All eyes on Pakistan

Almost no one believes that the ISI could not have known of Bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Now that Bin Laden has gone to a watery grave, attention is focused on the role of Pakistan. Almost no one believes that he could have rented a mansion in Abbottabad, within a mile of "Pakistan's Sandhurst", without the knowledge of the Pakistani secret service (the notorious ISI).

Ming Campbell and Rory Stewart are among the British politicians who have argued that it is not credible for Pakistan to claim it did know where Bin Laden was hiding.

Elsewhere, Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghanistan's national security directorate, has declared: "Does Pakistan want the whole world to believe that the intelligence agency of a nuclear state did not know OBL was there?"

In an apparent attempt to deter suspicion, the ISI claimed joint responsibility for the operation but, as Barack Obama said in his statement, it was carried out by a "small team of Americans". He did, however, state that "our counterterrorism co-operation with Pakistan helped lead us to Bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding".

But, during a White House press briefing on the raid, a senior administration official pointedly noted that "we shared our intelligence on this Bin Laden compound with no other country, including Pakistan". He added: "That was for one reason and one reason alone: we believed it was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel. In fact, only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance."

In other words, the US simply did not trust Pakistan with the information.

UPDATE: Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's main opposition leader, tells the Guardian: "It is very worrying that after ten years this man could only be captured in an operation that was kept secret from the Pakistani intelligence service. Just a few weeks ago, the Pakistanis were insisting that the US military and intelligence operations should be stopped in Pakistan and their agents should leave the country."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear