I was pretty sceptical about the chances of success of this latest bout of Afghan peacemaking. Here’s my take from first thing this morning:
You don’t need to know much about Afghanistan, the nature of extremist movements or world affairs in general to understand one important principle: Never mind what they say, what are they doing?………
But even I didn’t expect them to start coming a cropper this afternoon, less than 24 hours after they had been announced
President Hamid Karzai has plunged Afghan peace talks into doubt by threatening to boycott the process unless militants end their violence and the United States pull out of negotiations, in protest at the raising of the Taliban flag over their office in Qatar.
Surely this has been weeks in the planning and a lot of effort will have gone into making sure President Karzai was on board. He has always said he wanted the process to be Afghan-led and that the Taliban should renounce their ties to al-Qaeda. Those two issues will need to have been handled sensitively.
So what went wrong?
I have not an ounce of evidence for this. But let’s speculate for a moment. What if after the shambles of the G8 discussions on Syria an alternative breakthrough was needed in a hurry and a few corners were cut? Anyway, even by Afghanistan’s poor standards of talking peace, this is disastrous.
I dislike Bono. Intensely. His music is overblown and pompous. And what really pisses me off is that despite living and working in Kenya for five years, no-one offered me so much as a plastic carrier bag much less a lucrative advertising deal…Actually, what I really dislike about Bono is the way in which he has become the voice of Africa. Holding a conference about tackling poverty across the continent and unsure who to invite, after all you don’t really want to pictured standing next to someone who later turns out to be a murdering tyrant…? So why not invite one of the world’s best known rock stars?
Never mind that Bono’s views are widely disputed by development economists, at least the missus can get her pic taken with him etc…
Anyway, there’s a reasonable take-down of Bono by George Monbiot today in The Guardian, spelling out how Bono is not necessarily helping. (Although Monbiot’s own Western-centric, anti-capitalist take on Africa is equally infuriating.)
Bono claims to be “representing the poorest and most vulnerable people“. But talking to a wide range of activists from both the poor and rich worlds since ONE published its article last week, I have heard the same complaint again and again: that Bono and others like him have seized the political space which might otherwise have been occupied by the Africans about whom they are talking. Because Bono is seen by world leaders as the representative of the poor, the poor are not invited to speak. This works very well for everyone – except them.
And with this new book out - The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) – it looks like it is open season on Bono.
What is it about cricket? Is it the players? Or maybe the type of person who is content to watch five days of play that ends in a draw? Is it the individual duals between batsman and bowler within a team sport? Does it have something to do with empire and independence? Is it the sandwiches?
Whatever it is, somewhere between the wickets – or indeed within its single 22 yards, such is the ambiguity of so many aspects of the sport – lies truth.
Football books are dire (unless they are about Nottingham Forest or – even better – Brian Clough). Rugby? Forget it. The only other sports that I can tolerate reading about (by which I don’t mean transfer updates or match reports, which I will assume we all read) are cycling, because most of the people doing it are bonkers or cheats, or baseball, which I guess shares some of the characteristics of cricket (and if ever I meet you in the pub, by all means ask me how the differences between the two sports encapsulates the differences between the US and England – I really am fascinating on this subject).
Anyway, I have believed for a long time that everything that you need to know about Pakistan can be found in its cricket team. One example is here.
And in Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, there is evidence that the same holds true for the whole of South Asia, if not the entire cricket-playing world. It’s a fun novel based around a drunk sports writer’s search for a mysterious Sri Lankan practitioner of left-arm unorthodox spin. It’s flawed in places, but its rambling account is beguiling for the way in which it takes in the history, politics, economics and conflicts of the country in which it is set. No other sport could manage that. One example:
I realise that when it comes down to it, our cricket retains the passion of the street. The West respects law, but questions authority. It is us who bow down to lawmakers even as we disregard laws. Today we reverse that. We dare to call the umpire a hora.
Somehow, a fantastical novel about a forgotten spinner has helped me understand why traffic lights in Pakistan are routinely ignored, tax laws are considered optional but in some situations nothing can be done without a No Objection Certificate or sometimes a man in a uniform.
Spotted these fine products in an Islamabad supermarket yesterday. Oddly, no Irn Bru. However, they are a reminder of my soft drinks index of failed states and I see that AG Barr is in the news today.
But Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, said that bans on groups were hard to enforce and to prosecute not least because of frequent name changes.
He said: “It’s far better to put people under surveillance and to gather direct evidence of their lawbreaking, whether it’s acts of incitement or plain hate speech. I certainly think we could target some groupings and certain individuals more aggressively in this way — and I think the public would rightly welcome that.”
This line is in The Times today (link here but behind paywall), as part of its coverage of the Woolwich killing. It made me think of Pakistan and question about how banned groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba or Sipah-e-Sahaba can simply change name and continue operating…. So it’s not just Pakistan where bans are ineffective.
So President Obama has made his drones speech (full text of speech here) and the analysis and reaction has begun. Much of it is pretty predictable and makes some of the usual mistakes.
First up, UAVs may be pretty new but the questions they raise are not. Our focus should not be on the technology but the way in which it is being used. My concern would be the same if it were a piloted F-16 launching missiles to kill unknown, suspected militants outside a war zone and in secret.
I always love how critics of drone strikes suggest George W Bush launched them with a swagger while Obama anguishes over every decision. The statistics suggest Obama doesn’t anguish for long.
And, at least in Pakistan, the number of civilians killed is pretty small. It’s difficult to know for certain, but people who tell you that hundreds of civilians are dying are rather exaggerating.
I’m no fan of drones, and I’m not sure Obama’s speech reassures me much, but I think the opponents are making some of the wrong arguments.
Here are some of the pieces I’ve been reading this morning:
Obama’s Speech on Drones and Guantanamo: A Challenge to an Endless War : The New Yorker
A young Yemeni writer on the impact and morality of drone-bombing his country | Glenn Greenwald
Finally, Obama Breaks His Silence on Drones | Brookings Institution
Drones: Myths And Reality In Pakistan – International Crisis Group
China Has Drones. Now What? | Foreign Affairs
I don’t know much about publishing but I do know that this is er bold. No idea what it’s about