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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Pak terror in sporting arena
Lankan cricketers at the receiving end
The daring attack on a vehicle carrying members of the Sri Lankan cricket team to the venue of the second Test between the two countries in Lahore on Tuesday is a chilling reminder of the precarious position in which Pakistan is currently placed. That a dozen desperadoes armed with hand-grenades, rocket-launchers and Kalashnikovs could penetrate the security cordon despite intelligence inputs of an impending strike shows how deeply Pakistan is in the grip of terror.

BDR mutiny and after
Time for India to maintain strict border vigil
The Sheikh Hasina government, severely jolted by the mutiny staged by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), needs all kinds of help at this critical hour. A friendly country like India, which shares a long and porous border with Bangladesh, cannot keep quiet. That is, obviously, why External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has written to the Bangladesh Prime Minister that India is ready to provide any form of assistance Dhaka may require at this juncture.


EARLIER STORIES

A destabilisation game
March 3, 2009
Zardari courts trouble
March 2, 2009
In quest of a new identity
March 1, 2009
Perfect 10
February 28, 2009
Zardari vs Nawaz Sharif
February 27, 2009
Just three years?
February 26, 2009
Terrorism is un-Islamic
February 25, 2009
‘Jai Ho’, ‘Jai Ho’
February 24, 2009
Modi’s claim nailed
February 23, 2009
A question of EC’s credibility
February 22, 2009
Habitual offenders
February 21, 2009



Race for alliances
Poll schedule spurs all parties
With the announcement of the Lok Sabha elections, all parties are now hastening to get their act together. It is open season for dumping partners, building alliances, striking deals and, generally, assembling winnable assets for entering the Great Indian Election. As yesterday’s rivals turn today’s allies, friends fall by the wayside and scruples go for a toss, every party will be seeking to maximise the situation in its own favour.
ARTICLE

Unending slowdown
More measures needed to boost economy
by Jayshree Sengupta
A few weeks before the elections, some new sops or incentives are being offered by the UPA government on the economic front. They may or may not work in a situation when the Indian economy’s growth rate has fallen to 5.3 per cent in the third quarter (that ended in December 2008). Not only industry is showing signs of significant slowdown and fatigue, but agricultural growth has also dipped by 2.2 per cent. Industrial growth fell to 2.4 per cent and manufacturing has fallen by 0.2 per cent.

MIDDLE

‘Madoffed’ at Chandigarh
by Harwant Singh
We would not have known Maydoff in such detail had we not been in the US, where for over a month he stayed on the front pages of American newspapers. Further, he lived only a few blocks from where we stayed in Manhattan.

OPED

War on terror
Pakistan takes the US for a ride
by K.Subrahmanyam
Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek, in his weekly programme on CNN, Global Public Square, discussed on March 1 with an eminent panel the pros and cons of distinguishing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the ongoing war in the Pak-Afghanistan region.

Europe needs an elected president
by Roland Rudd
When Henry Kissinger once quipped: “When I want to call Europe, I cannot find a phone number,” he expressed a frustration about the lack of decisive leadership that has sometimes characterised EU affairs – and it’s for this same reason that Gordon Brown finds himself constantly flying off to Brussels for meetings with European leaders.

Inside Pakistan
Towards ‘out-of-court’ solution?
by Syed Nooruzzaman
Despite the new posturing by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and PML (N) chief Nawaz Sharif, there are hints for a patch-up between the two. Perhaps, the realisation has begun to dawn on the Zardari regime that it cannot survive for long if the PPP and the PML (N), the two biggest political parties of Pakistan, remain on a collision course.

Focus on PML (Q)
Economy suffers

 


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Pak terror in sporting arena
Lankan cricketers at the receiving end

The daring attack on a vehicle carrying members of the Sri Lankan cricket team to the venue of the second Test between the two countries in Lahore on Tuesday is a chilling reminder of the precarious position in which Pakistan is currently placed. That a dozen desperadoes armed with hand-grenades, rocket-launchers and Kalashnikovs could penetrate the security cordon despite intelligence inputs of an impending strike shows how deeply Pakistan is in the grip of terror.

That besides some policemen who were killed, six Sri Lankan players have been injured in the attack adds to the seriousness of the crime. The immediate calling off of the tour was the logical consequence of this dastardly act. President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani’s claims that they are in effective control sound hollow in the face of the recent Taliban stranglehold in the Swat Valley and now the terror strike in Lahore.

Indeed, Pakistan had staked its prestige by persuading Sri Lanka to send a team to the country, assuring the Lankans that they would be protected at all costs. This was after India decided to call off the proposed Pakistan tour as a sequel to Pakistan’s involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks in November last. The Indian stand of not sending the team to Pakistan now stands vindicated. 

When India pulled out of the tour, the then Sri Lanka Cricket chairman Arjuna Ranatunga had unilaterally announced that Sri Lanka would tour Pakistan in place of India. The Lankan government first nixed the tour and sacked Ranatunga; then bowed to pressure from various quarters to allow the tour to go ahead, while simultaneously appeasing India by breaking the Pakistan tour into two halves and retro-fitting a one-day India series. 

Understandably, Ranatunga and the Sri Lankan government would be put to acute embarrassment. The country’s opposition is already making a big hue and cry against the government for sending the team to Pakistan disregarding safety considerations.

Much as Pakistan would strive to control the damage on the diplomatic front, there can be little doubt that the country would be looked upon with suspicion and fear as a venue for international sporting events. With Pakistan chosen to co-host the cricket World Cup in 2011 with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the terror attack in Lahore has effectively killed its chances of being retained as a venue.

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BDR mutiny and after
Time for India to maintain strict border vigil

The Sheikh Hasina government, severely jolted by the mutiny staged by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), needs all kinds of help at this critical hour. A friendly country like India, which shares a long and porous border with Bangladesh, cannot keep quiet. That is, obviously, why External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has written to the Bangladesh Prime Minister that India is ready to provide any form of assistance Dhaka may require at this juncture.

The unsuccessful attempt to destabilise the Hasina ministry has had its impact on India too. Many of the 1000 BDR men responsible for the massacre of army officers have reportedly sneaked into India as civilians and more may try to escape the law in this manner. 

The BSF has been alerted to maintain strict vigil on the border. But there is a need to launch a manhunt for those BDR men who might have already taken refuge in India disguisedly.

India, however, believes that Bangladesh is capable of handling the crisis it is faced with. Dhaka has asked India to ensure that no BDR man is able to cross over to this side of the border. Bangladesh has sought help from the FBI of the US and the Scotland Yard of the UK to go deeper into the BDR mutiny. The problem before Dhaka is too complicated, as the BDR, a large paramilitary force responsible for taking care of the country’s borders, has become suspect in the eyes of the people and the government. It may well have more rogue elements in its ranks. It will be dangerous to assign the BDR the task of guarding Bangladesh’s borders without the force’s complete detoxification.

There is a demand that the BDR should be disbanded. Former military ruler H. M. Ershad is of the view that the BDR must be made to disappear “if you call it a mutiny”. He has a point. Bangladesh had to disband one of its army units in the past when it staged a revolt. It is, in any case, for the Hasina government to decide whether to retain the BDR or not. Any step, even if harsh, must be taken in the interest of stability in Bangladesh.

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Race for alliances
Poll schedule spurs all parties

With the announcement of the Lok Sabha elections, all parties are now hastening to get their act together. It is open season for dumping partners, building alliances, striking deals and, generally, assembling winnable assets for entering the Great Indian Election. As yesterday’s rivals turn today’s allies, friends fall by the wayside and scruples go for a toss, every party will be seeking to maximise the situation in its own favour.

The bigger the party, the harder will be the bargain it drives. Thus, the grand old Congress party is perceived to be ahead of the rest. First, there was the AIADMK seeking an alliance with the Congress and asking the latter to jettison the DMK. Then came the call from NCP boss Sharad Pawar asking the Congress to carry with it in the election all those who are in the UPA boat. Of course, Mr Pawar’s suggestion is part of the NCP’s negotiations for a larger share of seats in Maharashtra.

With the fortunes of the Left Front on the decline in West Bengal, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are making common cause to prevent division of the anti-CPM vote. Of course, uniting against the Left Front and agreeing on seat shares are two different things. 

