An inspection of international affairs


28 April 2016



Obama no Lame Duck


Rarely has a United States President, with a mere nine months left in office, embarked on such a piercing intervention in international affairs as Barack Obama recently exhibited.


Visiting Britain, he bluntly told the “leave” campaign in the United Kingdom’s in-out referendum on the European Union - who were fancifully telling voters Britain’s exit would be compensated by a free trade agreement with the US – it would be “in the back of the queue” in respect of such negotiations.


Obama’s aim is to conclude such a deal with the European Union before the end of the year, though there’s resistance from certain sections in Germany, the biggest economy with the EU.


The US-EU negotiations began in 2013; whereas India’s free trade talks with the EU commenced in 2007. It reflects the pedestrian pace of the latter as compared to the former.    


Moving to Hanover, he went into a huddle with the heads of government of Germany, France, Britain and Italy to devise a coordinated response to the threat of violent extremism to Europe emanating from ISIS. This coincided with the United States’ Cyber Command extending its attention to the same terrorist outfit to disrupt its communications, recruitment and financial operations. He also increased US Special Forces in Syria to combat ISIS from 50 to 300.


Besides, he’s in a hurry to ensure that last December’s Paris agreement on climate change enters into force this year instead of the envisaged 2020. So, he’s heavily leaning on the 175 countries, including India, who signed the agreement to make this happen.


“The myth of a lame duck hasn’t proved to be the case,” he quipped in an interview to BBC.


Indo-Pak Tension


Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s de facto Foreign Minister, speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs – better known as Chatham House - in London predictably blamed India for the current suspension in bilateral dialogue. He also claimed to have “concrete evidence” of Indian “state actors” – alluding to India’s Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) - being active in Baluchistan and Karachi. Furthermore, he was undisguisedly welcoming of recent disturbances in Handwara and Kupwara in Indian-controlled Kashmir.


His colleague the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, addressing an audience at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, also in London, remarked the Shimla Agreement of 1972, which he admitted bound Pakistan to resolving its differences with India bilaterally, hadn’t worked. He called for the involvement of “third parties” to resolve what he described as the “unfinished agenda of partition and the United Nations”.


Notwithstanding such public rhetoric, Aziz took advantage of a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting in London to discreetly discuss the state of play with the Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. At Chatham House Aziz had indicated the two FSs might meet in the summer. After the tete-a-tete at the Commonwealth Secretariat this has already occurred in Delhi, albeit on the side lines of a Heart of Asia meeting.  


Unsurprisingly, both parties reiterated their respective hard line positions. A senior Indian official, when broached about recent flip flops in Indian policy towards Pakistan, responded by saying New Delhi needed to be “flexible”! 


London Mayoral Election


There are probably twice as many persons of Indian origin than people of Pakistani descent in London, now the scene of a high profile contest between multi-millionaire Zac Goldsmith of the Conservative party and Sadiq Khan, the Labour party candidate of Pakistani extraction and son of a bus driver, for the post of Mayor.


When the first British Pakistani, Mohammad Sarwar, entered the House of Commons in 1997, he was outnumbered by four British Indians – Keith Vaz, Piara Singh Khabra, Marsha Singh and Ashok Kumar.


By 2010, though, not only had the number of Pakistani lawmakers in the Commons drawn level with their Indian counterparts, but Pakistan boasted a first ever Asian cabinet minister in Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.


Meanwhile, Khan, a human rights lawyer, judged the mood perfectly by backing Ed Miliband for the Labour leadership and was rewarded with a shadow cabinet minister’s post.


He, then, supported by unions, bagged his party’s candidature for the mayoral battle. April’s YouGov opinion poll gave him an 11% lead over Goldsmith, while conceding 25% of voters were “don’t knows” and 8% “would not vote”.


The electorate for the Mayor of London constitutes the largest single constituency in Europe after the French presidential election. Winning its confidence signals an irrefutable elevation to power and prominence.


Willy Brandt transcended from Mayor of West Berlin to Chancellor of West Germany; Jacques Chirac from Mayor of Paris to the French presidency. The outgoing London Mayor, Boris Johnson, harbours ambitions of becoming Britain’s prime minister.


Since 1997, British Pakistanis have appreciated the importance of political power; whereas British Indians have got distracted by the allure of wealth. In effect, the likes of Khan have stolen a march over their Indian competitors.