On Hollande’s mind

What the French president might encounter in India

This is the English version of a piece that appeared in BBC Hindi today

When President Francoise Hollande arrives in New Delhi next week as the chief guest on India’s Republic Day celebrations, he will be taking a short, partial break from his two main preoccupations: how to reduce unemployment in France ahead of the 2017 presidential elections and how to ensure that the threat from home-grown Islamist terrorists is contained.

In addition, he will no doubt be concerned about the economic trajectory of the euro zone, the prospects of long-term instability in Syria and the Middle East and, ultimately, of the risks to France’s geopolitical standing in the twenty-first century.

The honour, symbolism and pageantry apart, where does India register in President Hollande’s agenda? The immediate, tangible prize is to bring the long-drawn negotiations over fighter aircraft and nuclear reactors to fruition, which might together be worth $30 billion or more. The devil, as usual, is in the detail, and an agreement might prove elusive until the last minute. These deals matter for Mr Hollande not only because it will help him stay on the right side of politically powerful business interests, but also because they could create thousands of skilled jobs.

Mr Hollande had pledged not to stand for re-election if he “failed on growth, failed on unemployment, failed on the recovery of the country”. So a boost in jobs, investment and growth is important to his own political prospects. Given that unemployment rose to from 9.7% to 10.1% during his term, disproportionately affecting younger people, it is small wonder that he declared an economic emergency earlier this month.

If these important defence and energy deals are what Mr Hollande hopes he can take back with him, he would do well to explore how India is tackling its own employment creation challenges.

In fact, France and India have common problems on this front, in terms of restrictive labour laws, choke-hold by trade unions and a skills gap. Indian businesses like TeamLease Services, Ma Foi Randstad and others have developed experience in creating employment in an environment where there are powerful regulatory and political-economic disincentives for direct hiring. (Disclosure: Manish Sabharwal, co-founder of TeamLease is a donor to my institution). If Mr Hollande were to spend some of his time meeting Mr Modi’s officials dealing with skills and employment generation, he might carry home some good ideas in addition to the good deals.

While France and India share some similarities in the internal security context, the nature of the threat is different: for France it comes from its own citizens disgruntled with its foreign policy; for India it emanates from across its borders. Therefore even if the Paris attacks and 26/11 appeared similar, how they materialised is different. Therefore, while India and France could discuss counter-terrorism cooperation and better share intelligence, there are limitations to the extent they could go.

Similarly, India’s role in assuaging French worries over the Eurozone crisis is limited.

In recent years, France has increased its commitment to the security of the Indian Ocean. By virtue of its possession of islands of La Reunion and Mayotte, and their accompanying vast Exclusive Economic Zones, France considers itself a stakeholder and power in the Indian Ocean. It also has bases in Djibouti and Abu Dhabi that support its military interventions in Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan. In contrast, its capacity is limited east of the Malacca Straits.

Given that India’s own maritime footprint is significant in the Western Indian Ocean (including a diaspora in La Reunion) there is a degree of strategic contestation between the two powers in this part of the maritime space. On the other hand, shared interests in freedom of navigation indicate a scope for greater collaboration on the Eastern part of the ocean. Both Paris and New Delhi realise that this calls for closer dialogue between the strategic establishments of the two countries and regular exercises between their armed forces.

Indeed, a closer relationship with New Delhi is vital to France’s continued standing as an important global power in the twenty-first century. It was far sighted on behalf of the French to initiate a strategic partnership with India in 1998. From the Cold War era to recent times, New Delhi has had in France an independent-minded partner unhesitant to buck the Western consensus on defence, space and atomic energy issues. It is for the Modi government to build on that relationship and enlist France as a partner to extend India’s own geopolitical profile.

France, Pakistan, submarines and unpaid kickbacks

How do you say “some faecal matter has hit an air circulation device” in French?

From Paris come reports of an allegation that the real motive for the terrorist attack on French submarine engineers in Karachi in 2002 was non-payment of kickbacks to Pakistani officials.