The BJP has not only lost a number of allies who constituted the NDA when Mr Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, but is hobbled by factionalism and personality clashes within. The JD-U and the BJD may be with the BJP but are likely to play hardball when it comes to seat sharing in Bihar and Orissa. 

The fact that the BJP has to make much of tying up with an outfit like the RLD led by Mr Ajit Singh shows that it is bereft of more powerful partners.

The announcement of the Third Front seems to have been timed for maximum impact. And, there is no denying that close on the heels of the Election Commission’s announcement, the formation of the Front under the leadership of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda poses a challenge to both the Congress and the BJP. 

Of course, pre-poll alliances are just that, as post-election, parties will jostle to bargain on the strength of their numbers. Which may explain why a powerful challenger like Ms Mayawati’s BSP is staying away from alliances now, confident that the results may make a mockery of pre-poll alliances.

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Thought for the Day

Here they hang a man first, and try him afterwards. — Moliere

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Unending slowdown
More measures needed to boost economy
by Jayshree Sengupta

A few weeks before the elections, some new sops or incentives are being offered by the UPA government on the economic front. They may or may not work in a situation when the Indian economy’s growth rate has fallen to 5.3 per cent in the third quarter (that ended in December 2008). Not only industry is showing signs of significant slowdown and fatigue, but agricultural growth has also dipped by 2.2 per cent. Industrial growth fell to 2.4 per cent and manufacturing has fallen by 0.2 per cent.

According to one report, there has been a net profit decline for nearly 2500 companies in manufacturing and services. They have posted their biggest ever profit decline of 42 per cent due to slower sales growth. Among the troubled companies, the private sector has fared worse. Most would have to shore up their finances or face downsising.

When companies are trying to cut costs, the biggest temptation is to lay off workers. Already lakhs of jobs have been axed and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has advised industrialists not to retrench workers but to go for salary cuts. Many European workers willingly accept lower wages in lieu of a big severance pay when they are laid off.

There are indeed many ways of cutting costs than shedding labour. For example, some of the reasons for slow profit growth include the rise in production costs, a heavier interest payment burden and lower price realisation in global commodities’ and export markets. With lower cost of power, transportation and finance and with a rise in world commodity prices, profit margins of most companies, especially those engaged in exports, would improve.

But the labour cost is indeed one of the big components of total costs, and if Indian industries are going through a recessionary phase, they are bound to retrench more labour. Basically, they would have to work below their full capacity and keep some machinery and equipment idle and having too many workers hanging around the factory would seem unviable.

A better option would have been if more workers could be brought under the Employees’ State Insurance Scheme (begun in January 2005) in which retrenched workers could benefit with a monthly payment. Unfortunately, the coverage of the scheme is rather small (around 78 lakh employees). 

Retrenched labour will have to be trained by the government because there are still some industries that are doing well and showing relatively high profit growth. There could be fresh recruitment in such industries in the future and retraining will ensure that the fired workers get new jobs. On this front, more needs to be done.

Rising interest rate payment is a great burden on companies in the slowdown. China’s infrastructural superiority and lower interest rates are enabling it to corner large orders during the current global slowdown as compared to India. Action has been taken by the Reserve Bank to address the high cost of finance and liquidity crunch. 

The RBI has already announced measures that would release over Rs 388,000 crore in the system. There is much hope that the central bank would lower the repo rate (the rate at which it lends to banks) by up to 100 points or 1 per cent in the next few weeks.

The RBI has already lowered the repo rate by 350 basis points (3.5 per cent) so far while the reverse repo rate, ( the rate at which banks park surplus funds with the central bank) has been reduced by 200 basis points or 2 percentage points. In addition, the cash reserve ratio (the proportion of deposits that banks keep in cash), has been reduced by 400 basis points or 4 per cent, resulting in an injection of Rs 160,000 crore into the system.

Private and foreign banks have already responded by lowering the lending rates by around 50 (0.5 per cent) basis points while public sector banks have cut their benchmark prime lending rates by 150 to 200 basis points. Both the government and the RBI have been prodding banks to cut rates further to boost economic activities. 

High interest rates can be justified only on grounds of rising inflationary pressure. India’s inflation rate has rapidly come down due to slackness in demand and falling prices of crude oil.

