Confusion over empire – and the right use of licence.
It’s always encouraging when others take in an interest in topics here, so I was naturally delighted when somebody on Twitter called CricketBooks signalled that my previous item had been read by retweeting it. Just shows the importance of having a catchy headline, eh, Prime Minister, even if it had very little to do with the substance of the article (something you must have had some experience of when you were at Carlton TV).
Seamus Milne in today’s Guardian considers the wider significance of David Cameron’s statement in Islamabad that prompted yesterday’s post here:
The reporters who heard David Cameron tell Pakistani students this week that Britain was responsible for “many of the world’s problems … in the first place” seemed to think he was joking. But it’s a measure of how far Britain is from facing up to its own imperial legacy that his remarks were greeted with bewildered outrage among his supporters at home.
Milne added, tartly, that the Prime Minister spoke ‘with a modesty that eluded him in the buildup to Nato’s intervention in Libya’. Hey, let’s not be churlish. After all, if we wanted to be pedantic, we could point out the Guardian originally headlined this article ‘Ignoring its imperial history licences the west to repeat it.’ Good grief, who would imagine that you’re writing in the country that, Peter Oborne declared, gave the world ‘the English language and, last but not least, the game of cricket’? So let’s leave this with a question mark in the title, and at the end. Will this now be picked up by someone promoting driving licences? (But only, of course, where British English spelling prevails: Pakistan, India and – to be balanced – the disputed territory of Kashmir still?)
That David Cameron is a right tease: let him off on his travels and he says all kinds of things. I don’t know, he needs a public relations minder with him. (What do you mean, public relations used to be his job? You’re having me on!) Today’s Guardian, under the punning headline I’ve stolen for my title (sadly not used online), reports:
Cameron later sparked controversy about Britain’s imperial past by claiming it was responsible for many of the world’s problems. He made his remark as a semi-jocular aside at the end of a question and answer session at a university in Islamabad.
Asked what Britain might be able to do settle the war in Kashmir, he replied: “I don’t want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place.”
Semi-jocular? You need to watch that sense of humour Dave. I mean, just imagine if folk get hold of the idea that people responsible for the issue aren’t the ones to clear it up:
Ah yes, Miss, I know the classroom’s a bit of a mess. but we can’t clear it up because we’re the ones what done it, see, and we only do untidy. I mean really, have you ever seen us leave a foreign country tidy? Look at that Kashmir, Miss – such a mess they still haven’t sorted it out 60 years later!
As for what the Daily Mail and the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade might make of the idea that criminals can’t possibly be expected to make restitution – well… Already Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph has told us bluntly:
Sorry, but it’s not right to apologise: The Prime Minister’s mea culpa over the conflict in Kashmir is neither welcome nor wise… He could have pointed out that we gave Pakistan (and indeed the rest of the world) many splendid bequests: parliamentary democracy, superb irrigation systems, excellent roads, the rule of law, the English language and, last but not least, the game of cricket.
This article is rather bizarrely accompanied by a series of images, including ‘David Cameron, a life in pictures’ and ‘Top Right-wingers: 25-1’. Are those the odds on a coup, or the way the paper counts down to the very top, rightmost right one? Ah no, it’s the cricket score: right wingers put in to bat, 25 quangos for one wicket – that careless David Laws out for a duck. Well, it’s better than being out for a duck house, innit?
Thawing relations, boosting education, protecting minorities – and taxing the rich….
Refreshing the mindIt’s good to see that David Cameron’s short visit to Pakistan included the promise of ‘£650m of additional aid to train teachers, build new schools and provide text-books’. Perhaps he might like to ensure that those who commission this work read Three Cups of Tea, commended here – and already ‘required reading for US high command’ (see, we told you)?
It seems that David Cameron and his foreign Office advisers have realised that a good public relations exercise in India last year was a disaster over the border – or, to use the Guardian’s metaphor, ‘put British relations with Pakistan in the deep freeze’ (yes, it gets pretty cold in the North-West Frontier, I can tell you).
Breaking news: Tory PM says tax the rich: at midday today, the Guardian posted a report headlined: David Cameron tells Pakistan: raise more tax from the rich. To show this is no repeat of his PR (and arms sales) trip to India, our Prime Minister tells Pakistan like it is, based on tough lessons learn back home: ‘Pakistani fiscal position was a serious one because “too few people pay tax. Too many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all – and that’s not fair”.’ Dave, you are a true man of the people, even if it takes a trip abroad to give you the courage and vision to speak your mind!
Tuesday’s Word of the Day is blowback, in praise of Chalmers Johnson, a CIA analyst who chronicled the effects of US power. Shamelessly plagiarising yesterday’s Guardian third editorial, It also enables Word of the Day to shoehorn in a topical reference to the US embassy cables and the Wikileaks controversy under the guise of lexicography.
Elsewhere in the same edition of the paper, Simon Jenkins notes that some US diplomats are less diplomatic about their own country’s policies:
Some stars shine through the banality such as the heroic envoy in Islamabad, Anne Patterson. She pleads that Washington’s whole policy is counterproductive: it ‘risks destabilising the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and the military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis without finally achieving the goal’. Nor is any amount of money going to bribe the Taliban to our side. Patterson’s cables are like missives from the Titanic as it already heads for the bottom.
Hardly news to seasoned observers of the subcontinent’s recent history – but a lesson our own recent Prime Ministers might have heeded, as pointed out (ahem) even here.
