Monthly Archives: May 2011


Age

I was a guest at David Grace’s 60th birthday party in Cambridge at the weekend. I gave him a copy of Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid” as a present. In writing it to him, I was hit with what I think was a happy inspiration:

“You are always as young as you are radical.”

I intend to hold on to that thought for the rest of my life.

I am sorry that comments are off at the moment while the Intense Debate people try yet again to load up all the comments from the old site. As the interest of this blog for me is the conversation, I apologise that I find it hard to get up energy to blog when nobody can reply!

[Moderator’s note 2011/06/01 at 9:10 pm: the comment system is disabled while the old comments are imported.  In the meantime, incoming comments will be appended to their parent article periodically.  Submit comments in the usual way; they will be copied into the original post maybe twice daily.  This is a time consuming process so please be patient; test comments and flame wars will not be supported!  Comments will only be appended to this post and newer articles; older posts will have to wait for the system to be fixed.]

[Moderator’s note 2011/06/08 at 2:40 pm: the comments system is now working again, and comments submitted since 2011/06/01 are now displayed.  The copies of comments pasted into original posts have now been deleted.]

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The Strange Death of Corporatist Britain

[Moderator’s note – sorry, comments are not working at present]

After the most intense bombardment of Tripoli yet, we are now deploying ground attack helicopters to intensify the fighting in Libya. Whether all this is really going to achieve the illegal objective of regime change is open to question. What is in no doubt is that it is killing people, and it is very expensive. In April 2011, UK net public sector borrowing exceeded £10 billion for the month – compared to £7.2 billion in April 2010 and a forecast of £6.5 billion. We are closing libraries and care for the disabled. Yet we still squander billions on neo-imperial folly.

The problem is that there is no opposition. The British political system has become an uncomplicated instrument of power for a united neo-conservative class. The Liberal Democrats have been neutered by Clegg and New Labour still seeks to attack from the populist right. Our established political system is not fit for purpose – it no longer provides a forum for the airing of views very widely held by disparate groups in society, and for the fair and agreed resolution of courses of action.

It has not always been like this. Even at the height of Britain’s formal Empire, major parts of one of Britain’s two main parties were actively and aggressively anti-Imperialist, and in the later Gladstonian period that included the leadership.

These aggressive wars are the most spectacular instance of the non-representation of important sections of public opinion. Involving less actual explosions and causing slower deaths, the banking bailout is a much deeper and more important example. No significant opposition was given to the lie that every single individual had to give tens of thousands of pounds to the banks to save us all from doom. As the payments are made over a lifetime – and multiplied many times in interest – the pain of realising that everyone was now vicariously paying off a very large mortgage on money somebody else has enjoyed, is only now starting to be felt. The vast mass of people did not realise what is happening, and did not do so because a united political class in the service of those taking the money from the people, conspired to mislead them and offered no alternative.

But the truth is that it will not last. A political system which has become as otiose as this one, which no longer reflects the interests of large masses of economically significant people, will eventually collpase. That process can take decades, and I am not sure how it will be replaced, nor that what replaces it will be better. But the current western liberal democratic model is looking bust. We need now to work on ideas which are both more libertarian and responsive to smaller communities which are closer to their people.

[Moderator’s note – sorry, comments are not working at present]

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Catherine Hurd

I was taken aback to read tonight of the apparent suicide of Catherine Hurd, wife of Douglas Hurd’s son Tom.

The Hurds and Murrays lived in adjoining identical semi-detached houses while we worked together in the British Embassy in Warsaw – we were both First Secretaries in the Embassy. Frankly, the Hurds were not very interested in people outside their own social milieu. But Catherine had her first child while they lived next door, and seemed an extremely devoted mother. They now have five children of which the youngest must still be very young. I cannot understand the circumstances and causes of this tragedy. For a mother of young children, living a life without the slightest problem in providing for them, to kill herself seems very strange indeed. I feel very sorry for the children.

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Oops, Schillings Did It Again!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted in genuine admiration of Ryan Giggs. Now Schillings have set out to destory his reputation, and rook him of several hundred thousand pounds at the same time. Guido has a good graph:

Plainly Ryan Giggs internet skills are not great, or he could easilly have discovered that would happen.

Schillings did the same thing for Alisher Usmanov, Britain’s second richest man. Schillings had written to all UK mainstream media what is known as a “chilling” letter. It stated that the Uzbek billionaire Usmanov had been in jail in the Soviet Union as a political prisoner, and had been pardoned after President Gorbachev came to power, and that anyone who published anything different would be sued. Our useless mainstream media has still, to this day, not published anything different.

In the interest of veracity I posted what I knew from my time as British Ambassador in Uzbekistan. Usmanov was never a political prisoner. He was a gangster jailed for extortion. He had not been pardoned by Gorbachev. He was pardoned by the state of Uzbekistan, under his gangster friend President Karimov.

Schillings threatened repeatedly to sue me, but they never did, because they know it is true. They threatened to sue my then webhosts, who were so scared they pulled not only my site but many others on the same server. They particularly threatened many Arsenal fan blogs, as Usmanov was trying to take over the club at the time.

The result was that millions of people worldwide, who otherwise would never have heard of Usmanov, learnt he had a conviction for blackmail as the story went viral. I have been told for cetain that the internet furore directly impacted on the willingness of major Arsenal shareholders to sell to Usmanov. Schillings caused the failure of Usmanov’s bid to take over Arsenal. If they had allowed the truth about him to live quietly in a small corner of the internet, that would not have happened.