Also, among the reasons why one in three corporations is facing the red alert today is the high cost of servicing their foreign loans. Some time back the government eased the external commercial borrowing norms with great fanfare. This gave Indian companies easy access to cheap loans from abroad. 

This measure was aimed at easing the tight liquidity situation prevailing in India, but ever since the rupee has been depreciating against the dollar, servicing these loans has become very expensive. Some think that “translation losses” on foreign currency loans stand at Rs 26,399 crore in the first nine months of this financial year. It comprises 65 per cent of the net profit decline witnessed by the companies in trouble. To reverse this trend, stabilisation of the rupee is called for.

Since one of the main reasons behind the decline in the corporate sector’s profits is slack consumer demand, the Finance Minister has tried his hand at giving it a boost in the third stimulus package unveiled one week after the interim budget 2009-10. Small cuts (2 per cent) in indirect taxes like the service tax and excise duties will have at least a psychological impact on people’s spending propensities, specially when the tax cut is passed on to consumers by producers. 

It may help in revving up demand, but the tax cut is too small to make a big difference to the sagging sectors. The Finance Minister has obviously been constrained by the bloated fiscal deficit which, though it is around 6 per cent, adds up to 13 per cent when the states’ deficits are also added. The new tax cuts will add Rs 30,000 crore to the government’s expenditures. 

It is indeed going to be tough to boost domestic demand when job cuts have already started. People hold on to their money and postpone buying unless there are big bargains in sight.

No wonder, every company is trying hard to boost sales by promising tempting bargains. At this time, however, the best bet for the government is to give indirect help to the industrial and services sectors by increasing expenditure on infrastructure. This the Finance Minister has already done in the interim budget, and various social sector schemes like education and child welfare, have also received a boost which will act as a cushion against the income loss and children dropping out of schools.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has been enhanced and, hopefully, some relief will be offered to the rural jobless. But now that agriculture is showing a decline, there may be problems ahead. For the service sector, more spending has been promised on urban infrastructure. All in all, it will be the next government’s task to devise more ways of boosting the economy. What has been done so far is only a stop-gap arrangement.

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‘Madoffed’ at Chandigarh
by Harwant Singh

We would not have known Maydoff in such detail had we not been in the US, where for over a month he stayed on the front pages of American newspapers. Further, he lived only a few blocks from where we stayed in Manhattan.

Madoff’s’ contribution to the US society is considerable. He has pauperised many millionaires and added a new lexicon to the American vocabulary: “Madoffed”, simply stated means swindled. There is no better introduction than to describe him as the father of the mother of all ponzy schemes.

Bernard L. Madoff created the largest Ponzi scheme in history. At a rough count, it is 50 billion dollars. The victims range from Jewish relatives, friends, acquaintances, lawyers, inheritance millionaires to banks manned by some of the cleverest financial experts. Some victims who lived in the lap of luxury are now in a state of penury.

Most of them were members of the Palm Beach Club, where membership costs a fortune and it is here in this seven-star luxury that the victim had to lobby a great deal to be introduced to Madoff for an opportunity to invest in his scheme.

The essential ingredients of a Ponzy scheme are winning the trust of the investor through the display of supreme confidence, painting an exceptionally rosy picture and assuring a huge income on investment and initially following it up by actual payments of hefty returns. Have a couple of respectable “front-men” and put them in a posh office, from where they can rope in friends, acquaintances and the unwary. 

Returns are not out of investments but from new deposits, and once this cycle is established the scheme has a smooth sailing till new investors stop showing up. Slowly, the returns keep coming down and at some calculated point the promoters disappear with the deposits.

Such schemes are not a speciality of America alone. They are everywhere and a few of these flourished in Chandigarh too. Golden Forest erected show-piece properties to rope in the clever. Retired military men, unaccustomed to the wicked ways of the world, were roped in as “points-men”. That gave these companies a semblance of respectability and dependability. 

Friends got the assurance of safety and people fell over each other to hand in their hard-earned savings. Greed was the over-riding impulse. Inevitably, they all were “Madoffed.”

