead of remaining part of the problem, but the Conservative leadership is totally India-obsessed.

As any visitor to Pakistan can see, the nation has a vibrant civil society and a very good, free and energetic media and legal-judicial system. It has a strong women's movement and a strong human rights movement. Yes, it is very poor, so the real answer is to improve Pakistan's economic and growth perspectives. David Miliband took the lead in pushing the European Union hard to open a dialogue and to try to increase trade between Pakistan and the rest of Europe. That is certainly where we should focus some of our efforts with our Pakistani and Kashmiri diaspora in Britain.

We have to look again at the ideology that spurs on the Taliban and other extremists. That ideology is not of the Islam religion, which should have the same respect as any other Abrahamic faith, but is a coherent world ideology of Islamism that is rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood that was founded by Hassan al-Banna in the 1920s and that has developed steadily since. London focuses too much on Muslim Brotherhood-linked organisations when the real representatives of the Muslim community in Britain are to be found in elected councillors, community leaders and mosque councils.

The new Government needs to work with our Pakistani-British citizens to increase economic relations with Pakistan. We should set up effective structures using the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office, the departments that deal with education and other departments to find ways of explaining that what is happening in Afghanistan is a threat, not just to the region and not just in terms of providing incubators for terrorism in our country, but to everything that we should value if we want a peaceful and prosperous world.

Britain should build a strong UK-Pakistan relationship to promote economic growth, shared prosperity, increased democracy and human rights and a withering down of the ideologies that justify terrorism. That will also mean asking India to make a contribution by finding peace in Kashmir. These are ambitious goals. But a happy 21st century for Britain and Pakistan and for British citizens connected to both nations requires no less.

Germany and the Euro crisis

This appeared in Newsweek from the magazine issue dated 31 May 2010
The Real European Stalemate

It's in Germany, not Britain.

14 May 2010

As the drama of Europe's debt crisis slowly unfolds, all eyes have been diverted to the wrong national subplot. The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in Britain is surprising and historic, but it is not the potential stalemate that matters most to Europe's future and its ability to contain the Greek crisis. That stalemate is in Germany, where a once widely admired politics of coalition and compromise has glued up. Three days after the British election, voters in the biggest German region or land—North Rhine-Westphalia—delivered a crushing blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel's authority, weakening her Christian Democratic Party so deeply that it will lose control over legislation in the German Bundesrat, or senate. Mrs. Merkel has lost her narrow Bundesrat majority and with it the ability to push through difficult and unpopular tax and public-spending policies.

In the past this would have been an internal German problem. But with Berlin at the epicenter of the euro-zone crisis of political and economic confidence, it is a global problem. Still by far Europe's richest and most successful economy, as well as the biggest contributor to EU funds, Germany will finally have to ask itself a long-avoided question—what kind of Europe should really exist?

That debate has yet to begin. German politicians are squabbling along old lines, with economic liberals arguing for cutting taxes and spending on the welfare state, and Social Democrats calling the liberals cruel and unjust. What both sides fail to address is that the basic growth model is in trouble. Germany has prospered as an export juggernaut in recent years in large part by exploiting free-trade rules within Europe, and to keep that model working Germany has to bankroll the neighbors it needs to import German goods and capital. That means the likes of Greece, Portugal, and Spain. But having made huge sacrifices to pay for German reunification, and then again to hold down workers' pay over the last decade in order to strengthen German export industries, Germans are in no mood to bail out the profligate Greeks. As a result they are feeding the crisis.

Why cannot every European nation be like Germany, sigh its pundits. If only feckless Greece and housing-crazed Spain tried harder to balance budgets and build productive industries like Germany. But no one in Germany is prepared to admit that German wealth comes from the rest of Europe buying German goods or using German banks. In return, Germany refuses to import from its EU partners at anything like the rate it exports to them and refuses to boost internal demand either by raising wages or breaking down social and church barriers in a deregulated U.S.-style market.