Even though Schillings never did sue, our power-serving mainstream media has still never mentioned the truth about Usmanov’s criminal past, even when he was last month announced as Brtian’s second richest man. That is why the freedom of new media is so important, and why Ryan Giggs is wrong.

But if you have enough money, you can with effort even influence new media. The Usmanov/Craig Murray affair used to feature prminently on the Wikipedia “Streisand Effect” page linked to above. It has been edited out – when and by whom? It has also disappeared from Usmanov’s own Wikipedia page. And recently on Arsenal blogs, there have been a rash of commenters calling for Usmanov to take over, often repeating the same long comment across several Arsenal blogs. That kind of money buys a lot of trolls.

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Victor’s Justice

I strongly support the rule of law in international affairs, and it follows that I strongly support international institutions – and particularly the International Criminal Court. I am quite content that a case has been opened against the Gadaffi family there.

But the ICC has become, beyond argument, extraordinarily selective in its choice of which war crimes to prosecute. As I write, a veritable campaign of torture and killing against the Bahraini opposition, including the murder of well known opposition leaders, is continuing and being carried out by the rulers with the assistance of foreign forces. Yet there is no chance of the slightest interest by the ICC. They refused point blank to look into the question of whether Bush and Blair launched an illegal war of aggression, despite the fact that majority opinion among public international lawyers worldwide is that they did. The evidence from the Chilcot enquiry in the UK alone is sufficient to justify a prosecution. A former Director of Public Prosecutions in the UK believes there should be one. The FCO’s Legal Adviser and Deputy Legal Adviser at the time both said in writing that the invasion would be an illegal war of aggression.

The only possible conclusion from ICC case law is that a war of aggression can only be illegal if you lose.

The institution has become an instrument of very partial justice. In Libya, they have been drawn into initiating the victor’s justice before they have actually won. As I predicted, the military attack on Libya is proving vastly more difficult than NATO expected (will they never learn?) The ICC is looking not just corrupt, but foolish.

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Sexual Allegations and Government Fit-Ups

After I protested internally and in writing about UK complicity in torture, I found myself suddenly faced with eighteen allegations against me by my employer, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including an allegation that I had criminally expedited visas for women in return for sexual favours, or to put the same allegation more bluntly, blackmailed visa applicants into sex.

My world collapsed. Like Strauss-Kahn, I ended up on suicide watch. I don’t know if DSK is innocent; he could indeed be a monster; but should he be innocent, I know the absolute hell he is going through.

After an official British government investigation, I was presented with the file of a single visa applicant, for a young lady named Albina Safarova. From her passport photo, she was very beautiful. On the back of her application, the visa officer had written “HMA [Her Majesty’s Ambassador] authorises issue.”

But if I had authorised issue, my signature should have been there; it wasn’t. What was there, was a letter from the lady’s visa sponsor, a man named Dermot Hassett. In his letter of support for the application, he stated that the circumstances of the application were known to the British Ambassador, Mr Craig Murray. On top of which, there was a letter from the visa issuing officer, Lorraine Clarke, who stated that she had issued the visa after being informed by two named British diplomats that Mr Hassett was a friend of mine.

So far, so damning. But I had never even heard of Mr Dermot Hassett or of Ms Albina Safarova. I had never met him. I had never met her. I was mystified. I eventually passed the papers on to a seasoned investigative journalist, Bob Graham. He tracked down Dermot Hassett, who told him that the British Embassy had advised him to add the phrase about my knowing the circumstances of the application to his letter of support. They said that would guarantee the visa would be issued.

I have no reason to believe that Dermot Hassett and Albina Safarova were anything other than unwitting dupes. But this application was directly and officially shown to me as evidence of my sexual inolvement in visa applications. I have no doubt at all that it was fabricated evidence to damage my reputation and lessen the impact of any potential public revelations I may make about UK complicity in torture or extraordinary rendition.

I was cleared on all charges, but that did not matter because the British government had damaged my reputation forever by promoting the allegations to the media. Those who deny the very possibility that modern western governments connive in quite deliberate conspiracies of injustice, have no idea what they are talking about. If you threaten them in any political way, they can certainly fabricate evidence against you.

I know; they did it to me.

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Rape

Ed Miliband decided today to devote five of his six questions to the Prime Minister to an attack on Ken Clarke and a demand that Clarke resign over some comments on rape. It should be noted that Ken Clarke is a much more liberal and indeed left wing person than Ed Miliband. It should also be noted that Miliband is joining in an ativistic Mail and Telegraph campaign against Clarke’s attempt to move the justice system away from revenge and towards reform and rehabilitation – but that Miliband has managed to do so on a subject which brings far left and far right together in knee jerk reaction.

Those on the left who agree that we should aim to reform and rehabilitate murderers like the celebrated Jimmy Boyle, suddenly froth at the mouth with the far right when it comes to treatment of rapists.

If I say that some murders are worse than others or some assaults or robberies are worse than others, nobody will disagree. That is not to say they are not all very bad; but it is to say that there is a qualitative difference within the same category in different instances. That there are aggravating and mitigating factors, has been recognised by the law for centuries. Rape is no different. It is very horrible indeed – as bad as being stabbed repeatedly, if you want me to think of a crime of similar magnitude. But to claim every rape is equally bad as every other rape is to move into the realms of mysticism, to view the act not as a crime but as some sort of religious profanation. It is not. It is a crime like stabbing somebody – very serious indeed, but a crime.

