BY SHASHI MALLA
Germany’s largest political party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has elected Chancellor Angela Merkel’s close ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as chairperson. She succeeds Frau Merkel who headed both the chairperson of the party, and the government (in a grand coalition with the Social Democratic Party/SPD). She stood down after the party’s major losses at the centre and state elections. She is also slated to retire after the end of her record fourth term in 2021. In Germany it is usual for the head of the party to later become the German chancellor. Thus, Frau Merkel may even step down earlier to help Frau Kramp-Karrenbauer (also known with the sobriquet “AKK” because of her long double-barreled surname) to ease into the chancellorship and fight for her position in the next general election.
Usually the election for the leading position of a German party evinces little interest internationally. But being Frau Merkel and considering the role of Germany itself in the international arena, this party election has generated much attention. Germany is after all the leading member of the European Union (EU), itself an economic power to be reckoned with. Germany alone is the fourth largest world economy after the US, China and Japan. It usually punches below its weight, although lately the German finance minister suggested to the French that they should consider converting their permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) into an EU one. Frau Merkel herself was long considered one of the world’s most important political figures, a no-nonsense international leader capable of standing up to US President Donald Trump.
According to Ines Pohl, chief editor of “Deutsche Welle” Merkel has been regarded by many as the voice of reason; the last bastion of balance in times that are deeply divided and characterized by dangerously rising nationalism.” However, “Within her own country . . . Merkel’s splendor faded. In [various] state elections, her party endured one defeat after another, and the voices of critics within the party grew so loud that Merkel had no choice but to free up the party leadership.” If one of her detractors had been elected as party chief instead of AKK, she would have found it very difficult to continue as chancellor.
Now the CDU have elected the party’s secretary-general and former state premier of Saarland as the party’s chairperson. Although she was promoted by Frau Merkel and is considered her acolyte, AKK has already succeeded in setting herself apart from the German chancellor. The men and would-be leaders she defeated will definitely make her life difficult, but at the government level she can be assured of Frau Merkel’s unstinted support.
In the meantime, Europe’s most robust economy will remain stable (in contrast to those of the UK, France and Italy) and Germany’s foreign policy continues to be steadfast. The government’s defining policies will continue to be reliable with continuing support from the junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats. Thus, Frau Merkel can be expected to serve out her last term in office without fear or favour.
Domestically, AKK will have to heal the wounds of the party and unify the various factions, while keeping the critics at bay. She will have to be the leading light providing the badly needed leadership to withstand the attacks from the extreme right, above all the right-extremists of the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD)very strong in the eastern part of the country, but now also established in the west.
US Seeks Pakistan’s Help
US President Donald Trump has sent a letter to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan requesting his country’s help to end the nearly two-decades long armed conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan. This came just weeks after Trump engaged in a Twitter exchange of recriminations with the Pakistan leader. The letter confirmed by the US National Security Council (NSC) and the State Department, requests Khan’s “full support for the US effort to advance the Afghan peace process.” The request follows a month of often harsh Trumpian language about Pakistan. Trump complained to Fox News that Pakistan doesn’t do “a damn thing” for the US and accused that its government had assisted Osama bin Laden to hide not far from its military academy. He also took to Twitter in an extended condemnation, attacking Pakistan for doing “nothing for us.”
The NSC and the State Department also disclosed that “The President recognizes that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory. The letter also makes clear that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring US-Pakistan partnership.” The letter also specifically calls for Pakistan’s cooperation with US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalizad (a US citizen of Afghan origin not particularly regarded in Pakistan) expected to meet with “Afghan government officials and other interested parties [read: Taliban] to support and facilitate an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan.”
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was receptive to the US President’s overture, saying in a statement, “since Pakistan has always advocated a political settlement to end war in Afghanistan, the US decision is welcomed. Pakistan reiterates its commitment to play a facilitation role in good faith. Peace and stability in Afghanistan remains a shared responsibility.”
In the meantime, a special forces contingent of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has arrived in Pakistan to participate in the sixth joint military exercise “Warrior – VI 2018”. The troops of both armies will take part in a three-week-long exercise “to share respective experiences in the field of counter terrorism operations and learn from each other”, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations.
Peace Efforts in Yemen War at an Impasse ?
The talks in Rimbo, Sweden between the warring parties have been months in the making, with the UN Secretary General sending his special envoy Martin Griffith to Sana’a to personally escort the rebel delegation. As the rival delegations gathered in Sweden, he told reporters: “During the coming days we will have a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process.”
Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who heads the Saudi-backed government’s delegation [the whole government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in fact resides not in Yemen, but in the Saudi capital Riyadh] refused to compromise on the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, the entry point for the country’s imports and humanitarian aid on the Red Sea. He insisted: “The Houthi militias [the rebels fighting the so-called legitimate government-in-exile] must withdraw from the city of Hodeida, and its port, and hand it over to the legitimate government, and specifically internal security forces.” This would be akin to hara-kiri.
A Saudi-backed military coalition [including the United Arab Emirates/UAE] has for months led an offensive to retake Hodeida, including blocking its port. The move has sparked fears for more than 150,000 civilians trapped in the city. The Arabian Peninsula state of Yemen is one of the most impoverished countries in the world. It is now home to what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million people facing imminent mass starvation. The Rimbo meeting marks the first attempt in two years to broker an end to the Yemen conflict, which has killed at least 10,000 people since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government’s fight against the Houthi rebels in 2015. The conflict has included massive indiscriminate bombing by Saudi Arabia and the UAE of innocent civilians, including children.
The head of the Houthi rebels’ political council has threatened to bar UN planes from using the Yemini capital’s airport unless the peace negotiations lead to its full reopening. Sana’a international airport, located in the rebel-held capital, has been largely dysfunctional for years. It has been the target of sustained air raids by the Saudi-led coalition, which also controls Yemini airspace. Saudi Arabia is unlikely to back down since it enjoys the complete support of the US, which supplies arms and ammunition, as well as intelligence and logistic assistance. It is piquant that the US operates out of its nearby military base in Al Udeid (the largest in the Middle East), Qatar, which itself has been the victim of a comprehensive blockade by Saudi Arabia and its allies [including UAE, Bahrain and Egypt] against all norms of international law.
International pressure to end the Yemen conflict reached unprecedented heights in recent weeks, as all eyes turned to Saudi Arabia’s policies, following the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate general in Istanbul, and especially the alleged role of Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman [also known by his sobriquet “MBS”]. It seems that Trump and MBS want to weather the storm, and go over to business as usual.
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