Thus Germany needs the euro zone more than the euro zone needs Germany. If Greece is followed by other big deficit nations that start to default or devalue, German banks and German exporters will take a huge hit. If the euro zone disintegrates, barriers to trade will emerge overnight. Why should Italian olive oil producers allow Greek olive oil exporters to gain an enormous advantage by switching from the expensive euro back to the cheap drachma? Open trade cannot survive in Europe if nations revert to using their own currencies for competitive devaluations. German leaders understand this but do not want to spell out these risks when voters prefer to hear critiques of lazy Mediterranean nations.

Europe, including Britain, has tried to act. EU leaders came up with a package of nearly $1 billion to stop speculation. The European Central Bank has torn up its own rules by buying government debt. This moves the ECB from being an interest-rate setter and issuer of notes to a major economic player, undertaking tasks normally reserved for government. But this intervention cannot stop countries from running up greater deficits unless governments are willing to make more of their tax, spend, and trade decisions collectively. That means telling Germany to import more and raise internal demand.

Thus, the triple stalemate for Germany and Europe. To solve Greek-style crises, Europe needs more power over national governments. To keep the euro zone afloat, Germany has to put off the tax cuts German voters clearly want. To get EU growth going, Germany cannot do all the exporting. Emergency measures have contained the crisis so far. But the lack of leadership in Germany clouds the EU's future.

The loss of confidence in British and German politics

This articles was published on the Guardian Comment website

Two votes of no confidence

10 May 2010

The political class in Britain and Germany have finally woken up to the fact that the public no longer trusts them

German politics faces a new nightmare as voters in Germany's biggest land, North Rhine Westphalia, punished the ruling chancellor, Angela Merkel, but refused to give confidence to the opposition Social Democrats. With its 13 million inhabitants North Rhine Westphalia is as big as a middling EU member state. Now Merkel's Christian Democratic party has lost its majority as it got 34.5% of the vote, exactly the same percentage as the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats have to decide whether to form an uneasy coalition with the Greens, who increased their vote, and the leftist Die Linke, whose ultra views are unacceptable to most mainstream Social Democrats (a bit like Gordon Brown working with George Galloway).

The loss of CDU control in North Rhine Westphalia means that Merkel no longer has a majority in the German parliament which needs both its houses to agree laws. As in Britain, Germany has a parliament which no single party controls.

Like us, the German voters have no confidence in their political class. Neither first past the post nor PR seem able to deliver stable political governance in Europe's two leading states. The reasons can be found in the wider collapse of confidence in an economic system that delivers less and less social justice and demands more and more financial transfers from the individual to the state. Germany doggedly set about saving its industrial exporting base at the end of the 1990s under Gerhard Schröder. It did so by holding down the share of German wealth going into wages of car and other workers in the exporting sector of the economy. German export capitalism was revitalised, but German workers stopped voting for social democracy as their purchasing power was cut to boost profits and shares.

Now Gemany lectures the rest of the world on the virtues of its own model. But German wealth comes from the rest of Europe buying German goods while Germany refuses to import from its EU partners. In consequence, Germany needs the eurozone more than the eurozone needs Gemany. If Greece, followed by other countries, starts to default or devalue, then German banks and exporters take a huge hit.

Devaluation is a form of currency protectionism. If the eurozone disintegrates, barriers to trade will emerge overnight. German leaders understand this, as do policymakers in every EU capital including London. Britain may not be in the eurozone but our economy is intimately linked to the future prosperity and stability of the continent.

We need to export more and the market of 500 million customers an EasyJet or Eurostar journey's distance away is where we should focus. But it needs explaining to voters that Europe matters. Merkel faces an increasingly strident populist press that insisted German virtue was being sullied by feckless Mediterranean layabouts.

To be sure, the Greek government refused to accept the need for reform. But the EU is based on British notions of the supremacy of national sovereignty over extremely limited powers and authority for common European systems of regulation. The Greek crisis unfolded because Europe was too weak and unable to, yes, order Athens to clean up its fiscal base and make middle-class Greeks pay taxes.

Now, the price is being paid by the poor as benefits are cut and modest public service employees bear the brunt of the failure to control the greed of the Greek rich and the tax-dodging doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals. The massive intervention of EU governments with the European Central Bank intervening to support the eurozone is aimed at stopping the speculators, who now face losses on their selling of euros in recent weeks. This should be welcomed as a first step by democratic authorities to punish speculators in the way they best understand – by cutting their gains as they play in the casino of currency betting.

But it needs to be explained by politicians. Merkel failed to do this and pretended that Germany had no duty of care to the world region from which it gains its wealth. She was under pressure from a xenophobic press and by opposition politicians, including sadly, Social Democrats who were wallowed in their schadenfreude – pleasure in their opponents' pain.

British politics also prefers to hear, speak and see no Europe. If the Lib Dems enter into an alliance against nature with the deeply anti-European Conservatives, then Britain will be as isolated from the unfolding European crisis as Britain was after 1990. In that lost decade, Britain under John Major, who simply did not understand Europe, was a passive whining spectator on the fringes of the major developments in Europe, from the creation of the single currency to stopping the killing fields in the Balkans. Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and Menzies Campbell are political leaders who do know and care about Europe. If they are swallowed up by the deeply anti-EU Conservative party then their voices will be lost and British politics will be the poorer.

So Britain and Germany face a politics in which voters do not trust their political leaders and political leaders, in turn, refuse to lift their game and tell the truth about the profound crisis we are traversing. The 20th century is over and its system of greed-based capitalism before which all bowed is now collapsing.

Equally, the late 20th-century state, which takes more and more of the wealth generated by individuals' work and hands it over to a bureaucracy that perpetuates its own interests, is now as much the problem as the solution. We need a new market economy and a new state. The political crisis in Britain and Germany will worsen. The speculators' attack on Europe has been halted, but not reversed.

Article in Die Welt on Lech Kaczynski, a Polish patriot

This article appeared in Die Welt

Treuer Sohn seines Landes
12 April 2010

Lech Kaczynski war gewiss nicht jedermanns politische Präferenz. Aber als treuer Sohn Polens bemühte er sich immer, Ehre und Ansehen der polnischen Nation und ihrer Menschen hochzuhalten. Als Präsident riskierte er mutig sein Leben, als er 2008 nach Georgien flog, um Solidarität mit dem georgischen Volk zu bekunden, als dieses sich einer russischen Invasion zu Wasser, zu Land und aus der Luft gegenübersah. Sein Flugzeug sollte damals auf Anordnung der Russen Tiflis meiden, aber er befahl dem Piloten, diese Anordnung zu ignorieren und in Tiflis zu landen.
Die Polen werden sich jetzt fragen müssen, warum ihr Staatsoberhaupt in keiner besseren Maschine als einer 20 Jahre alten russischen Tupolew hatte fliegen können. Auch wird zu klären sein, wer die Verantwortung dafür trug, in einer nebelverhangenen, sumpfigen Zone Europas zu landen. Welche Kleinlichkeit muss herrschen, die es Repräsentanten der Regierung zumutet, im Namen fiskalischer Sparsamkeit überholte, ungemütliche Flugzeuge zu benutzen! Polens sozialdemokratischer Premierminister Leszek Miller, der das Land 2004 in die EU führte, brach sich bei einem Hubschrauberabsturz das Rückgrat.
Lech Kaczynski und sein Zwillingsbruder Jaroslaw waren kontroverse Figuren auf Europas katholischer Rechten, mit vormodernen Ansichten über Frauen und Homosexuelle. Aber die polnischen Wähler gaben der Kaczynski-Partei PiS bei den Sejm-Wahlen 2008 den Laufpass, und nur die wenigsten gingen davon aus, dass Kaczynski bei der kommenden Präsidentschaftswahl wieder gewählt worden wäre. Aber er war jemand, der der jüdischen Kommunität die Hand ausstreckte.

Was immer er manchmal in Warschau von sich gegeben haben mochte, so unterzeichnete er doch verlässlich alle EU-Verträge, und Polen ist heute in Europa integriert wie nie zuvor. Auch der Austausch mit Großbritannien, auf menschlicher, wirtschaftlicher oder kultureller Ebene, ist stärker denn je, trotz allen Wütens der Tabloids aus der Ecke Rothermere-Desmond, der UKIP-Partei oder der britischen Nationalisten gegen die Präsenz von Polen im Arbeitsmarkt und in der weiteren Gesellschaft Großbritanniens