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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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.