At the time (1994), such commissions would have been legal: Before France joined an international anticorruption initiative in 2000, it wasn’t illegal for French companies to pay commissions to foreign officials to secure contracts overseas. The alleged commissions were supposedly to be paid before 2000.

Investigators are looking into whether part of the money from the commissions was destined to flow back into France to help finance the 1995 presidential bid of then-Prime Minister Edouard Balladur. At the time, Nicolas Sarkozy — now France’s president — was budget minister and Mr. Balladur’s campaign manager.

It would have been illegal for part of the alleged commissions to flow back into France — a mechanism sometimes known as reverse kickbacks. Prosecutors say they have documents that indicate part of the alleged commission may have been aimed at helping Mr. Balladur’s campaign coffers. The prosecutors and investigators say they have no evidence implicating Messrs. Balladur or Sarkozy. [WSJ]

But Mr Balladur lost the election to Jacque Chirac, who supposedly stopped paying those kickbacks. The Pakistanis “eventually lost patience and organised in retaliation the attack on the bus full of French engineers, who were working on the Agosta submarine project.” (More details here)

That’s not all. The online edition of the Times of India has a PTI report that says “According to media reports, the French secret service retaliated after the 2002 attack, breaking the legs of two Pakistan navy admirals and killing a lower-ranking officer.” PTI doesn’t say where this nugget came from.

Mr Sarkozy described these allegations as “ridiculous”, “grotesque” and rhetorically asked “who would believe them?” He did not, however, unequivocally deny them. It’s not as if his name is coming up for the first time in allegations of reverse kickbacks in naval deals—l’affaire Clearstream 2 involved Taiwan, frigates, kickbacks and campaign finance.

But there are holes in the story: France24 quotes a family member of one of the victims alleging that the kickbacks were to paid to Asif Ali Zardari who was a minister in Benazir Bhutto’s cabinet when the deal was struck, but in prison and out of favour when the terrorist attacks took place. It’s hard to see why ‘officials’ would take up the cudgels on his behalf.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, the Sindh High Court acquitted two members of the Harkatul Mujahideen Al-Alami who had earlier been convicted by a lower court for having carried out the attack on the French engineers. On the familiar grounds that the prosecution “failed to prove the case against the appellants beyond any reasonable doubt.” Even the small fry got away.

Why do Europeans take a dim view of India’s international role?

Views of India remain positive, but have taken a “somewhat negative turn” in 2008

This year’s poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org finds that while international opinion of India is positive overall, average positive views have declined from 41% to 39%, while negative views have increased from 30% to 33%. Among the 21 countries polled, 12 (which includes India itself) had predominantly positive views, six had predominantly negative views, and in three, opinions were divided.

Chart: 'BBC' World Service Poll 2008/WorldPublicOpinion.org
Chart: 'BBC' World Service Poll 2008/WorldPublicOpinion.org

People in Western countries, Africa, Asia and South America generally had positive views, while those in Islamic countries didn’t. This is not unexpected—democracy, Anglophony and traditional “third world” ties would account for the popularity.

But the exceptions to these trends are interesting. The Philippines is the only non-Islamic Asian countries to share a predominantly negative view, and Indonesia is the only Islamic country to have a predominantly positive view. Among Western countries, four major continental European countries—Germany, France, Italy and Spain—see India’s role as predominantly negative.

The mystery of the unimpressed Filipinos might be due to the unpopularity of local ethnic Indians in the Philippines. That’s because they have been in the moneylending business, and the exorbitant rates of interest they charge for unsecured personal loans don’t endear them to the people. Their unpopularity might be rubbing off on India. (This explanation came from one of Pragati’s editorial advisors at a recent lunch. Emperical evidence is awaited)

Cultural links between India and Indonesia have been strong, causing the democratic country with the world’s largest Islamic population to have a net positive view of the democratic country with the second largest. So that’s explained.