Indian courts got into the act where promoters pleaded innocence. They spent a short period in prison and came out to enjoy this ill-gotten wealth. On the other hand, it is to Madoff’s credit that he made a clean breast when he told the court that “he was giving money to investors, which was not there.” 
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War on terror
Pakistan takes the US for a ride
by K.Subrahmanyam

Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek, in his weekly programme on CNN, Global Public Square, discussed on March 1 with an eminent panel the pros and cons of distinguishing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the ongoing war in the Pak-Afghanistan region.

While the Taliban is extremist in its values, regressive and even Fascist it has no ambitions of taking the war to the US and hurting the Americans, while Al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attack and proclaimed its aim to wage war against crusaders (Westerners), Zionists (Israelis) and the Hindus.

In these circumstances will it make strategic sense if at this stage the US and the NATO focused exclusively on the war against Al Qaeda and started negotiations with the Taliban to separate them from Al Qaeda.

As a liberal Zakaria was totally opposed to the Taliban but would it not make better sense if it is opposed politically, economically and culturally and not militarily in an undifferentiated way along with Al Qaeda?

Does not the present strategy drive the Taliban and Al Qaeda together and make the task of the US and NATO forces more difficult?

In Iraq the Sunni opponents and Al Qaeda were successfully divided and will not a similar strategy work in the Pak-Afghan region? One of the panelists pointed out that in 2001 when the Taliban was offered the choice of dissociating itself from Al Qaeda, it chose to go down fighting with them.

The discussion did not come to any conclusion;but it reflected some of the ideas that are still on the table. It also highlights the confusion still widely prevalent in the US on the basic facts relating to the war in the region.

In 2001 the person who was sent to persuade the Taliban to dissociate itself with Al Qaeda was the then Director-General, Inter-Services Intelligence, General Mehmud Ahmed, who authorised Omar Sheikh to dispatch 100,000 dollars by wire-transfer to Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijack team.

In retrospect, it would appear that Pakistan had decided to give a safe haven to Al Qaeda rather than allow the Al Qaeda leadership to be handed over to the Americans.

It was more in the interest of Pakistan that both Al Qaeda and the Taliban should survive to fight another day. That was the only way Pakistan would be able to get the US to support military-dominated rule in Pakistan, accept the Pakistani nuclear arsenal and continue massive military and economic aid to Islamabad.

These aims were clearly spelt out by General Musharraf in his TV broadcast of September 19, 2001. Pakistanis saw in the US operations against the Taliban a second golden opportunity to milk the US as they got in 1979 when they joined the Carter Administration to provoke the Soviet intervention.

The continued survival and operations of Al Qaeda were absolutely vital for Pakistan continuing to get US aid.The moment Al Qaeda was decimated Pakistan would have no use for the US.

As British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Pakistani Prime Minister, Gilani, 75 per cent of attempts at terrorist attacks in the UK could be traced to Pakistan.

Islamabad did hand over a few top Al Qaeda leaders as the US agencies were closing in on them and also a lot of foot-soldiers of Al Qaeda. But the top leadership of Al Qaeda was provided an absolute safe haven.

Simultaneously the Afghan Taliban was allowed to reinforce, re-equip and regroup itself in Pakistani territory under the leadership of Mullah Omar, functioning brazenly in Quetta.

The Pakistani Taliban also emerged in the tribal areas with the support of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence.

Partly this was the Musharraf strategy to neutralise the mainstream political parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

Presumably, the Pakistani Army and the ISI ensured that in exchange for a provision of safe haven Al Qaeda would not launch any more direct attacks on the US main land.

But the sword of Damocles of terrorism by Al Qaeda would be held over the US through various terrorist threats and resurgence of Taliban activity in Afghanistan which will ensure continued US military dependence on Pakistan and the flow of US aid.

That worked out well for Pakistan. The Americans perhaps felt that this could be improved upon with a Musharraf-Benazir deal which would provide a civilian façade and business as usual.

But both Musharraf and the Bush administration calculated without taking into account the mentality of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. While the Pakistani Army and the ISI felt that they were manipulating the two Taliban and various associated jehadi militant groups, the latter felt they had the popular support, the drug money resource, a weak-willed Pakistani army which cannot effectively fight them and a civilian government embroiled in power struggle and intrigues.

