“Europe needs a stronger footprint in South Asia” | Political economy


Tthe sunday news spoke to Mirco Günther, head of the Asia-Pacific Department at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). Previously he served as Director of the FES Asia Regional Cooperation Office based in Singapore from 2019 to 2022 and led projects on geopolitics and geoeconomics, the economy of tomorrow and the future of work across the Asia-Pacific region. From 2016 to 2019, he was director of the FES Afghanistan Office in Kabul and coordinator of the FES Asia Peace and Security Project.

Before joining FES, Günther held various leadership positions at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from 2009 to 2016. Supported by the German Foreign Office, he was deputy head of mission and charge of affairs in the OSCE mission in Kazakhstan, deputy team leader of the OSCE monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine and political affairs officer in the OSCE mission in Tajikistan. He is a member of the civilian think tank of the German Center for International Peacekeeping Operations (ZIF).

Mirco Günther was a McCloy Scholar at Harvard University and President of the German-American Conference at Harvard. He has an MPA from the John F Kennedy School of Government and an MLitt in Middle East and Central Asian Security Studies from the University of St Andrews. He also completed a BA in Political Science at the Freie Universität Berlin and the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO).

He is a frequent commentator in national and international media on Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, security and diplomatic affairs. Mirco Günther is a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), Tönissteiner Kreis, and an alumnus of the Atlantik-Brücke Young Leaders.

TThe Sunday News (TNS): What is the scope of the FES in Asia? How many offices do you have in the region? Would you like to highlight some important achievements of the FES in Asia during your tenure?

Mirco Gunther (MG): The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is the oldest political foundation in Germany, established in 1925 as the legacy of Friedrich Ebert, Germany’s first democratically elected president. We maintain a network of more than 100 offices around the world, including 15 country and regional offices in Asia-Pacific. With our centenary just around the corner, FES activities are dedicated to the ideas and values ​​of social democracy. We work to promote social justice and focus on issues such as education and political participation, gender justice, climate change, the future of work and tomorrow’s economy, geopolitics, and international affairs. The FES office in Pakistan was established in 1990. We work with our partners in government and civil society to support dialogue between Pakistan and Germany, South Asia and Europe. I recently took over the helm of the FES Asia-Pacific Department and I am very excited to be in Pakistan to meet with partners and friends.

TNS: How has the war in Ukraine impacted Germany and Asia?

mg: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the European security order upside down. We are in the midst of a great rearrangement of our world. Germany has launched a paradigm shift in its foreign, security, economic and energy policies, a historic turning point called Zeitenwende in German and European political discourse. This includes a special fund of €100 billion to close critical gaps in military capabilities, more and faster investments in renewable energy, diversification of energy imports to end Germany’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels, and packages massive aid efforts to counter the skyrocketing energy, electricity and food prices, particularly for the most vulnerable groups in our society. The global repercussions of the war are deep and acute in countries throughout Asia, including Pakistan. We all share the same concerns about commodity shortages, the worsening hunger crisis, as well as uncertainties about energy costs and imports.

TNS: Setting aside traditional political-economic relations with China and India, do you think Germany is expanding its reach in Asia?

mg: The German government is making great efforts to reach out to old and new partners beyond the Western alliance. Asia, as the world’s center of gravity, will play a crucial role in shaping the future of international order, security, trade and the world economy. Germany and the European Union have presented strategies in the Indo-Pacific that emphasize the need to diversify partnerships. Its focus is broad, comprehensively covering a wide range of areas, including climate change, health, digitalisation, economic cooperation, connectivity, security and defence, as well as research and innovation. We recognize Pakistan’s key role in security and stability in South Asia and beyond and understand that Pakistan is an important pillar of Germany’s expanded reach throughout the region.

TNS: As director of FES Asia, what role do you think Germany will play in the wake of a changing global order, especially in terms of the Indo-Pacific region?

mg: We all need to do a better job of listening and putting ourselves in the shoes of our partners. The mixed global reactions to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine show that we need a more strategic dialogue to better understand each other’s interests, grievances and priorities. Germany can play a key role in this dialogue as a facilitating and moderating voice.

This also means that we have to recognize the complexity of the issues at hand. The binary discourse of “democracies against autocracies”, to give an example, is not useful in this sense and is shared by a few. While it is of the utmost importance that we strengthen our democratic resilience, the realities throughout the Asia-Pacific region are more complicated. Geopolitically, highly industrialized nations such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Singapore have joined Western sanctions against Russia to varying degrees. But developing and emerging Asian countries, in particular, have gone to great lengths to avoid taking sides in the conflict between Russia and the West and between China and the United States. Keenly aware of the multiple challenges facing their own development paths, they need to maneuver carefully between the poles. At the same time, the countries of the Asia-Pacific region have a vital interest in upholding the rules-based international order. They oppose a world order with exclusive zones of influence and reject the notions of unipolarity or bipolarity. This is a vision we all share and a strong component to moving partnerships forward.

TNS: In view of the recent bilateral meetings between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Germany in Islamabad and Berlin, how do you see the bilateral relationship between the two countries?

mg: Pakistan and Germany enjoy a long-standing relationship. Last year, they celebrated the 70th anniversary of their bilateral relations. Germany is Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the European Union. Pakistan’s main exports to Germany are textiles, leather goods, sports and footwear, as well as medical equipment. With a view to Pakistan’s important role in global textile production, the FES has worked for many years to promote key labor and sustainability standards in the context of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) between Pakistan and the European Union.

Pakistan plays a crucial role in regional and global security: as a nuclear power, a major contributor to UN peacekeeping missions and, very importantly, as a key partner for Germany in Afghanistan, especially this year, with the German presidency of the G7 and the presidency of Pakistan. of the G77. A peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan that contributes to stability and connectivity is in everyone’s interest. We are all deeply concerned about the alarming human rights and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan has felt the immediate impact of decades of war in and around Afghanistan more than any other country. It carries a significant humanitarian burden and needs the continued support of the international community.

While the focus in Europe will be on the devastating situation in Ukraine and Russian aggression for the foreseeable future, we must not lose sight of the challenges elsewhere. Security in Europe and the Indo-Pacific are deeply intertwined. And while we all must prioritize and match the ends with the finite means, Afghanistan requires our attention. The tragic events of the past year, the precipitous withdrawal of the international coalition and the Taliban’s seizure of power, have created a security dilemma and a vacuum that the countries of South and Central Asia feel the most.

TNS: What could be potential areas of cooperation between Germany and Pakistan given the technological and industrial prowess of the former? facing the enormous potential of untapped human and material resources in the latter?

mg: Bilateral areas of cooperation are multifaceted and include trade, investment, climate change, people-to-people, security, and development cooperation; the latter with an emphasis on renewable energy, professional training, good governance and health. The Pakistan-German climate partnership will become even more important in the future in light of this year’s devastating floods. We are all shocked to see an area roughly the size of Germany completely covered by water and deeply saddened by the loss of life and livelihoods. The German government continues to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and is working with Pakistan to expand cooperation on climate protection, disaster management and access to international climate finance.

Germany’s technological and industrial prowess could perhaps also come in handy in the upcoming recovery effort when it comes to rebuilding infrastructure and investing in green technology. Germany and Europe will need to intensify their commitment to connectivity across the region, for example through the EU’s Global Gateway and bilateral initiatives, especially with a view to broader geopolitical dynamics. If European capitals do not step in and present credible and meaningful offers, others will continue to fill the gap. A geopolitical Europe needs a stronger presence in Pakistan and South Asia.

The writer is a presenter and correspondent for PTV World and has a keen interest in national security, international security issues, and human rights. She can be contacted via Twitter: @TayyabaNKhan


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