But whatever happened to the Europeans? The negative swing has been 12% to 20% in the four major European countries. The poll was conducted in late-November/early-December 2008, after the global economic crisis had set in, and after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai. So it might be that a combination of the anxiety over the ‘rise of China and India’, the impasse at the WTO’s Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations and economic worries caused Europeans to feel this way. John Pomfret attributes this to “an element of racism” in the context of China’s unpopularity (via The Peking Duck), a factor that might apply in India’s case as well. From the geopolitical angle, the US-India nuclear deal might have also contributed to the negative perception. Indians, however, continue to have a predominantly positive view of the EU.

As compared to the 2007 survey (see the Acorn’s March 2007 post), more Indians take a positive view of India’s role in the world. Around one in two persons, or 51% feel India’s role is positive, up from 47% two years ago. Only 7% have a negative view, down from 10% in the 2007 survey. That’s still lower than the Chinese, a whopping 92% of who are convinced that their country is playing a positive role. Whatever others might think of them, that is something.

Related Post: India is big in Afghanistan

Nuclear test outsourcing

A Q Khan, China and the truth (2)

On May 28th 1998, Pakistan ‘responded’ to India’s Pokharan-II nuclear tests with tests of its own. There are reports that suggest that at least one of the six devices it tested was a North Korean one.

Almost exactly ten years prior to that, on May 26th 1990, China tested a nuclear device at its Lop Nor test site. That test, it is now revealed, was conducted on behalf of Pakistan, its nuclear protege. Thomas Reed, a former top US defence department official, also writes that:

In 1982 China’s premier Deng Xiaoping began the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan and, in time, to other third world countries. Those transfers included blueprints for the ultrasimple CHIC-4 design using highly enriched uranium, first tested by China in 1966. [Physics Today emphasis added]

Among the things China got in return was Pakistani centrifuge technology which it needed for its nuclear power programme.

Mr Reed’s account destroys the pretence—by the Reagan and the Bush Sr administrations in the late 1980s—that the United States was unaware of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Now, that the Reagan and Bush administrations were deliberately untruthful in their testimonies to the US Congress and the public is well-known. But this is the first time that a senior US government official is making a direct admission that the US government knew exactly what was cooking between Pakistan and China.

As Steve Coll writes on his new blog (linkthanks BOK), the US authorities are reluctant to allow such news to get out.

Reed’s article draws upon the work of Danny Stillman, a nuclear scientist who worked during the Cold War in the national-security division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he monitored the Soviet and Chinese nuclear-weapons programs. Later, Stillman travelled frequently to China as part of a series of exchanges between American and Chinese weapons scientists. The exchanges were designed in part to encourage China to sign on to the test-ban treaty by assuring its scientists that they could maintain their nuclear-weapons stockpile without testing, as the United States planned to do. Along the way, Stillman gathered a great deal of information about the history of the Chinese program, but he has had difficulty winning clearance for publication of this material from the US intelligence community. He and Reed are preparing to publish a book entitled “The Nuclear Express.” [Think Tank/The New Yorker]

Mr Reed also mentions that “During the 1990s, China conducted underground hydronuclear experiments—though not full-scale device tests—for France at Lop Nur”. And his account suggests that there is a lot that he knows but is not telling. For instance, which were the other “third-world” countries that Premier Deng transferred nuclear technology to?

Related Link: China, Pakistan and the Bomb (1977-97)—declassified US government records.

Sarkozy wrong

States should only care about the interests of their own citizens

There is much to admire about Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s energetic president. But what he said to the Russian president after ‘mediating’ in Russo-Georgian war was simply wrong:

“It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russophones outside Russia,” Sarkozy said. [AFP, emphasis added]

There is no question that Russia is entitled to defend the interests of its citizens in Russia or anywhere else on and over the planet. But to extend this to Russian-speaking people around the world would be to strike at the fundamentals of the international system. Now France does attach importance to Francophones—allegedly going to the extent of abetting a genocidal regime in Rwanda to keep Anglophones at bay—but that’s no reason for it to become some sort of an international norm.

Would Mr Sarkozy appreciate Saudi Arabia intervening in French riots on behalf of Arabic speakers? Clearly not—during his earlier job as interior minister, he created special institutions to ensure that what happens in France stays in France.

Related Post: French Sikhs are French