The existence of mitigation or aggravation is recognised in the fact that lengths of sentences for the same crime vary. A wife who, in the passion of an argument with her husband, picks up a knife and stabs him, has done something very bad. But is it as bad as someone who with premeditation takes a knife, lurks in bushes and jumps out and stabs a stranger? Does society need to be protected from one as much as from the other? No, plainly not.

Equally, it is true that a boy who with his girlfriend moves, without her consent, from frottage to insertion, when he fails to control his passion, has done something very bad. But is it qualitatively every bit as bad as the rapist who with premeditation hides in the bushes to jump out and attack a stranger? No, plainly not. Or at least, if you wish to claim it is, you have to claim the stabbing cases given above have no qualitative difference either. Doubtless some witless protagonist will claim that I am saying the first case is OK. I am not. I am saying it is very bad. But I am saying the second is even worse.

Anybody who stabs someone or rapes someone deserves real punishment. But are all cases of rape or stabbing identical in quality? The notion is absurd. And the fact that a girl aged 16 years and one day is guilty of rape if she sleeps with her boyfriend age 15 years and 364 days is irrefutable proof of that (a point Clarke appeared to get slightly tongue muddled as he made it, talking of two 17 year olds).

Rape is much in the news lately, what with this, and the cases of Dominique Strauss Khan and Juilan Assange. The allegations against Assange, even if true, would not amount to rape in this country as they do not seem to involve the use of force or non-consensual sex. They are, frankly, very strange indeed, and given that rape trials in Sweded are held in secret and with no jury, I do not in the least blame him for fighting extradition tooth and nail.

The allegations against Dominique Strauss Kahn are of a different order as they do seem to involve violent assault and non-consensual sex acts. Plainly there is a very serious case to answer, especially given his known highly charged sexual history.

But I have been given pause today by learning that the police have amended their accusation to say that they were one and a half hours mistaken in the time that the rape took place. Given that it was reported pretty well immediately, how can there have been this confusion about when it happened? A ten minute mistake would be natural, but one and a half hours wrong in a period of three hours?

The difference is very significant, because the police were alleging that he raped her, then rushed from the hotel to the airport to flee. They now acknowledge as true the defence statement that he actually went to a lunch engagement quite close to the hotel before going to the airport. Given that his alleged hurried running away was a major factor in not granting him bail, this seems to me inportant. I repeat – how on earth could an investigation make such a very fundamental mistake?

My feelings of unease were then increased by US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner coming out to lead international demands for DSK’s replacement – as the prosecuting authority, surely it would behove the US government to shut up until he has been found innocent or guilty? Since then I have been listening to Ghanaian radio (I am in Accra) where callers are more or less unanimous that as the woman is from Guinea, in Francophone Africa, the Sarkozy connection is to blame. That fact is certainly a boon for conspiracy theorists.

DSK deserves the benefit of the presumption of innocence for now. We just don’t know what happened yet. The failure to grant him bail appears to me completely unjustifiable – where on earth do they think he will vanish, and how? There seems something peculiarly vindictive in the handling of this – of which his bail appearance without being allowed clean clothes or a shave was a stark symbol. Ed Miliband would doubtless approve. I wonder what populist right wing nonsense he is thinking up for next week.

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Pointy Hats and a Sex Goddess

This blog enjoys the Eurovision song contest – it is the only fault to which I admit. I was proud of the UK last night, because we gave 8 points to a group from Moldova who played bizarre rock while wearing nine foot pointy hats; they were accompanied, inexplicably, by a girl in a pointy hat riding a unicycle. It had the peculiar innocence of an old Soviet TV special. The moment I saw it, I said (out loud – I have witnesses); “British people will vote for this, just to take the piss”. And I was right. I am in tune with the warped sense of humour of my fellow countrymen.

Nadira tells me that the huge pointy hats are in fact traditional in Moldova. They obviously don’t have low bridges in Moldova. Or maybe the bridges have long triangular notches cut in them above the pavements. Wearing those hats on horseback, snow must have collected on top.

Italy took part in Eurovision for the first time in fifteen years, and obviously had forgotten the rules, because they entered a jazz musician and ensemble of genuine musical talent, who almost won. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Italy was united from a series of fractured states and provinces. They thus deprived themselves of about 72 first place votes in the Eurovision Song Contest. Splitting apart. like the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, provides you with bucketfuls of interchangeable Eurovision votes between statelets. You see, Garibaldi and the Risorgimento weren’t thinking long term. They could have had Eurovision. They left only San Marino to give them twelve points. Which reminds me – why don’t the Papal States enter? Think of it – on second thoughts, I am not going there.

The whole event was very much less sexy from a heterosexual male viewpoint than in recent years. There were far less female singers and backing dancers; boy bands were a dominant theme. Those women who were on stage were comparatively demure, as were the camera angles (if Eurovision isn’t a perv-fest, what is it? It’s hardly a song contest).

Lena from Germany was an exception. Last year’s winner was demure and quirky, but she returned this year a smoking hot sex goddess. She looked as if she had spent the entire intervening year shagging. You will have noticed that I am not over-given to political correctness. But even I thought the message of her song, “Taken by a Stranger”, was somewhat dubious.

The UK again had an extremely cheap looking set and stage presentation. More disastrously, it sounded like we had the driver on the mixing desk. But we didn’t come last. I am happy to say I completely missed the existence of Blue when they were famous. I presume they used to be better?

Azerbaijan have been desperate to win for years – last year they spent more money on their entry than anyone had ever done before – and they finally made it with the most forgettable song of the evening. But they did provide attractive backing singers, so I was happy. Next year the event will take place in a country that seriously is not a democracy. I doubt Eurovision are that bothered. It is also worth noting that Azerbaijan, beyond argument, is in Asia. It is east of much of Iran.

Nonetheless, I suspect Azeri presenters may have a more comprehensible, indeed discernible, sense of humour than the Germans last night. And what was it with those dull intermissions about foreigners working in Germany? And why were they virtually all male? There was some unintended humour – they could only find a Moldovan window cleaner; and the UK was represented by a two hundred year old and improbably large rowing cox, when we glimpsed Simon Rattle in the background of another country’s feature – but mostly this was balls-achingly dull.

As was Graham Norton. He is so toned down. Ranging from silent to scarcely audible, he had plainly been told not to start taking the mickey until the voting started; the people reading the votes were effectively mocked, but why had the bands not been? Norton needs to be given four stiff vodkas before the start. Or better, chuck him and bring in Joan Rivers.

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UK State Racial Hate Machinery Grinds On

The five young men arrested for daring to be brown-skinned in Cumbria (aka behaving suspiciously near Sellafield nuclear plant) have all been released without charge – and had not, contrary to MSM lies, been taking photographs of the plant.

Their arrest was first headline in all the main broadcast media, and tabloid front page. Has the fact that they were completely innocent been reported in the mainstream media with equal prominence, or indeed in any way you might find without deliberately looking? No. “Muslims tried to blow up Sellafield” is now another lie inserted into large areas of the popular psyche, as more grist to the mill for the warmongers and those who make money from conflict.

Which is another reason that the Guardian’s contention that political blogging is dead is nonsense. Bloggers are needed more than ever to counteract the lies of the mainstream media in its cosy and poisonous relationship with the state.

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Murder In Samarkand Loses

Murder in Samaraknd came second in the Best Drama category at the Sony Radio Awards. The judges said it was:

An ambitious and bold project, which was the radio equivalent of a cinematic blockbuster. It was an incredibly important drama not only for the story it told but also for the craft of radio drama

Congratulations to the winner Christopher Reason. But I will not pretend that I am not bitterly disappointed, because the BBC have buried Murder in Samarkand with the apparent intention it will never be heard again. They have not made it available in any of their sale or distribution formats, and there is currently no legal way anyone can listen to it. If you want to listen illegally here, you can click on my link to the right of this.

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Rude Blogging Health

On the basis that he and a couple of his Tory mates had jacked it in, Iain Dale has declared political blogging to be dying. For some extraordinary reason, the Guardian has given him both a puff piece for his new online political magazine, peculiarly described as a blog by sixty friends of his, and a comment article about him.

I suspect the Tories who have dropped out, have done so because they found you cannot make as much money out of blogging as they hoped. As the Guardian notes, it is pretty hard to sustain £1,000 a month income. This blog operates on the principle of not trying to make money, though the odd book sale is welcome. Tory blogs like Conservative Home and Labour blogs like Left Foot Forward have full time staff paid for by the party or the party donors. But Tories who want to get rich, found blogging wasn’t the way to do it.

But this site is as popular as ever – and that is very popular. Cision ranked this blog as the 7th most popular blog of all kinds in the UK in 2010.

This is in stark contrast to the wikio blog rankings, which most UK political bloggers use as a reference – and on Wikio this blog does not score highly enough to feature. The reason is that the wikio rankings are based solely on the number of incoming links from other UK political blogs, weighted by the ranking of the blog sending the link.

This means that if all conservative political bloggers continually post links to each other, they can drive each other up the rankings. This they do, quite deliberately. Ditto other parties. Independent bloggers not involved in a mutual group link-fuck have no chance to compete.

Amazingly, the Wikio rankings give no value to the number of readers you have, nor any value to links from abroad, or from anywhere other than other UK based political blogs. In the last week – and by no means unusually – this blog has been linked from the New York Times, El Pais and Huffington Post. That would give me a wikio score of nil. But a blog getting links from the insignificant Tory Bear or Dizzy Thinks would get a big score.

Not only does Cision include foreign links, much more crucially it scores for the number of readers you have. Amazingly, Wikio pays no attention at all to whether anyone reads you in calculating your blog ranking. This blog has more readers than Wikio’s no 1 ranked blog, Liberal Conspiracy, and has a multiple of the readers of most of Wikio’s Top Ten. (I like Liberal Conspiracy and hope they will compete with my success eventually!!) Number of readers is the main reason this blog scores so highly on Cision.

Here is the Cision methodology:

Is it a “top” UK blog? Our point of departure is the assumption that a blog’s influence is represented by the amount of people seeing it and the potential for it to be referenced elsewhere (including in search engine results).

A long list is therefore compiled using an algorithm to reflect two key measures of web popularity, inbound links and traffic measured in monthly unique users (when available). For each blog these elements are weighted to achieve a balance between measurable impact to date (traffic) and likelihood of future impact (links as a proxy for search visibility). The long list is then reduced, with each entry re-evaluated according to additional metrics, notably update frequency, total number of posts and interaction between blogger and reader. However, as blogger/reader interaction evolves, we now also evaluate interaction not only as blog post comments but also as engagement taking place offsite such as on Twitter and Facebook.

We exclude blogs that are directly affiliated to print media publications, such as newspaper and magazine blogs, as the influence of the main media provides the blog with an advantage. We are currently looking to rank blogs that are affiliated with mainstream media, as well as separating commercial and individual blogs

So the answer to Iain is that good blogging is in good health. Tory drivel is in trouble.

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DIS Tried To Block Dodgy WMD Dossier

It is no surprise that Major General Michael Laurie of the Defence Intelligence Service (DIS) has admitted that the “dodgy dossier” on Iraqi WMD was a deliberate piece of spin for war. The DIS were furious about the dossier at the time it was written, and tried to rein in MI6 and the FCO, and particularly chief lie-writer John Scarlett.

It is five years since I published in Murder in Samarkand this FCO insider account, given to me in 2002 while I was Ambassador in Tashkent:

“You’re wondering why we signed up to it? Well, I can promise you it was awful. The pressure was unbelievable. People were threatened with the end of their careers. I saw analysts in tears. We felt, as a group, absolutely shafted. Actually, we still do. You know, I think that we are all a bit ashamed that nobody had the guts to go public, resign and say that the WMD thing is a myth. But MI6 really hyped it. The DIS tried to block it, but they couldn’t.”

(p. 60 in the US edition – I don’t have the UK edition on me).

It took eight years for DIS to get their revenge and expose Alistair Campbell’s naked lies. Of course, if you read my books you get the truth much quicker!!

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A 19th Century Peter Mandelson

In writing history it is important for me to develop a feel for the characters involved. I started off picturing William Macnaghten as an Edward Carson type; but as my knowledge expands he strikes me more and more as a Peter Mandelson figure.

Macnaghten was, in modern parlance, Burnes’ line manager. Macnaghten detested Burnes because Burnes had opposed the invasion of Afghanistan and the imposition of the puppet Shah Shoojah. Macnaghten had been one of the architects of this invasion. But Burnes had been persuaded that, as the British government’s acknowledged Afghan expert, he had a patriotic duty to assist the invading force. I liken this to Tony Blair persuading Clare Short to stay on to help reconstruct Iraq. That is the more appropriate because what follows is a report from from Burnes on the state of the occupation, in which Burnes’ real concern for the welfare of the ordinary Afghan and what we would call good governance shines through. It is also plain that he still sees the occupation as a disaster.

Macnaghten submitted Burnes’ report to the Governor-General with his own comments added, in which he spins everything as a great success for British policy.

Burnes, Macnaghten, Shah Shoojah and the large majority of the Kabul garrison were killed in the sunsequent Afghan uprising.

William Macnaghten to the Secretary of the Government of India, August 10 1840, enclosing Burnes report:

Although stern in the execution of justice (as was exemplified only the other day in the case of the murderer in whose pardon so much influence was exerted), yet his majesty is merciful and kind-hearted in the extreme, and if the personal qualities of a monarch could ensure popularity, Shah Shoojah could not fail to obtain it. My longer experience of his majesty’s character more thoroughly convinces me of the truth of what I have already asserted, that there is not an abler or better man than himself in all his dominions.

Burnes report with Macnaghten’s comments:

7 August 1840
Cabul

Sir William Macnaghten

“Yet though I have not even a local habitation in this country, I find myself so mixed up with it, both in the public mind and in the despatches of government, together with my being in such constant communication with you, that it seems due to myself, I should, to you at least, clearly and candidly state the opinions I hold – opinions not lightly formed, but based on much personal intercourse with people of all ranks, and vitally affecting the sacred interests of our country in Afghanistan.

Let me here, then, without further comment, place before you the facts of the past year in every quarter of Afghanistan, and if they be as fairly as they are fearlessly stated, they will, I am sure, arrest your most serious consideration, and lead you to join with me in the conclusion, that much reformation is required somewhere, and that if his Majesty has not the power to what is passing, it remains for us to guide him through the dangers of the way.

I never doubted that much reformation is required. The difficulty is how to bring it about. W.M.

The inhabitants of Shawl, who had long suffered under the grinding yoke of the ex-chief of Khelat, had hoped for protection from the strong arm of our new Government. Their return is plunder and devastation; the party of Shah Niwaz Khan at Khelat had increased in number and strength in the same hope, and it has proved equally futile. That we are bound to make good the losses of these people is evident, that we shall have promptly to retrieve our honour is equally apparent: but the melancholy truth which prevents itself is, that our agents were rejoicing in the peace and tranquillity around them, when an organised rebellion, which has ended in revolution, was passing before them. The moral ought not to be lost.

I am of the opinion that too much has been made of the misfortune which elicited this paper. Similar misfortunes have very generally occurred to us in the first establishment of our influence in other parts of the East. Witness the occurrences at the commencement of the Nepal and Pindaree wars. A party of twenty of the Shah’s disciplined troops were destroyed on their march from Khelat to Quetta; but all the attempts of the rebels in the last mentioned place were nobly repulsed. Doubtless we shall do all in our power to relieve the suffering occasioned by the ravages of the rebels. W.M.

Adjoining Khelat to the east, we have experienced two serious disasters in the province of Cutch Gundava; but although it belongs to the King of Cabul, his majesty’s control over it has as yet been nominal, and it is not my object to dwell on anything beyond the limits of Afghanistan. As a link in our policy, however, the calamity of two detachments must not be overlooked; the effect of it may have roused into action the insurgents in Khelat – it certainly gives courage to barbarous tribes, whom it is difficult to subdue by force of arms, and who, by the fixing of one large detachment among them instead of many small ones, might have been taught to fear our power, and by that wholesome fear even by kindness and conciliation led to serve as local troops, instead of plundering and attacking us.

I know little or nothing of the proceedings of our authorities at Cutchee, and I have more than once remarked on our want of information. The district is, I believe, managed altogether as if it were a British possession. W.M.

Between Bammean and Cabul lie the districts of Koh-i-Damun and Kohistan; there are no parts of the kingdom of Cabul where the feeling towards the present regime is more hostile than here. It was in those districts that Dost Mahomed ruled them with a rod of iron. He put to death most of the chiefs, he quadrupled the revenues drawn from them; in fact he was helpless – he could not have held Cabul a week if he followed any other policy, for the Kohistanees command Cabul, and could “chappao” the city at any time if united. To sow dissension amongst them was Dost Mahomed’s policy, and in this he completely succeeded; it is the only district in the country where the name of the late ruler is execrated.

One would have supposed that here, at least, his Majesty’s government would have found favour, and the more so as the Kohistanees flocked in great number to welcome his majesty on his entrance into Cabul last year, and exhibited the strongest feelings of loyalty and devotion.

I visited in May last this country; the change that had followed was fearful; I found governors levying duties of an unusual nature; taxes demanded which his majesty had declared to be obsolete, and a great proportion of the population of the districts of Shunkendurra had actually quitted their homes and fled to the hills.

I did present the facts to his majesty. The minister, Moolah Shikore, pronounced the complaints groundless. The minister imprisoned the complainants, and after much delay, meted half justice, with which the people went to their homes, blessing his majesty.

In three weeks they returned to state that the king’s officers, in hopes of the affair having been forgotten, had exacted what his majesty had excused., and again the same process had to be gone through. At this time the feeling in Kohistan is feverish in the extreme; many more of the distant parts of it, as Tiguao and Nijrow, pay nothing to his majesty’s treasury and an j insurrection may break out at a moment’s warning, in that very part of his majesty’s dominions where circumstances have him a certainty of the most trusted subjects, and where a hatred of Dost Mahomed assured him of faithful adherents; famed too, above all the tribes in Afghanistan, for their courage and their valour.

The Kohistanees certainly did flock in great numbers to Cabul, and were well received. I have no reason to believe that they are generally not well affected, though they are proverbial for their love of turbulence and rapine. Some of their chiefs commenced correspondence with Dost Mohamed at Khollom last year, before his majesty had been a week on the throne.

The district is in Koh-i-Damun, not Kohistan. The grievance of the people was, that demands were made on them for taxes levied in the time of Dost Mahomed, but remitted on the accession of his majesty. It is not unlikely that, on hearing of Sir A Burnes’ approach, they adopted the means here described of ensuring his intercession. This instance of oppression was brought to my notice, by Sir A Burnes, at the time of its occurrence, and his majesty was much distressed when we informed him of it. But do not these, and worse than these, occur every day under native governments? The more distant parts pay nothing to his majesty, why should they rebel there? The answer is obvious – the people are naturally fractious, and addicted to intrigue and plunder. W.M.

So much for the state of affairs in the kingdom of Cabul on this day – the anniversary of our entrance into its capital. At court, I fear, we shall not find matters in a better state. Much is said of the king’s popularity; this is a subject I feel anxious to grapple with thoroughly. To me it would be very astonishing if any Afghan king who had allied himself to the Sikhs and English would be popular; it is not in the nature of things. His majesty’s successor may hope for a better share of the public favour, but Shah Shoojah must, I fear, get on without it.

The present system is not popular with some classes. The causes of this feeling I have repeatedly enumerated. The Shah himself is, I believe, personally popular with all, though he may not be able, with his limited resources, to satisfy unreasonable representations. W.M.

I would not, however, dwell much on the abstract question of unpopularity – I would rather inquire into the causes of it, if they exist, or are only imaginary. Bad ministers are, in every government, solid grounds for unpopularity; and I doubt if ever a king had a worse set than Shah Shoojah.

His principal advisor is an old servant, by the name of Moolah Shikore, who has grown grey with his majesty in exile, where he distributed, in some hundred fractional parts, the pension which the Shah received from the Company. He is not a man of family, but a Moolah; his faculties are impaired by age and disease; he once incurred his majesty’s displeasure, for which he forfeited his ears – a subject fruitful in witticism to the discontented about the court, and little calculated to elevate the representative of his majesty. So completely is the poor man’s memory gone, that he never recognises a man who he has once seen; that the commonest business requires half a dozen notes; in fact of him it may be said, that his whole business is to gather money, and to this one end his remaining faculties are applied.

