Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Not surprisingly, the fifty plus nations Chicago Summit failed to accomplish any results. The summits at Lisbon, Bonn, Chicago etc. are purely meant to get US allies to commit funding and troops. Financial commitments may have been made, but like in the past, very few nations will actually deliver.

Eleven years of war with no clear outcome, is weighing heavily on the minds of citizens and treasuries of nations involved. The NATO led effort has turned from a justified war to a misadventure. Francois Hollande of France and Stephen Harper of Canada were very clear in conveying their nations desire to extricate themselves. Hollande will recall all French troops by end of this year and Harper will not keep any Canadian troops beyond 2014.

President Obama escalated this war with minor gains. In the process he is beginning to look like Lyndon Johnson, who was defeated by Vietnam war. He has made the same mistake Johnson did, place his trust in the Generals. President Obama has sided with Leon Panetta and his Generals who are war hawks and believe in winning militarily over Hillary Clinton, who most likely is able to deliver diplomatically. Sooner or later President Obama will come to realize that the Generals did not deliver in Vietnam, nor will they in Afghanistan.

It is time to change gears from military to diplomacy. President Obama should tell Panetta and his Generals to stand down and take a back seat and assign Hillary Clinton the task of accomplishing peace in Afghanistan. Nixon assigned the task of ending Vietnam war to Henry Kissinger, Obama needs to do the same with Hillary Clinton.

There are only five parties that need to come together for the war to end and to chart the future of Afghanistan. These are:

                      1. The Karzai Government
                      2. The Northern Alliance (representing non-Pashtun minority)
                      3. Taliban & Pashtun representatives
                      4. U.S.
                      5. Pakistan

A summit involving these groups will ultimately accomplish peace in Afghanistan. The first three can then  draft a new Constitution and hold free and fair elections for a representative Government. Hillary Clinton should be charged with meeting each group to prepare grounds for a 'Summit of the Five' (not fifty) later this year. She can ascertain the genuine needs and fears of each, then begin the task of bringing them together for a continuous dialogue.

The main problem for the last ten years has been that US has backed the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance, who despite being a minority, have had virtual control of all organs of the State. In the current composition of Afghan Armed Forces nearly 65% come from minorities and as many as 77% Generals are from Northern Alliance. Until these anomalies are rectified, the Pashtun will not enter a serious dialogue. All parties in Afghanistan need to get a fare representation. The minority must not rule the majority and the majority must seriously commit to a fair representation to the minority.

Contrary to US Congress' ill advised position, Pakistan has vital interests in seeing a fair settlement in Afghanistan as it does not wish to see the country fall apart after the troop pullout in 2014. It had to endure over six million Afghan refugees, of which two million still reside in Pakistan. If US is ready to play a fair hand, Pakistan can influence the Taliban and the Pashtun to come to the table for a serious dialogue. The continuous war since the Soviet invasion has caused enormous economic losses to Pakistan - some estimates put it at $70 billion. The pipeline from Turkmenistan that was to be built in the 80s and 90 bringing gas to an energy deficient Pakistan has still not been built due to turmoil in Afghanistan.

US citizens are tired of this war and its treasury is empty, Afghans are fed up of the war and so are the Pakistanis. It is time to let diplomacy work. For that to happen, President Obama needs to demonstrate leadership, which has been lacking so far.  If he continues to follow the advice of the Generals and does not go for a diplomatic solution, he will make a bigger mess in Afghanistan and end up exiting in the same manner as US did in Vietnam - with tale between his legs.

Monday, May 7, 2012

France turns left with President Farcois Hollande

For the first time in seventeen years, a socialist candidate has won French Presidential elections. Francois Hollande's final round victory on Sunday, May 6 over Sarkozy has major implications for the Eurozone and Germany. The last socialist candidate to win was M. Francois Mitterrand in 1981, who remained President until 1995. The trend does not bode well for conservatives in the forthcoming French Parliamentary elections either, as socialists lead in the polls.

Sarkozy was the recipient of French anger for his arrogance and economic mismanagement. During the last few days he became so desperate to win that he swung hard right, making the most ridiculous statements against immigrants and the deprived that it drove away middle of the road voters. He is the first French President not to win re-election since 1981. It seems a Conservative wave that swept through Europe during the last 10-15 years may now be at an end.

The economy was the main reason for Sarkozy's defeat. He followed US Republican Party style economic management - no new taxes on the rich, but major cuts in social services. Francois Hollande promises a major policy shift and follows Barrack Obama style of economic management, reflating the economy with more cash infusion than cuts. He also plans to introduce a new tax on individuals making over One Million Euros a year.

Greece has also held elections during the weekend and Greek voters rejected right wing parties who had introduced major cuts to pension and social services. Even in the provincial elections in Northern Germany, socialist party has defeated the Conservatives.

It remains to be seen how Angela Merkel will handle this major change in Europe. She may no longer wield the influence that she did in the Merkel-Sarkozy coalition. Farocis Hollande is not likely to see eye to eye with her on major economic and social issues. The Greeks are already saying, they will reverse some of the earlier cuts. If Germany and Brussels put their foot down and insist on Greece following through on earlier commitments, Greece may well exit the Eurozone leading to a major upheaval and ultimate collapse of Euro as a currency.

Germany has been the biggest beneficiary of adopting Euro as their currency. The weak European economies of PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) have kept the Euro pinned down against the US Dollar, making German products cheaper for exports. Had Germany stayed with the Deutschmark, that currency would probably have gone through the roof, making German exports expensive and non-competitive. So Germany needs to step up to the plate and contribute many times more (than it has done so far) to the European Bank, so credit is available to Eurozone countries in economic difficulties.

A short term victim of all this change may be the Canada European Free Trade Accord. There is no reason to suggest that it will not happen, but for now, it may be relegated to the back burner while France, Germany and other European countries deal with their new realities.

It is an irony that before becoming President, Mr. Sarkozy called the ghetto developers of Paris scum. During his five year Presidency, he did absolutely nothing to uplift the poor or assimilate them in the mainstream society. As fate would have it, it is Mr. Sarkozy who is now relegated to the political heap.