Such circumstances provide the Taliban and various jehadi militant groups vast opportunities to extend Talibanism over larger areas of Pakistan.

So long the areas are Talibanised, Al Qaeda will have its safe haven. Al Qaeda can lie low till after the US and NATO forces leave and then re-emerge. For the last seven years they had kept their heads down.

There are very major differences between dealing with the minority Sunni resistance in Iraq and dealing with the Taliban. The US did not have a friend in Iraq, like Pakistan, which was aiding and abetting the US adversary as the Pakistan army has been doing with the Taliban.

The US has transcripts of General Kayani’s telephonic conversation in which he referred to the Taliban as his strategic asset.

Iraqis really want the Americans out and they have oil resources to finance their development. They did not have grand designs of leading the Islamic world as a nuclear weapon power and having a strategic depth in Afghanistan and all that to be financed by American taxpayers’ money.

It makes strategic sense to talk to the Taliban and separate the Taliban from Al Qaeda. But the real problem for the US and NATO in Afghanistan, as highlighted by President Obama, is Pakistan. So long as the Pakistani army believes it is in a position to take the US for a ride neither Afghanistan nor the tribal territories of Pakistan will be allowed to settle down.

This is not the first time the Pakistani army tried to be over-smart and came to grief. It happened when they launched Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir in 1965. A worse disaster followed when they unleashed genocide on Bangladesh in March 1971.

At Kargil, too, they suffered defeat. Sooner or later, the Americans have to wake up and discover their real problem is Pakistan, which had successfully played a double game with them for the last seven years and the issue is not the Taliban but the Pakistan army.

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Europe needs an elected president
by Roland Rudd

When Henry Kissinger once quipped: “When I want to call Europe, I cannot find a phone number,” he expressed a frustration about the lack of decisive leadership that has sometimes characterised EU affairs – and it’s for this same reason that Gordon Brown finds himself constantly flying off to Brussels for meetings with European leaders.

There was an emergency EU summit on Sunday about the economic crisis, following a smaller-scale meeting last week in Berlin. Over the coming weeks, he will return to the continent for a further summit in March and for two more in May.

The visits come at a time when the financial crisis has highlighted the importance of European cooperation, and raised questions about how the EU organises itself. There are calls within Europe to create a single permanent presidency in contrast to the present system which has the Council’s presidency rotating every six months between member states.

Chopping and changing every six months leaves little time to follow through on initiatives, and stretches the bureaucracies of smaller member states to their limits. A permanent figurehead to lead the European Council would provide greater continuity and leadership.

The proposal is not new – it featured in the much-maligned but highly necessary Lisbon Treaty, ratified by 25 of the 27 member states. While the absence of the Treaty has not hampered the EU, in the longer term the institutional reforms it contains would help ensure the smooth and more efficient functioning of the Union.

Observers of Brussels affairs point to the French presidency of the Council in the second half of 2008 as a turning point in the debate. With his dynamic leadership, President Sarkozy projected the necessity of Europe’s leadership on the global stage by playing a key role on a number of issues.

First, Sarkozy coordinated an effective European response to the financial crisis. Helped by Gordon Brown, he orchestrated the EU’s banking bail-out and created a savings guarantee scheme.

Next, he persuaded President Bush to hold the landmark G20 meeting in Washington last November. In December, Sarkozy’s skills of persuasion were in full throttle at the European Council summit, when a coordinated fiscal stimulus of €200bn (£178bn) was agreed.

As some member states attempted to dilute the EU’s commitments on climate change due to economic pressures, Sarkozy acted swiftly to safeguard them. Furthermore, he cobbled together a deal on the Lisbon Treaty, whereby Ireland, having rejected it, will vote again in October.

Sarkozy also played an instrumental role in flashpoints outside Europe’s borders. He led European efforts to resolve the dispute between Russia and Georgia in August, and underlined these diplomatic skills during the Gaza conflict which broke out in late December.

In contrast to Sarkozy’s robust role, the Czech Presidency displayed a distinct lack of leadership and only managed to confuse by issuing contradictory statements.

Diplomats struggled to keep pace with the turbo-charged Sarkozy, who, in the words of one retired senior Foreign Office diplomat, “made people think twice about the nature of the EU’s presidency.”