Moolah Shikore passes by the name of vizier, or minister, but his majesty gets offended at his being so called, so we may presume he thinks it possible to get on without a minister. By facts which have come under my own knowledge, I shall depict the vizier’s character, and all of them can be tested by yourself. In the last winter, his notions of political economy led him to seize all the granaries around Cabul, on which he put his seal, and from which he drew forth the grain, and had it exposed for sale in the bazaar by his own officers, at a price fixed by himself.

When spring arrived, he conceived it would please his majesty to adorn the royal gardens which have been long neglected – a measure most laudable, and to a people so fond of gardens like the Cabulees, highly popular. – this was to be done gratis, and by conscription on all around the district.

The poor peasantry were dragged in hundreds from their homes at seed time, when their lands required their care, and compelled to labour without any reward. Discontent rose to such a height, that I sent to the minister, and plainly told him that he was disgracing the king and himself, and that I would no longer stand silent, as policy dictated I should on all occasions, unless he at least gave the poor wretches bread, and if he would not do it, I would next day open my treasury and supply it.

After this the workmen got two pice worth of bread per diem, while our engineering officers were paying seven times that in the adjoining garden, where our cantonments were erecting.

The next freak of this minister was to reduce the number of butcher’s shops in this populous city, and to compel these to sell at his own price, thereby ensuring a monopoly of meat to a few and injuring many. For days, the loudest complaints were uttered, till free trade was at last established. As I write, the shops in which flour is sold are now shut, the minister having turned his views from meat to bread ; and it is painful to pass through the bazaar in consequence. With such an adviser, can his majesty be popular? – do he and his minister deserve it?

I think that the picture of Moolah Shikore is rather a caricature. His only fault, I believe, lies in his age. He is thoroughly honest, and devoted to his majesty’s interests, and so scrupulous he will not allow his majesty to be cheated by others. This is the secret of much of his unpopularity. The system of forced labour is certainly not new in this country; and as for Afghan notions of political economy, we can only grieve that such things are. Sir A Burnes has himself heard me read many lectures to his majesty on this subject, and when I have prevailed on him to leave the market alone, his orders have been issued not from conviction, but from deference to my wishes. W.M>

I have spoken of the duties assigned to Oosman Khan with the revenue, and that brings me to that very important subject, and the system on which his majesty conducts it, if system it can be called, and which calls loudly for reform. The collectors of the revenue are the soldiers; they receive assignments on certain districts for their pay, and they proceed there, living at frr quarters on the community, till the peasant pays the amount of the assignment; causing thus a more fruitful harvest of dispute than any other human invention could have devised. Distant from the capital, the subject refuses to submit to such oppression, and before the snow falls, expeditions are sent forth to levy his majesty’s rights; if the snow does fall, the people defy the officers of the crown, and escape for the year. By one of these expeditions the system will be explained.

Khan Shereen Khan, the head of the Persian faction, was despatched, in the fall of the year, to the countries of Koorum and Koost, south of Suffaid Koh; he levied his majesty’s dues and lived five months, with 1800 men, at free quarters in the country! As he is a good man, he did his duty with more mildness than an Afghan, but to continue such a system must clearly alienate all the people of the country from Shah Shoojah and from us; for the force we give him ensures what, if left to himself, he could not otherwise command. Iit is therefore incumbent upon us, by sending religious men, or by demanding hostages to live at the capital, as security, to see that some other revenue arrangements be adopted; bby the present we can neither rely on the Afghan nor our own, for the former implied that if a subject paid his duties one year, he was called out to plunder the Punjab or Hindoostan the next!

One would have supposed that the system of collection here alluded to was new, instead of being introduced from time immemorial in this country. A better system will, I trust, be gradually introduced, but it is too much to expect that H.M. Should clean the Augean stable he found here, in the space of a twelvemonth. If left to himself, H.M. Could not have had recourse to any other systen. I fear the religious men would be found defaulting collectors, and the capital would not be large enough to contain hostages for all the revenue payers in the country. W.M.

But if these sentiments apply to such troops, what is to be said of a body of Sikhs, in the costume of their country, as the king’s guard in this Mahomedan capital?

A few evenings ago I was saluted by several of them with the Wajerojee ka Futteh in the very streets of Cabul. I assert, without feat of contradiction, that no Sikh (Khulsa) ever durst, in the time of the Afghan monarchy, appear thus in this city; and I further assert, that there presence here is odious to the people, and to the last degree injurious. We all know that panic and mutiny are very infectious among soldiers. If Hindoostanees successfully demand their pay with arms in their hands, what will prevent Afghan horse and foot acting likewise? – and where men are so irregularly paid, what so probable? And if it occurs, are we to bayonet and slay his majesty’s subjects, because it pleased his majesty to live beyond his means? Place these facts before any soldier, and I shall retract all these opinions, if he deems them unsound or unprofessional.”

Surely it is not desirable to perpetuate this exclusive spirit? Nor does there appear to be anything very objectionable in a Sikh making a respectful salutation, after the custom of his own country, to an English gentleman in the street of Cabul. W.M.
Sgd. Lt Col Alex. Burnes

PS 22 August 1840

The above paper was written on the 7th August, or fifteen days ago; it has been deemed too gloomy. The following events have occurred since, and if the facts enumerated were insufficient, they may serve to indicate where the truth lies.

