Soft is out! Putin, Trump force EU to harden its defense

Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Updated 27 December 2016
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Soft is out! Putin, Trump force EU to harden its defense

PABRADE, Lithuania: Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite gazed imperiously over snow-covered woodlands, the stage for NATO’s “Iron Sword” exercise. One of the European Union’s toughest leaders — and a karate black belt to boot — she knows that power these days needs real military hardware to back it up.
With an increasingly bellicose Russia on its doorstep and a capricious ally in US President-elect Donald Trump, the rest of the EU is forced to acknowledge as much too.
Europe used to be good at influencing people and nations without toting a gun. It was called soft power, and depended on aid, trade, diplomacy, even culture. If there is one lesson for 2017, it is that soft power alone won’t work anymore.
Far from Lithuania’s icy roads, where the exercise involving 4,000 allied troops from 11 nations sought to impress nearby Russia, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressed the need for a stronger defense posture before EU legislators earlier this month.
“Our credibility not only depends on being a soft power,” he pleaded as he called for more, and better-coordinated, defense spending after decades of sinking budgets in many European nations.
Even if the seeds of change were already planted, Trump shouted loud and clear over the summer that the United States stands ready to help European nations in the face of a Russian threat only if they pay their fair share for NATO’s combined defense. It called into question the vaunted Article 5 of the alliance treaty, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all, and that the target would automatically receive help and assistance.
Ever since World War II, the second time in the 20th century Europe had to count on American help to end a conflict, it has been thus. Over time, a budgetary laziness set in, with many countries convinced the United States would come through in an hour of need.
As “the guarantor of peace after the Second World War in Europe,” the United States long has shared responsibility for the continent’s safety, Grybauskaite said. “We expect that this mission, and this understanding, will stay.” But heading into 2017 with Trump’s priorities less than clear, that could be wishful thinking.
Defense and military clout has never been a cornerstone of the EU, which built its network of close cooperation on trade and economic cooperation. Instead NATO pools the military forces of much of Europe and North America and has historically been instrumental in rebuffing the Soviet Union.
Since the demise of Communism, it seemed the heyday of EU soft power had come. But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence over the wars in Syria and Ukraine, now dragging on for years, has deeply frustrated a Europe only able to change events on the ground through diplomacy, money or humanitarian aid.
“Faced with the brutality of the Syrian regime and its supporters, notably Russia and Iran, we are not as effective as we would like to be,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said. “Unfortunately, I know who is effective enough, not in humanitarian assistance, but in bombing.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “we are all seeing something in the 21st century that is shameful, that is heart-breaking, that shows we haven’t been able to act politically how we would like to act.”
It’s one more reason why the EU is finally trying to coordinate the patchwork of national defense spending, planning and production among its 28 member states, which range from nuclear powers Britain and France to tiny nations like Luxembourg and Malta.
Time and again, Juncker has hit the mantra of coordination — more to the point, the lack of it. Decades ago, the EU was already seeking to coordinate defense industries, to little avail. The result is waste and inefficiency in a vital task for any political group: assuring security for its citizens.
“We, Europeans, we spend 200 billion euros a year on but we are 12 to 15 percent as efficient as the Americans because we overlap and don’t work together enough,” Juncker said, adding that up to 100 billion euros a year could be saved.
“We have in Europe 174 kinds of weapons,” Juncker said, highlighting the wasteful profusion. “One European helicopter and one European tank would be enough.”
But beyond greater synergy, there must be increased spending. In a rare entry into the public debate, even France’s military chief called for more money.
Gen. Pierre de Villiers, chief of the general staff, said that, “peace, no longer is a given. We have to conquer it.” He wants to upgrade France’s nuclear arsenals and other equipment, and boost defense spending over the next five years to 2 percent of gross domestic product, compared to 1.77 percent currently.
That 2 percent threshold is the official NATO guideline. While the United States spends 3.61 percent on defense, only four of the EU’s 22 NATO members meet the target. When Trump comes to Brussels for his first NATO summit sometime this spring, he need not look far for a lackadaisical member state. Belgium continues to spend less and less on defense and currently stands in NATO’s second worst spot with 0.85 percent.
Lithuania’s Grybauskaite wants to be able to look Trump straight in the eye.
In Pabrade, after inspecting NATO armored vehicles, Grybauskaite insists that Lithuania is on track to meet the target. “Lithuania next year will be having 1.8 percent of GDP already and the next year, 2018, we will have our 2 percent.”
“We are doing our homework — we are investing into our defense,” she said.