There is a growing appetite amongst both politicians and popular opinion for a permanent, high-profile figure. In fact, one poll last year showed that three-quarters of people surveyed in France, Italy and Spain think the EU presidency should go to a high-profile figure; a view backed by 50 per cent of British people. What’s more, many who favour a strong leader are pinning their hopes on Tony Blair.

In many ways, an effective EU Council President would strengthen the role of nation states, thereby diluting one of the main fears of critics.

As the challenges confronting us become more global in nature, European leadership will be key. If we want the EU to be effective on counteracting the economic downturn, climate change or the latest foreign affairs dispute, we need to equip it with a new president.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Inside Pakistan
Towards ‘out-of-court’ solution?
by Syed Nooruzzaman

Despite the new posturing by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and PML (N) chief Nawaz Sharif, there are hints for a patch-up between the two. Perhaps, the realisation has begun to dawn on the Zardari regime that it cannot survive for long if the PPP and the PML (N), the two biggest political parties of Pakistan, remain on a collision course.

A report in Daily Times (March 1), quoting a private TV channel, says that the PPP may propose to the PML (N) an “out-of-court” solution to the crisis that has arisen following the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying Mr Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from electoral politics. It is, however, difficult to be believe that the Sharif brothers will agree to the idea.

As the situation appears today, it may become worse in the days to come. The terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore shows that now it is the turn of Punjab to experience large-scale jihadi vilence. The PML (N) is intensifying its agitation against the Zardari-inspired court order. As Daily Times points out, “Violence is just under the surface and may envelope those parts of the country (which are) so far exempt from the mayhem of the terrorist organisations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”

Meanwhile, a Dawn report has it that the Governor’s rule imposed on Punjab, already getting a bad Press, has been challenged in the Pakistan Supreme Court by an activist of the PML (N). The petitioner wants the province to be soon brought back on the democratic rails. His argument is that the removal or unseating of a Chief Minister does not create a political void.

Another case has been filed in the Lahore High Court by a lawyer contending that the “emergency (in Punjab) has been imposed in violation of the constitution.”

Focus on PML (Q)

The party patronised by former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), has become the most sought-after group after the replacement of the Shahbaz Sharif government with Governor’s rule in Punjab. When President Asif Zardari asserted that soon the most important province would have a PPP government, he must have had in his mind the support of the PML (Q), having 84 members in the Punjab Provincial Assembly.

But the problem is that all the PML (Q) members are not in favour of supporting the PPP primarily because of the growing unpopularity of the Zardari regime. The powerful Chaudhary brothers (cousins), PML (Q) chief Shujaat Husain and former Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi, have serious differences among themselves over who should get their party’s backing. 

The result is, as Daliy Times says, a “32-seat-strong ‘power bloc’ it (the PML-Q) has lost to Raiwind”, the place where Mr Nawaz Sharif has his sprawling bungalow. The PML (Q) members belonging to the Shujaat camp held a meeting at Mr Sharif’s residence and offered their support to the PML (N), which has 169 seats in a House of 370, to try to form a government again after two months, the maximum period for Governor’s rule to last.

According to The News (March 1), 34 PML (Q) members are in favour of aligning with the PML (N). “The PML (Q)’s other 50 members are being courted by the PPP… Rumours abound of cheques being written out and key ministries promised. At present the PML (N) … seems fairly well placed to retain control in Punjab. But efforts to lure away PML (Q) members will continue and the final outcome is yet far from certain. The PML (Q) is, meanwhile, struggling to maintain some kind of a united front, with party members apparently displeased with a leadership decision to join hands with the PPP.”

Economy suffers

Can the economy of Pakistan sustain the politics of confrontation that has begun again in this country? Most employees are avoiding going to their offices, both in the public and private sectors. 

Shopkeepers in many areas are keeping their establishments closed. If Pakistan is finally declared a failed state, its politicians, too, will have to share the blame along with the extremists.

Business Recorder (March 3) says, “… it is evident that the economy has suffered a further beating that it was simply not in a position to withstand. Reports of wilful destruction of physical assets owned by the state as well as assets held by the private sector have been pouring in even though the leadership of both parties is urging their followers to stay calm….”

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