1. Captain Hay, beyond Bameean, where all was indeed quiet, was invited to occupy some forts ahead of his position, he accepted the offer; 29 of his 100 men were wounded, and 9 killed, the party only saved from destruction by Lieutenant Hart leading two companies to the rescue!
2. Captain Macgregor sent 1500 Afghans against a place north of Jellalabad; they were defeated, lost their gun, and 100 men – 200 went over to the enemy!!
3. The Shah was going to Koh-i-Duman, thirty miles from his capital; the chiefs objected to it; he is obliged to give up his trip, and return his tents into store!!!
4. Kelat has no sooner fallen, than Beloochees have moved against Shawl again, and troops have gone down to Candahar to the rescue!!!!
5. The chiefs of Khooloom and Khoondooz have joined in a confederacy against us, and prevented Dost Mahomed coming in!!!!!
6. A conspiracy has been discovered by myself, and believed by the king and the envoy, implicating almost all the first men in Cabul and the surrounding countries in a plan to subvert the country!!!!!!
7. Letters from the Sikhs to Dost Mahomed have been intercepted, sending money!!!!!!!

With seven points of wonder I close the result of twice seven days.

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Newsnight Trash Scotland

Newsnight held an item on Scottish independence last night in which the BBC threw away any pretence at objectivity. Allegedly investigating the practicalities of independence, it ran a series of interviews with diehard unionist figures, mostly openly New Labour. The only “expert” interviewed on the economy stated that nobody could support an independent Scotland on the grounds they would be economically better off. Another “expert” opined that an independent Scotland may be kicked out of the EU, while a former New Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow said it was laughable that a country the size of Scotland could have its own army, navy and coastguard [presumably Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Portugal don’t, then].

The point is that these were not presented as pro-union views, but as “expert analysis” of the practicalities. Jeremy Paxman then tried but failed to intimidate Nicola Sturgeon, and went through a pantomime of body language and facial expression at the idea that Scotland may leave NATO and eventually get rid of the pound sterling.

The good news is that propaganda as bad and blatant as this has little effect – and indeed is counterproductive for those promoting it – in a situation where people do have access to alternative sources of information. Scotland is not Uzbekistan. A great many Scots will have watched Newsnight last night, and realised that the BBC think we are stupid.

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Breath of Fresh Air

I am in person a notably happy, I hope humorous chap, whereas this blog tends to be a relentless criticism of those who wield power. It makes a change, therefore, to note a positive development. Vestas have announced plans to open a wind turbine plant near Sheerness in Kent, bringing 2,000 much needed jobs to the area. The move is dependent, however, on the government setting out a secure long term policy framework for the development of renewable energy in this country.

That is something to which Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is genuinely wedded, and this move by Vestas will strengthen his hand against the coalition Tories and their love of oil and nuclear. Vestas deserve criticism for their fickleness, with this coming just three years after the closure of their Isle of Wight manufacturing facility, but that event was also a stunning indictment of New Labour’s lack of genuine belief in renewable energy and lack of genuine commitment to UK manufacturing industry.

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Dodging the Jackboot

The existence of super injunctions is itself an indefensible restriction on freedom. The existence of gagging orders which are themselves secret is truly sinister. It also protects only the guilty – while your prostitute shagging footballer can get it hushed up “to protect his family”, it is precisely because the things are secret that they can be attributed wrongly to innocent (in this context) people like Jemima Khan.

But we should view with deep distrust the news that the Cabinet is going to discuss reform of the law, which will include regulation of social media. This is the same Cabinet which is looking to introduce a special track university entry for the British super-rich, who will be exempt from quotas and admissions competition if they pay large sums of dosh up front. There is no doubt whose interest the Cabinet will be looking to promote if they propose legislation which covers the ability to publish information about the rich and powerful.

The good news is, that in this new age of information technology, I am confident the judges and politicians will continue to be shown to be foolish by popular circumvention of whatever clumsy mechanism they seek to intrude in the path of electronic communication.

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No End To Afghan War

A friend still in a senior position in the FCO has informed me there will be no substantive British withdrawal from Afghanistan until 2015 at the earliest. According to a strategy paper classified Secret, carried out for the Cabinet overseas and defence committee, it is essential to retain Karzai in power until his term in office ends, to restore stability to the country. While that is official paper speak, my friend (who is not enamoured of this policy) says that the real thinking is that if Karzai falls from power after our withdrawal, we will be seen to have “Lost” the war, while the overriding aim in Whitehall and in Washington is to get out in circumstances in which we can claim victory.

The official judgement is that the loyalty of Afghan government forces is at best dubious, while they remain riven by ethnic dissension and still contain a huge over-representation of Tajiks and Uzbeks, especially at officer level. In the FCO’s view, Karzai would not last for days if NATO forces withdrew and indeed would flee very quickly rather than try to retain power. He is just not interested in being in Afghanistan without a US army to sustain his looting. That rather knocks on the head the various efforts we have made for a negotiated settlement, for which we regard Karzai remaining in power as an essential outcome.

Karzai’s predecessors as modern Afghan rulers installed by foreign invaders – Shah Shujah by the British and Dr Najibullah by the Soviets – were both murdered once their sponsors left.

The coalition government in the UK apparently believes that the sharp reduction in the casualty rate among UK forces has removed public pressure for an earlier withdrawal. The Obama administration has give firm assurances to Karzai that a high level US and NATO military occupation will remain in place until after the end of his term of office.

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