Usman Buzdar becomes Punjab chief minister

Updated 19 August 2018
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Usman Buzdar becomes Punjab chief minister

  • PTI candidate bags 186 votes while PML-N secures 159
  • Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) was in power in Punjab for past 10 years

LAHORE: Ending the decade-long dominance of the Sharif family, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) nominee, Sardar Usman Buzdar, has been elected chief minister of Punjab, the biggest province in the country.

In the election on Sunday in the Punjab Assembly, Usman Buzdar secured 186 votes — the minimum required number to become the leader of the House consisting of 371 members.

His rival, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, son of former three-time Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif, could bag only 159 votes.

The seven members of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) abstained from the process.

The PML-Q legislators and Rah-e-Haq party members also voted for the PTI candidate.

The win of the PTI nominee, Sardar Usman Buzdar, has ended the 30-year supremacy of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) in the political realm of the province.

The PML-N ruled the province from 1988 to 1990 when the elder Sharif, Mian Nawaz Sharif, served as the chief minister and gave a tough time to his political rival, the late Benazir Bhutto, who was then prime minister.

The PML-N then formed the government in the province in 1993 and Ghulam Hyder Wyne was the party nominee for the slot of chief minister.

The PML-N again gained power in 1997 and the younger Sharif, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, became chief minister of the province.

The ruled continued until the bloodless coup of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

During Gen. Musharraf’s regime, Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi served as the chief minister from 2002 to 2007.

PML-N regained its glory in the 2008 elections and Mian Shahbaz Sharif became the chief minister. The rule continued for two consecutive terms (2008-20013 and 2013-18) — 10 years.

In the 2018 election, though, the PML-N emerged as the single largest party in the province by securing 129 seats but the number was not enough to form the government and on Sunday PTI candidate Buzdar ended their supremacy in Punjab politics.

The Punjab chief minister-elect, Usman Buzdar, comes from the downtrodden area of South Punjab and holds a master’s degree in political science and a law degree from the Bahauddin Zakaria University, Multan.

His father, Sardar Fateh Mohammed Buzdar, was a member of General Ziaul Haq’s cabinet known as “Majlis-e-Shoora” in 1983 and was elected MPA as an independent candidate in 1985.

He again won the provincial assembly seat in the 2002 and 2008 elections.

In 2013, son Usman Buzdar replaced father, Fateh Mohammed Buzdar, to contest a provincial assembly seat as a PML-N candidate and lost.

Buzdar, however, served as the Nazim of Tribal Area Tehsil of Dera Ghazi Khan district for two terms in Gen. Musharraf’s era.

His career was tarnished with corruption and he was charged as a reference containing allegations of making ghost appointments was made against him.

However, Buzdar’s brother says the National Accountability Bureau cleared him from all charges after investigations.

During the 1998 local government elections, in a bloody clash between two political rival groups, one of them led by Buzdar family, six people were killed.

Father and son (Fateh Mohammed Buzdar and Usman Buzdar) were not present on the scene but the opponents nominated them in the police report on the allegations of abetment.

They were exonerated in the police Investigations but their opponents did not accept it.

Following the tribal traditions, a jirga (tribal council) levied a fine of 6.5 million Pakistani rupees ($52,700) on the Buzdar clan and the money was paid to their rivals by the Buzdars.

The PTI ranks criticized the nomination of Buzdar but party chairman Imran Khan himself defended him, saying that the chosen chief minister for Punjab comes from one of the most underdeveloped areas of the province, where people had neither clean drinking water nor an uninterrupted supply of electricity.

Khan said in his video message that Buzdar was the only parliamentarian “whose home had no electricity,” and the PTI chief hoped he would work honestly and implement his party’s vision.

Buzdar was a member of the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), a party led by Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, before joining the PML-N in 2013.

He left the PML-N in May 2018 and became a part of Sooba Janobi Punjab Mohaz (South Punjab Province Front).

The whole group later merged in the PTI and Buzdar became a player of Imran Khan and won PP-286 (DG Khan) with more than 26,000 votes on a PTI ticket.

Soon after the announcement of his success, the PML-N legislators, wearing black armbands, chanted slogans against him — “Killer chief minister unacceptable and give respect to vote.”

The protest continued for 20 minutes.

The chief minister-elect, in his maiden address in the assembly, said his only merit is that he belongs to the most deprived area of the province and he vowed to carry forward the mission of Imran Khan and Quaid-e-Azam.

“My priority is to break the status quo, elimination of corruption, strengthening of institutions and local bodies and evolve the good governance,” Buzdar said.

Speaking on the occasion, Hamza Shahbaz, who lost the election, said that the mandate of the people had been stolen in the July 25 elections.

“We are here with heavy hearts and becoming part of the process only because we want the process of democracy to continue,” Hamza said.

He demanded a parliamentary commission to probe the irregularities of the electoral process and submit its recommendations in 30 days.