Show Hide image

The bloody trail of Obama’s drone strikes in Pakistan

Jemima Khan met Clive Stafford Smith and a teenager in Islamabad that was days later killed in a CIA drone strike.

Jemima Khan visits Islamabad to hear about the terrible civilian death toll of US drone strikes.

Two weeks ago, in Pakistan, I met a boy called Tariq who, at 16, is a year older than my son. He was a fanatical footballer, like my boy, though more politicised, like everyone in Pakistan from rickshaw wallahs to university lecturers. Political apathy is the preserve of countries that are not on the brink.

Tariq and I were both in Islamabad for the same reason: to attend a conference, organised by Clive Stafford Smith of the legal aid charity Reprieve, on the covert use of drones by the CIA in Pakistan's tribal area. Three days later Tariq was dead.

He died alongside his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed, both victims of one of the drones he was protesting about. Stafford Smith believes that a tracking device was put on his car by a CIA informant at the conference in Islamabad. There are 800,000 people living in the north-western region of Waziristan: the odds of hitting one of the 80 delegates, Stafford Smith points out, was therefore one in 10,000.

Barack Obama has argued that the use of drone technology is the best way of targeting militants while minimising civilian casualties. Under his administration, the use of drones has increased tenfold - it is easier to eliminate terrorist suspects than to detain them. Yet an official US statement claimed there have been no “non-combatant deaths” as a result.

The delegates, tribal elders, the families of victims of drone strikes and Tariq had come from Waziristan to dispute that. They descended on Islamabad - a riot of beige, with biblical beards - armed with gruesome photographs of women and children blown to pieces among debris and missile parts stamped with serial numbers and the US flag.

At the conference, Samiullah Jan, 17, just out of college, was represented only by his ID card, retrieved from the rubble of his home. Another teenager, a 16-year-old boy called Saadullah, hobbled in on prosthetic limbs: he had lost his legs and his sight two years earlier. “I used to dream of being a doctor” he told us. “Now I can't even go to school. I'm not even human.”

The US's drone war remains a classified CIA program. There is no reliable information. One reason for the jirga [meeting] was to appeal to people from the tribal area, which is closed to journalists, to collect evidence from drone strikes. We distributed digital cameras so that in the future they can document strikes.

This new “Nintendo warfare” is having a devastating effect on nuclear-armed Pakistan. A recent Pew poll found that 97 per cent of Pakistanis viewed drones negatively and 69 per cent view the US as their greatest enemy, which makes Obama's joke at the White House Correspondents' Ball all the more thoughtless. His message to boys with designs on his daughters: “I have two words for you . . . Predator drones. You will never see it coming.”

Another problem was highlighted at the jirga by a tribal elder, Mir Jan, who said: “We don't know who to trust any more”. Pakistan has always pulsated with conspiracy theories but these days there are good reasons for paranoia. WikiLeaks exposed the fact that the Pakistan government has lied about giving permission to the US to strike Waziristan. Blackwater mercenaries operate all over Pakistan; while a Save the Children doctor, offering the polio vaccine in Osama Bin Laden's hideout, Abbottabad, turned out to be a CIA informant. Then there was Raymond Davis, the “diplomat" who shot two Pakistanis and whose colleague then ran over a third, who was later revealed to be a CIA agent. It is increasingly unsafe for aid workers, diplomats and journalists to work in Pakistan.

Special relationship

On the subject of conspiracy theories, it was unfortunate that my trip to Pakistan coincided with a political rally in Lahore held by my ex-husband, Imran Khan. Local politicians, threatened by his recent surge in popularity, made incendiary public statements about my visit. These included “it is un-Islamic to have a good relationship with your ex” and “it was part of a Zionist conspiracy” (I thought we'd knocked that one on the head a decade ago - there can't be many who receive both virulent anti-Semitic and Islamophobic abuse on Twitter).

The debate about my presence threatened to overshadow the far more important discussions about drones and even elicited a Facebook page: “We Pakistanis apologise to Jemima Khan for mudslugging [sic] by politicians.”

It made no difference. Imran's rally was a game-changer: more than 100,000 people showed up on the streets of Lahore to show their support and, after 15 years of being ridiculed by Pakistan's political and social elites, Imran is now a real contender.

There are costs, though. In the old days, Imran had one old, grizzled chowkidar guarding the gate of his house. “I trust Allah to protect me,” he would say to his more cautious friends. I note that these days he has reluctantly agreed to travel at all times with ten armed guards. There's a saying of the Prophet's, which is an old favourite of mine: “Have faith in Allah - but tether your camel.”

Jemima Khan is the associate editor of the New Statesman

Jemima Khan is associate editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 21 November 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The myth of the Fourth Reich

Show Hide image

An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State