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brazil in economic turmoil as global crisis moves south page 8
CAN THE NATION BE PREVENTED FROM FALLING
Three months to save
JESUS CURIA – ‘Separate’ (2007)
A fine European farce
magine an election where the results are largely preordained and a number of candidates are widely recognised as unqualified. Any supposedly democratic ballot conducted in this way would be considered a farce” (1). Former Czech president Vaclav Havel had the UN Human Rights Council, not the European parliament, in mind when he made these scathing comments.
And yet, abstentions have risen from 37% to 54% since 1979, the first time members of the European parliament (MEP) were elected by universal suffrage. But the parliament’s powers have increased and its decisions now affect 495 million people (compared with 184 million 30 years ago). Europe holds the stage but it isn’t getting across to the audience.
Why is this? Probably because there is no continent-wide political community. Anyone who hopes that 27 simultaneous national elections, almost all fought on domestic issues, will produce a European identity is living in cloud cuckoo land.
How many Slovenes have the faintest idea of electoral issues in Sweden or how many Germans are interested in Bulgarian politics? Well, after the European elections they will both discover that the results in Stockholm or Sofia may contradict the outcome of the only election in which they really were interested, and that they themselves have elected only 1% of the MEPs (in the case of Slovenia) or 13.5% (in the case of Germany) (2). This sort of discovery is likely to make voters feel they are more or less redundant. And the powers that be in Europe have done nothing to dispel that impression by ignoring three successive national votes on the constitutional treaty, following a campaign that aroused considerable interest and strong feelings.
In France, seven of the eight constituencies were defined purely in the interests of the main parties: they have no historical, political or territorial basis. The leading candidate in the southeast constituency is a socialist, formerly elected in the northwest, who let it be known he was “heartbroken” over the forced move. But he is sure to be elected, and so is the French minister of justice, even though she
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has very little interest in the election (she thought the Court of Justice of the European Communities was located in The Hague, rather than Luxembourg). Meanwhile in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi simply decided to put up eight models and soap stars as candidates.
And that isn’t all. The combined political forces that have turned Europe into a great market over the past 30 years, constantly enlarged to bring in more countries, are suddenly proposing a Europe “that protects”, a “humanist”, “social” Europe. Although socialists, liberals and conservatives may disagree during national campaigns, they present a united front in most of the votes in the European parliament. And they share the posts in the Commission (six are allocated to the social democrats who are responsible for taxation, industry, economic and monetary affairs, employment and trade). Fear of confrontation and depoliticisation of the issues encourage endless endorsement of the ruling bloc, which extends “from a mushy centre-right to a squishy centre-left, with a woolly liberal coalition in the middle” (3).
In this unchanging scenario, will José Manuel Barroso continue to lead this motley band with its exceptionally poor record? Britain’s Labour prime minister Gordon Brown considers that “he has done an excellent job… I want to make it absolutely clear that we will support him”. Spain’s socialist José Luis Zapatero agrees: “I support President Barroso.” It is true that Brown and Zapatero both have the same agenda, that of the European Socialist Party (ESP). However, French socialist leader Martine Aubry, also a member of the ESP, says: “The Europe I want is not a Europe run by Mr Barroso with the help of his friends, Sarkozy and Berlusconi.” Perhaps the electors can make sense of this.
Translated by Barbara Wilson
(1) Vaclav Havel, “A table for tyrants”, New York Times, 11 May 2009. (2) There are 736 MEPs; the Slovenes elect seven of them and the Germans 99. (3) “An unloved parliament”, The Economist, London, 9 May 2009.
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The bomb attacks in Lahore at the end of May claimed by the Taliban makes a resolution of the Afpak problem all the more urgent.
The major army offensive in the Swat valley has created a million refugees, set to rise to 1.5 million. Can the Obama administration
help save the situation?
BY NAJAM SETHI
As the offensive against the Taliban continues in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier province (NWFP), the people of the Swat valley are fleeing the war zone. Since the launch of military operations on 26 April, the army and paramilitaries have used tanks, artillery, mortar, helicopter gunships and jet bombers to attack the insurgents. Military spokesmen claim dozens of Taliban killed in action, but play down army losses and civilian deaths; international relief agencies say there is a major humanitarian crisis. More than a million refugees have fled, the largest mass migration since Pakistan came into being.
The Taliban has grown more powerful over the past two years in the NWFP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), terrorising the population and defying the Pakistani government. By signing a peace deal on 28 February allowing the Taliban to administer Islamic law (sharia) in Swat, President Asif Zardari hoped to purchase calm and order. It was a risky undertaking and it backfired, producing the reverse of its intended effects. The deal emboldened the Taliban to spread out into the adjoining districts of Buner and Lower Dir, make new recruits and seize territories. So rapid was its advance in areas barely 100 km from the capital Islamabad and the strategic Karakorum Highway, which links with China, that there were fears the government might collapse and the country plunge into civil war, endangering the control of its strategic nuclear weapons.
The US, which in its haste to make a new policy for the region had been pressing Pakistan’s government to take strong military action for months, was angry. Other countries feared the Zardari government may be overthrown, leading to civil war and loss of control of strategic and nuclear installations and arms.
Cynics note that the current, long-delayed military action was finally launched while Zardari was on a state trip to Washington, negotiating economic assistance and political support for his beleaguered regime from the Obama administration, which has pledged $1.9bn in counter-terrorism, economic and humanitarian aid and another $600m for military needs in the next two years. When
General Pervez Musharraf was in power, from 1999 to 2008, he would obtain generous economic and military assistance from Washington in return for some newly captured al-Qaida operative or a small-scale military action against the Taliban in a remote tribal area. So Washington was especially annoyed when, contrary to promises, the Zardari government signed the peace deal with the Taliban and won parliamentary approval for it in March.Take things in hand
In view of the Taliban advances, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, Centcom chief General David Petreaus, CIA chief Robert Gates and others in the US Senate and Congress have all made it clear to Zardari and Afghan president Hamid Karzai that the rules of business have changed. In exchange for economic and political support, there will be formal accountability “going forward”, in which common objectives will be listed and progress monitored in the war against alQaida/Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They told the leaders, who have a reputation for corruption and maladministration, to take things in hand, deliver governance to their people and join hands with the opposition at home and with their international friends to face the common Taliban/al-Qaida enemy that threatens to plunge the region into anarchy.
Pakistan has taken a dangerously long time to understand this. Its religious-nationalist mindset was shaped by the Islamisation campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s and their “Islamic jihad in Indian-held Kashmir” and “two-nation” theory, based on Muslim-Hindu hatred, which became part of everyday speech. Its anti-Americanism was shaped by unjust US policies towards Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular after 1989, when the US achieved its objectives against the USSR in Afghanistan and abandoned Pakistan, making it the most sanctioned state in the world, for pursuing its nuclear programme. Meanwhile the Iraq wars and Palestinian intifadas crashed
Continued on page 3