To lose one prime minister

Pakistan’s military are doing their damndest to prevent a civilian government reaching an unprecedented full-term.

On many levels the Zardari government, now less than a year away from full-term, has been doing quite well - with no will to solve the energy crisis but passing significant legislation that protects democracy, as opposed to military rule, in Pakistan.

The literal reporting by the international press of Pakistan’s prime ministerial woes – Yousuf Raza Gilani, after the longest PM-ship ever in Pakistan’s history was forced to stand down for refusing to write to the Swiss authorities over corruption charges relating to Zardari, his initial replacement Makhdoom Shahabuddin was blown straight out of the water when a judge ordered his arrest on illegal drug imports, but Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has now been appointed – has done nothing to tell the real story. 

For that you will have to read Mohammed Hanif in the Guardian, about the only voice of clarity available to UK readers. 

To lose one prime minister may be regarded as a misfortune but to have two headed off  looks like the military have been up to their old tricks. Caretaker governments were the stuff of military intervention after they had despatched civilian governments in what Musharraf called in his memoirs “that dreadful decade of democracy”. This is not quite a caretaker government, but as Hanif describes, the military are behind a revitalised supreme court that in the last six months has been in the business of attacking the Zardari government, while leaving military wrong-doings, such as questions over the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, and of Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian minister for minorities, and the death of journalist Saleem Shahzad, on the back burner.

In mid-June the judicial commission tasked with looking into Memogate, the “documentation” provided by nude wrestling adjudicator  Mansoor Ijaz that the Zardari government through its civilian ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani had tried to move against the military upheld Ijaz’s spurious claims.

It is not a coincidence that a week before the commission was due to announce its findings Asma Jahangir, Pakistan’s leading human rights barrister, chief counsel for Husain Haqqani and contributor to the New Statesman, was made aware of a plan to assassinate her.

The background to memogate is here, Mansoor Ijaz’s track record of contributions to the Financial Times here.

Pakistan’s leading liberal daily, Tribune, ran the following editorial in mid-June:

It is in the nature of those [the military] opposed to civilian rule to change the subject from their misdeeds. In this case, the distraction was memogate and the scapegoat was Husain Haqqani.

Twittersphere followed up: “Shame on a country which declares its doctors, diplomats, poets and scholars as traitors, and garlands jihadist killers and eulogises them”. “Husain Haqqani is not a traitor he is a patriotic Pakistani. Real traitors are those acquit jihadis and penalise liberals”.

That, at present and until it does its proper job and brings the military under the rule of law too, looks like the supreme court. 


Yousuf Raza Gilani, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan who was ousted in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images
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Boris Johnson isn't risking his political life over Heathrow

The anti-Heathrow campaigner was never a committed environmentalist. 

A government announcement on expanding London’s airports is expected today, and while opposition forces have been rallying against the expected outcome - a third runway at Heathrow - the decision could also be a divisive one for the ruling Conservative party. A long consultation period will allow these divisions to fester. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 Conservative MPs are against expansion at the Heathrow site. The Prime Minister’s own constituents are threatening legal action, and the former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to step down as MP for Richmond rather than let the airport develop.

But what of Boris Johnson? The politician long synonymous with Heathrow opposition - including a threat to lie down “in front of those bulldozers” - is expected to call the decision a mistake. But for a man unafraid to dangle from a zipwire, he has become unusually reticent on the subject.

The reticence has partly been imposed upon him. In a letter to her cabinet ministers, Theresa May has granted them freedom from the usual rules of collective responsibility (under which cabinet ministers are required to support government positions). But she has also requested that they refrain from speaking out in the Commons, from “actively” campaigning against her position, and from calling “into question the decision making process itself”.  

Johnson is not about to start cheering for Heathrow. But unlike Goldsmith, he is no committed environmentalist - and he's certainly a committed politician.  

Boris’s objections to the expansion at Heathrow have all too often only extended as far as the lives of his London constituents. These local impacts are not to be belittled – in his role of mayor of London, he rightly pointed to the extreme health risks of increased noise and air pollution. And his charisma and profile have also boosted community campaigns around these issues. 

But when it comes to reducing emissions, Johnson is complacent. He may have come a long way since a 2013 Telegraph article in which he questioned whether global warming was real. Yet his plan to build an alternative “hub” airport in the Thames Estuary would have left the question of cutting UK aviation emissions worryingly un-resolved. This lack of curiosity is alarming considering his current job as foreign secretary. 

And there are reasons to be concerned. According to Cait Hewitt at the Aviation Environment Federation, the UK fails to meet its targets for CO2 reduction. And the recent UN deal on aviation emission mitigation doesn’t even meet the commitments of the UK’s own Climate Change Act, let alone the more stringent demands of the Paris Agreement. “Deciding that we’re going to do something that we know is going to make a problem worse, before we’ve got an answer, is the wrong move”, said Hewitt.

There is a local environmental argument too. Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson from the activist group “Rising Up”, says the pollution could affect Londoners' health: "With 70 per cent of flights taken just by 15 per cent of the UK's population... this is just not acceptable in a civilised democracy.”

The way Johnson tells it, his reason for staying in government is a pragmatic one. “I think I'd be better off staying in parliament to fight the case, frankly," he told LBC Radio in 2015. And he's right that, whatever the government’s position, the new “national policy statement” to authorise the project will likely face a year-long public consultation before a parliamentary vote in late 2017 or early 2018. Even then the application will still face a lengthy planning policy stage and possible judicial review. 

But if the foreign secretary does fight this quietly, in the back rooms of power, it is not just a loss to his constituents. It means the wider inconsistencies of his position can be brushed aside - rather than exposed and explored, and safely brought down to ground. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.