Crossing Timmy Mallett

Jungle warning - the 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here' participant shouldn't be crossed if my exp

It's often said that we journalists are a despicable breed. After all we murdered poor Diana. We lie at the drop of a hat and we'd sell our grandmothers to the highest bidder.

Of course it occurs to no-one that you don't go into this racket if money floats your boat. No. It's a better story if the public think we hacks are all sweaty, greedy and evil.

And it's true I've not always behaved ethically.

For example, when I was at the BBC I disgracefully tried to balance coverage of the illegal and immoral Iraq war by interviewing people who were opposed to it. I suppose that makes me a communist.

I only hope that's offset by the obsequious treatment Lexus David Cameron gets from political editor Nick Robinson.

The other occasion I erred I'm afraid I trod all over Timmy Mallett's moral compass.

A highpoint in the loveable entertainer's career was his afternoon show at BBC Three Counties Radio where he was lucky enough to be produced by my wife.

On one occasion we went out for a drink in Luton after they'd come off air and he told a very moderately amusing anecdote about fellow children's presenter Michaela Strachan. His very good friend.

It was about Strachan's reaction to a staged kidnap attempt while she was doing a hostile environment training course ahead of filming in some remote troublespot.

Apparently she screamed or fainted or got the giggles. Can't remember which.

Mysteriously this tale appeared in a Daily Telegraph diary column quoting what the Mallett had said.

And my god the wrath. No sooner had I got home that evening than the phone started ringing.

"Timmy's very angry," came a voice down the line when I answered. "Timmy's very angry."

"Oh really Timmy? Why's that," I replied, weakly leaning against the wall.

"Guess what happened to me today," went on the pint-sized funster. "I went to see my parents - my old pensioner parents - and they showed me a copy of the Daily Telegraph. What the hell's wrong with you, selling a story you'd heard sitting in a pub...

"That's a disgusting profession you're joining. Really despicable. Now I'm going to have to ring up my friend Michaela and apologise. Timmy's very, very angry."

And I have to say I did feel a bit bad about upsetting him. I'm not sure the diary story did Strachan any harm - actually it gave them both some of the publicity they so clearly crave.

But I do worry that I provided a bit of the oxygen that kept his national profile high enough to see him pop up in the outback on this year's 'I'm a celebrity'.

The gnomic pot of insufferable jollity is once again on network TV and for that I apologise to you all.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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The Taliban's succession crisis will not diminish its resilience

Haibatullah Akhunzada's appointment as leader of the Taliban may put stress on the movement, but is unlikely to dampen its insurgency. 

After 19 years under the guidance of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, the group has now faced two succession crises in under a year. But although Haibatullah Akhunzada’s appointment as leader of the Taliban will likely put stress on the movement, it shows few signals of diminishing its renewed insurgency.

The news pretty much ends speculation about former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s south-western Baluchistan province, which was criticised by Islamabad as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Taliban would have prepared extensively for this eventuality. The fast appointment, following days of intense council, appears to be a conspicuous act of decisiveness. It stands in contrast to the two-year delay the movement faced in announcing the death of the Mullah Omar. It will be not be lost on the Taliban that it was subterfuge around the death of Mullah Omar that caused the fracture within the movement which in turn led to the establishment of an ISIS presence in the country.

The appointment is a victory for the Taliban old guard. As former head of the Taliban's judiciary and Mullah Mansour’s deputy, in many ways, Haibatullah is a natural successor. Haibatullah, described by Afghanistan expert Sami Yousafzai as a “stone age Mullah,” demonstrates the Taliban’s inherent tendency to resort to tradition rather than innovation during times of internal crisis.

The decision taken by the Taliban to have an elder statesman of the group at the helm highlights the increasing marginalisation of the Haqqani network, a powerful subset within the Taliban that has been waging an offensive against the government and coalition forces in northwest Pakistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network who already has a bounty of 5 million dollars on his head, was touted in some Taliban circles as a potential successor, however the decision to overlook him is a conservative move from the Taliban. 

The Taliban’s leadership of the jihad against the Afghan government is hinged on their claims to religious legitimacy, something the group will hope to affirm through the Haibatullah’s jurisprudential credentials. This assertion of authority has particular significance given the rise of ISIS elements in the country. The last two Taliban chiefs have both declared themselves to be amir ul-momineen or ‘leader of the faithful,’ providing a challenge to the parallel claims of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Any suggestions that Mansour’s death will lead to the unravelling of the Taliban are premature. The military targeting of prominent jihadi leaders within group structures has been seen in operations against the leadership of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other groups.

In recent research for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, we found that it is often less prominent jihadis that play an integral role in keeping the movement alive. Targeted killings do create a void, but this often comes at the expense of addressing the wider support base and ideological draw of militant outfits. This is particularly relevant with a relatively decentralised movement like the Taliban.

Such operations can spur activity. If the example of the Taliban’s previous leadership succession is to be heeded, we might expect renewed attacks across Afghanistan, beyond the group’s strongholds near the eastern border with Pakistan. The brief capture of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth-largest city, at the end of September 2015, was a show of strength to answer the numerous internal critics of Mullah Mansour’s new leadership of the movement.

In a news cycle dominated by reports of ISIS, and to a diminishing extent al-Qaeda, atrocities, it is important to comprehend the renewed brutality of the Afghan insurgency.  Data from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics Global Extremism Monitor found a seventeen per cent rise in fatalities from March to April, marking the start of the Taliban’s spring fighting season. A suicide attack in central Kabul on the headquarters of an elite military unit that killed 64 people was the single most deadly act of terror around the world in the month of April, and the group’s bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital for years. Reports this morning of a suicide attack on a bus killing 10 staff from an appeal court west of Kabul, suggests that the violence shows no sign of diminishing under the new leadership.

All these developments come during a period of renewed impetus behind international peace talks. Last week representatives from Pakistan were joined by delegates from Afghanistan, the United States, and China in an attempt to restart the stalled negotiation process with the Taliban.

Haibatullah Akhunzada’s early leadership moves will be watched closely by these countries, as well as dissonant voices within the movement, to ascertain what the Taliban does next, in a period of unprecedented challenge for the infamously resilient movement. 

Milo Comerford is a South and Central Asia Analyst for the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics