In this week's New Statesman

Special report: the devastating effect of drones.

Jemima Khan meets Pervez Musharraf

In this week’s New Statesman, Jemima Khan meets Pervez Musharraf. In a wide-ranging interview, the former president of Pakistan talks candidly about Barack Obama’s lack of leadership qualities, and also condemns Hamid Karzai and the “double-crossing” current leaders of Pakistan. Khan writes:

[He describes] the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, as “a liar and fraud” who “has been operating against Pakistan’s interests, playing into the hands of Indians and maligning us. The bad name that Pakistan has, I would give 50 per cent of the blame to him.” He says Barack Obama is a “slow decision-maker” who lacks leadership qualities.

Musharraf also reveals the plan for his political comeback. He floats the idea of a partnership with Pakistan’s “Movement for Justice” leader, Imran Khan, as prime minister and himself as president. On US-Pakistan relations, Jemima Khan writes, Musharraf “offers a particular lesson in realpolitik and the constraints of power”. Of Imran Khan’s idea of shooting down unauthorised US drone strikes on his country, he says:

The confrontationalist approach, from a position of such acute weakness, is not possible. The world is not a just place; frankly, this world is an unjust world. It believes in might is right. Let me talk very frankly: if you are weak, anyone can come and kick you. You can’t justify that he kicked me unjustly.

Musharraf also tells Khan about his relationship with George W Bush and Colin Powell when he was in power:

I could pick up the phone and speak to President Bush and Colin Powell, and I used to put a lot of pressure on them. Why this has happened? They used to be on the back foot and they liked me, probably, and therefore they used to have to go a long way to calm me down to explain to me why this and that . . .

The former US president and secretary of state trusted him enough, he believes, to have told him when they discovered the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, rather than launching a secret operation to take the al-Qaeda leader out without the knowledge or involvement of Pakistan. This, the general says, was “shameful for Pakistan and a breach of sovereignty. We should have been told.”

Also during the interview, Musharraf tells Khan that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 was her own fault:

They are blaming lack of security. What lack of security? You were secure, you got into a bomb-proof car. Why did you get up [out of the sunroof]? Who told you?

 

Drones: the "secret" war on terror

This week’s cover story examines the politics, international law and technology of drones, the deadliest weapon in modern-day warfare.

Drones are said to be the most accurate weapon in warfare, and to lead to less collateral damage, but as Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports:

CIA-controlled Predators and Reapers have been bombing Pakistan’s tribal areas since June 2004. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, where I lead a team looking at the covert war, 330 US drone strikes (278 of them under Obama) have so far killed at least 2,500 people in Pakistan. At least 482 civilians are credibly reported among the dead.

He continues:

Only recently, a senior US administration official claimed in an interview with the New York Times that the number of civilians killed by Barack Obama in Pakistan is in the “single digits”. This is a lie. Three days after his inauguration, on 23 January 2009, Obama authorised two drone strikes. Both missed their intended targets. At least 15 civilians reportedly died on that day alone, and the president knew about those civilian casualties within hours.

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, the author of Crimes Against Humanity, scrutinises the lack of accountability and transparency by the Obama administration around drone attacks. He also argues that such strikes are not supported by international law, and concludes that targeted killings violate all human rights and “can only be described as summary executions”:

The Obama administration seems to have given the CIA carte blanche to choose targets, subject to the approval of [Harold] Koh, a law professor [Koh is legal adviser to the US state department], now an executioner. Those who press the Hellfire buttons in Nevada do not pause to consider whether their targets are engaged in combatant missions or not. But there is no point speculating about the criteria for listing or executing: these are secret CIA prerogatives, beyond the jurisdiction of the courts or the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Elsewhere in the cover story package, the New Statesman’s science columnist, Michael Brooks, explores the technology behind drones, describing how they “are little more than sophisticated remote-controlled aircraft”:

And now the civilian use of UAV technology is taking off . . . Fishermen use them to track tuna movements. A group of Taiwanese thieves used a fleet of robot helicopters to carry out a jewellery heist . . . A movement towards using UAVs over cities is a somewhat frightening prospect, when the US army’s road map for 2010-2035 includes equipping drones with non-lethal acoustic, chemical and “directed-energy” (laser or microwave beam) weapons. The implication is clear: in future, drones will be used for crowd control.

And Samira Shackle reports that, according to the Brookings Institution in the US, ten civilians die for every militant killed in a drone strike. She describes the psychological effects of living in Pakistan’s tribal areas, object of sustained drone campaigns:

The buzzing sound is a relentless presence; people refer to the drones as “bees”. In a chilling echo of this, US operators refer to victims as “bugsplats”. Local doctors report an “exponential” increase in the number of people requiring prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants.

 

Glasgow Rangers FC: goodbye to the blues?

In this week’s NS Profile of Glasgow Rangers FC, the Observer columnist Kevin McKenna charts the downfall of one of Scotland’s great institutions. McKenna asks: how did a football club that once represented everything that made working-class, Protestant Scotland proud come to be reduced to ruin?

 

Syrian opposition leader: No to foreign intervention

This week, Mehdi Hasan speaks to Haytham al-Manna, the Paris-based spokesman of the National Co-ordination Committee (NCC), one of Syria’s two biggest opposition groups. Manna tells Hasan that the anti-Assad NCC is against military intervention:

We are against any foreign intervention in Syria. We want democracy and sovereignty.

Manna says that non-violent resistance in Syria is an option – and points out that his own movement started that way:

When we were non-violent, we had three million people with us. Now, with the armed resistance, we don’t have more than 50,000 people in the streets.

Furthermore, Manna tells Hasan that the NCC backs the diplomatic solution proposed by the UN general secretary’s special envoy Kofi Annan:

The only solution in Syria is to rebuild the Annan plan, make sure it is respected [by all sides] and triple the number of international observers.

 

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

  • Jonathan Wilson, the sports journalist and founder of The Blizzard, says we shouldn't expect any tactical innovation at Euro 2012
  • The American poet Adam Kirsch tracks the transformations of T S Eliot's self image
  • The novelist Francine Prose charts her personal history as a reader 
  • Will Self tries fry-ups on the ferry to Mull in Real Meals
  • Yo Zushi talks to the Japanese theatre director Yukio Ninagawa in the NS Interview

 

All this and more in this week's New Statesman, on newsstands around the country and available for purchase here

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser