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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A simple U-Turn may not be enough to get the Conservatives out of their tax credit mess

The Tories are in a mess over cuts to tax credits. But a mere U-Turn may not be enough to fix the problem. 

A spectre is haunting the Conservative party - the spectre of tax credit cuts. £4.4bn worth of cuts to the in-work benefits - which act as a top-up for lower-paid workers - will come into force in April 2016, the start of the next tax year - meaning around three million families will be £1,000 worse off. For most dual-earner families affected, that will be the equivalent of a one partner going without pay for an entire month.

The politics are obviously fairly toxic: as one Conservative MP remarked to me before the election, "show me 1,000 people in my constituency who would happily take a £1,000 pay cut, then we'll cut welfare". Small wonder that Boris Johnson is already making loud noises about the coming cuts, making his opposition to them a central plank of his 

Tory nerves were already jittery enough when the cuts were passed through the Commons - George Osborne had to personally reassure Conservative MPs that the cuts wouldn't result in the nightmarish picture being painted by Labour and the trades unions. Now that Johnson - and the Sun - have joined in the chorus of complaints.

There are a variety of ways the government could reverse or soften the cuts. The first is a straightforward U-Turn: but that would be politically embarrassing for Osborne, so it's highly unlikely. They could push back the implementation date - as one Conservative remarked - "whole industries have arranged their operations around tax credits now - we should give the care and hospitality sectors more time to prepare". Or they could adjust the taper rates - the point in your income  at which you start losing tax credits, taking away less from families. But the real problem for the Conservatives is that a mere U-Turn won't be enough to get them out of the mire. 

Why? Well, to offset the loss, Osborne announced the creation of a "national living wage", to be introduced at the same time as the cuts - of £7.20 an hour, up 50p from the current minimum wage.  In doing so, he effectively disbanded the Low Pay Commission -  the independent body that has been responsible for setting the national minimum wage since it was introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.  The LPC's board is made up of academics, trade unionists and employers - and their remit is to set a minimum wage that provides both a reasonable floor for workers without costing too many jobs.

Osborne's "living wage" fails at both counts. It is some way short of a genuine living wage - it is 70p short of where the living wage is today, and will likely be further off the pace by April 2016. But, as both business-owners and trade unionists increasingly fear, it is too high to operate as a legal minimum. (Remember that the campaign for a real Living Wage itself doesn't believe that the living wage should be the legal wage.) Trade union organisers from Usdaw - the shopworkers' union - and the GMB - which has a sizable presence in the hospitality sector -  both fear that the consequence of the wage hike will be reductions in jobs and hours as employers struggle to meet the new cost. Large shops and hotel chains will simply take the hit to their profit margins or raise prices a little. But smaller hotels and shops will cut back on hours and jobs. That will hit particularly hard in places like Cornwall, Devon, and Britain's coastal areas - all of which are, at the moment, overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs. 

The problem for the Conservatives is this: it's easy to work out a way of reversing the cuts to tax credits. It's not easy to see how Osborne could find a non-embarrassing way out of his erzatz living wage, which fails both as a market-friendly minimum and as a genuine living wage. A mere U-Turn may not be enough.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.