Where this blog leads, greater minds will follow. Or at least so it seems from comments by Simon Tisdall on Cameron in India in The Guardian.
Where this blog leads, greater minds will follow. Or at least so it seems from today’s comments by Simon Tisdall in The Guardian. His learning objectives (or LOs, to use the ghastly initials that stalk education these days) are:
Terror: ‘When it comes to fighting terror, a bit of the famous Cameron humility might not be out of place.’
Af-Pak border: ‘This problem was made in Britain.’ (Well, I could have told him that…)
Kashmir: once a kind of paradise in the Himalayas, Kashmir is now described as ‘the most dangerous place in the world. It’s an issue that a “plain speaking” PM should not try to dodge.’
Democracy: ‘Who d’you want to deal with, Dave? Pakistani democrats, with all their failings, or another dictator?’
People: ‘International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “Pakistan is facing an education emergency…. More needs to be done. Doubling Britain’s annual £130m aid to Pakistan would be an audacious move at a time of domestic financial austerity. But it would serve the British national interest.’ Indeed, and we Mirandanetters stand ready to answer our country’s call once again! I think I’ve still got Teach Yourself Urdu somewhere….
Reaction to our new Prime Minister’s frank remarks in India are warning up nicely – and not just on this blog
Reaction to our new Prime Minister’s frank remarks in India are warning up nicely – and not just on this blog. Today’s lead story in the Guardian declares that Pakistan president will ‘put David Cameron straight’ over terror claims. And the cartoon shows a hyperactive David Cameron, amongst other things, burning the Pakistan flag over a ‘frank incense’ flame. Yesterday’s offering showed Pakistani delegates paying a visit to David Cameron, too. The comments on the cartoon are an indication of the ire aroused on all sides (and that’s just about the jokes), though it’s probably true that for all this the great British public will remain unmoved as the conflict in Afghanistan grinds on till – when?
As the Guardian’s story today reminds us, ‘India and Pakistan have fought three major wars since partition in 1947 and remain deeply at odds over divided Kashmir.’ This was obvious to me in the late 60s; the school I was working in had a memorial to former students who had died in the last conflict.
Three Cups of Tea
At least the US military are taking tea – or more accurately, reading Three Cups of Tea, the book by former army medic Greg Mortenson. This work by a humanitarian worker has recently become required reading for US high command. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the NCTE Convention in Texas in 2008, where it was obvious that this rather unassuming guy was something of a reluctant celebrity. He must be more aware than anyone that all his good work in providing schools for remote areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan is threatened by the combined action of the NATO forces and their enemies. His book is worth reading for a taste of life in a part of the world that normally only comes to our attention when riven by violence, earthquakes or floods. Find out about his Central Asia Institute here.
The words of US Admiral Mike Mullen, joint chiefs of staff, when criticising the founder of WikiLeaks seem too ironic to miss
This week’s Friday’s Phrase is ‘blood on their hands’. OK, so it’s only Monday and I had said Word of the Day was offline until September, but the words of US Admiral Mike Mullen, joint chiefs of staff, when criticising the founder of WikiLeaks seem too ironic to miss: ‘Mr Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.’ (Guardian, 30 July 2010). As David Leigh writes in today’s paper: ‘Damage control efforts by the White House did not improve until the weekend. We then saw the spectacle of generals, with gallons of innocent civilian blood on their hands, orating that WikiLeaks had potentially failed to do enough to protect local Afghans.’
The row over the Afghan War Logs has raised the profile of the conflict in the last week, and seemed to be the prompt for David Cameron’s frank (but rather partial) words criticising Pakistan whilst he was on a visit to India – with the proudly proclaimed aim of doing business for Britain (Hawk jets included). He might have been wise to have sought a briefing from the Foreign Office first; I’m sure they would have reminded him of the dates that a former diplomat, Geoff Cowling (Vice-consul Kabul 1970-73), mentioned in a letter to the Guardian last Thursday:
1842: total annihilation of the 6,000 strong British army retreating from Kabul en route to Kandahar in the first Afghan war
27 July 1880: Battle of Maiwand during the second Afghan war: ‘the final result was a rout for the British army that lost more than 950 men on their retreat back to Kandahar.’
1919: Third Afghan War: ‘totally forgotten by us too’.
As Cowling comments: ‘History tells the Pashtuns that foreign invaders are vulnerable – something the Russians too learned to their considerable cost. It’s a pity politicians did not read their history before venturing into the hostile, fiercely independent Helmand and blundering into the fourth Afghan war.’ His allusion to the humiliation of the Russians (1979-89) is a reminder that the United States and others were only too willing to arm the mujahidin – discovering later, fatally, that ‘blowback’ doesn’t just apply when a Stinger missile is launched.
David Cameron and others might also remember 1947: the partition of India by the departing British into Muslim Pakistan and secular India left the unresolved sore of Kashmir that lies at the root of much of the conflict in the area. I’m interested to read elsewhere in today’s paper that Peter Preston agrees: ‘Kashmir? The reason why Pakistan’s military stays so strong, so funded, so bent on matching India’s every move. The reason why Pakistan democracy has proved so frail. The reason why Islamabad dabbles in Afghanistan’s shifting alliances. Begin to broker a final Indo-Pakistani peace, try to set stable relations at the core of the subcontinent, and everything else begins to follow.’
Good heavens, as a former resident of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (glimpsed above), I even told Andrew Bingham, the Conservative candidate (and now MP) all about this on my doorstep back in April. MPs, Prime Ministers: do they ever listen?