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The French Connection

The dramatic electoral changes in Europe will likely effect other countries of the world, more because of France than Greece, and for different reasons. The two “left of centre” French Presidential candidates who could not survive the first round both endorsed François Hollande, rabidly Conservative Marie Le Pen did not support either. The close vote, Hollande 51.9% and Sarkozy 48.1%, meant the Conservative vote still went to Sarkozy but was not enough. Notwithstanding the Conservative govt in UK surviving the Local Council elections, the swing back to Labour, down and out only a couple of years ago, was a huge setback for PM David Cameron, both politically and personally. An emerging force to be reckoned with in the future, the Liberal Democrats were dragged back to the past. The common factor, in France, Greece or in the UK, those on the “left of centre” had reason to be more than satisfied.

Given the pain and anguish in the streets because of the perceived disparities between the rich and power, a rollback of the Conservative tide sweeping Europe over the past few years was overdue. Other than polarization within society, EU countries, seem to be developing ages-old adverse perceptions about each other. Without consensus for economic remedial measures, can the EU go about effecting a recovery? It took a lot of persuasion to get the cash-rich Germans to join in to helping the EU countries in dire economic distress, without Sarkozy who will try to convince them to loosen their purse strings in the future?
The French did not enjoy a particularly good relationship with China under Sarkozy, this could well change under Francois Hollande. Flush with cash, increased Chinese investment in France will give a much-needed fillip to the French economy threatened by joblessness because of the German-suggested austerity measures agreed to by the Sarkozy govt. profound changes within France will not happen overnight. Hollande will have to deliver on his many campaign promises including an early exit from Afghanistan, some maybe more for cosmetic effect to satisfy an expectant electorate that voted him into power.

The French casualties in Afghanistan a few months ago, forced Sarkozy to announce a troop withdrawal in 2013, more French casualties could force Hollande’s hand to hasten the process. Obviously this will make it harder for the US to keep the other countries of Europe to keep to the schedule of an orderly withdrawal instead of a pell-mell rush for an exit out of Afghanistan. While the US has announced its intention to keep at least some troops in Afghanistan indefinitely to support the Afghan military and police forces, the recent Taliban attacks, particularly in Kabul, have called into question the inherent Afghan ability to keep the situation from deteriorating. In what promises to be a close race against the Republican candidate Romney, Obama is already talking about how the billions of dollars saved annually by withdrawing from Afghanistan will help revive the US economy.

The economy has shown some signs of resuscitation from where President George W Bush left it in 2009. The rot in the US economy was stopped only because of Troubled Asset Relief Funds (TARP) bailouts. The irony is that the Bush Administration initially started the process of recovery by pumping billions of US dollars to some major financial institutions and the auto industry even though this “socialism initiative” was against their ideological thinking. Such intervention is pure anathema to normal Republican vocabulary, Romney has categorically stated he would not have bailed out the auto industry giants, the far Right is convinced that Obama is a “dangerous socialist”.

Four years later, auto sales have certainly increased but the housing industry for what TARP was mainly meant for has not really been turned around. Failure of the auto industry giants would have had a snowball effect on the US economy, a lot of downstream industrial entities depended upon their survival. These funds did save financial institutions banks and companies like AIG, GM and Chrysler from sliding into bankruptcy. The paradox is were supposed to spend that money to help out the homeowners mired in mortgaged debt, very little went towards that.

The change of govt in France means fresh round of trouble for our own beleaguered PPP regime. A Parliamentary Commission in France determined that £ 80 million had been paid in commissions by DCN, France’s naval shipyard, to middlemen in the sales of submarines to Pakistan. While such commissions were not illegal in France, “retro commissions” or kickbacks were. Luxembourg Police determined that in 1994 Sarkozy, then the Budget Minister under former PM Edouard Balladur, directly supervised the creation of two Luxembourg offshore companies called “Heine” and “Eurolux” to channel the secret payments. Many of Sarkozy’s aides were indicted for being involved, last year even some ministers were charged for the attempted cover-up. Many in France including some French judges believe that the attack on a bus carrying French shipyard workers in Karachi near the Sheraton Hotel was the handiwork of Pakistani recipients of the commissions in retaliation for these being stopped by the subsequent Chirac regime, 15 were killed including 11 Frenchmen. In France this is variously known as either “Karachi-gate” or the “Kickback and Killing scandal”. Close Sarkozy’s aides and friends Nicolas Bazire (being Best Man at his wedding to Carla Bruno) and Thierry Gaubert, formerly Sarkozy’s ministerial cabinet chief were charged and detained for questioning for misuse of funds (see my article “Karachi-gate”, Oct 12, 2011). Another senior French official involved is also a close friend and aide, Bruce Hortenfeux, has been Minister over the years of many French Departments.

People thought Sarkozy was trying to protect Zardari, actually he was trying to protect himself. With the reins of govt now in the hands of his opponents, Sarkozy must fear that the investigation will be renewed. Surprises of surprises, when NAB accepted a plea bargain from Admiral Mansurul Haq who was accused of pocketing part of the commission for the submarine sales, his lawyer was none other than our Aitzaz Ahsan. Aitzaz gave the ingenuous argument, “my client did not take the US$ 3.369 million bribe/commission but is willing to pay it back, so please, dear judge, force NAB to accept it as a “plea-bargain”.
The detailed Supreme Court judgment clears any ambiguity about Gilani’s conviction. The French connection will add to the woes of the PPP-led coalition already under threat because of the US$ 60 million money-laundering case. Will my friend Aitzaz again try “plea-bargaining” for the missing US $60 million which seems to belong to no one? With no love lost between Hollande and Sarkozy, if the new French govt decide to target Sarkozy in the same manner he targeted his opponents with gusto, namely former President Jacques Chirac, this may very spell further legal and political problems for the Zardari-Gilani combine.

May and June are hot months, with electricity scarce and load-shedding frequent, the political fallout may get hotter than usual in Pakistan. Take an excerpt from Justice Asif Saeed Khosa’s note paraphrasing Kahlil Gibran in the detailed judgment in the PM contempt case, “Pity the nation that does not discern villainy from nobility”.


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