Monthly archives: March 2012

Delhi Delirium

I am well aware that Osborne has been redistributing money to the rich in his budget. I am also stunned by the idea that the state should see its role not as reducing regional inequality of wealth, but as reinforcing it through regional public sector pay rates.

But my days at the moment are like this. I get up at 7.30 am and after a very frugal breakfast I take a local taxi to the disastrously neglected and underfunded National Archive of India. I spend eleven hours there hastily transcribing from an enormous wealth of documents on Alexander Burnes – really beyond my wildest hopes – and then at 8.00pm the security guards kick me out, the curators having left some time ago. I get back to my budget hotel, take a light supper of imodium and activated charcoal, chat with Nadira, and then fall asleep exhausted.

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Karimovs Cash In

UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond’s visit to Tashkent on 28 February was not covered in any UK mainstream media that I can find, which is peculiar, given the media’s obsession with covering anything to do with “Our heroes” in Afghanistan. It was not really the kind of visit the state would want to publciise, with Hammond in the rather unheroic position of having his knees firmly placed on the acres of marble floor of Tashkent’s presidentiail palace, with his tongue well and truly stuck up Karimov’s arse.

NATO, including the UK, needs to transit Uzbekistan to get its 14,000 vehicles out of Afghanistan, having well and truly queered the pitch of an exit through Pakistan by a decade of bombing the locals. The Karimov family had already made hundreds of millions in profit through a monopoly of providing haulage and logistical services to supplies going in to Afghanistan. With NATO’s demoralised forces sitting on an incredibly large stockpile of materiel in effect stuck in the country as the utterly fruitless occupation ends, the Karimovs are in a position to ramp up extortion.

That will not only involve huge cash payments going to the Karimov family from the British taxpayer, disguised as transit fees, railway charges, fuel provision etc. It will also include a raft of political demands. Karimov had already in 2011 secured the ending of EU sanctions, and the international respectability he craves for his regime through an official visit to Brussels and call on EU President Barroso.

Now as a condition of facilitating our retreat, Karimov is insisting on a full visit to Tashkent by David Cameron in 2013 or 2014, a state visit by Karimov to the UK in 2015 and acceptance of Gulnara Karimova as Uzbek Ambassador in London. He is also keen to acquire a variety of state of the art UK weapons and surveillance systems for use against his own people. The strong steer from No 10 is that these Karimov demands will have to be accepted.

There is an excellent video here of Scott Horton being interviewed by Galima Burkabaeva on the subject of the kelptocratic Karimov state. Galima was an eyewitness to the Andijan massacre of 2005, in which Karimov’s military murdered some 800 pro-democracy demonstrators. Galima herself only just got away, a bullet passing clean through her reporter’s notebook.

Nice friends Mr Hammond has.

(Am currently in Delhi).

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A New Goethe Needed

The Peacock Throne of the Mughal Emperors was set at the heart of beautiful gardens, fountains and elegant courtyards. Poetry was as important to them as warfare. On the throne was set the inscription: “If there be heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.”

I am in Dubai. If there be hell on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here. Dubai. The land that taste forgot. Apparently designed to gather together as many as possible of the nastiest people from all continents, and give them anything their heart desires. I am sure, if you could just find the right person to chuck a spare million, you could make a snuff movie starring one of the unfortunate little Sri Lankans or Central Asians who are everywhere, doing all the work, but apparently invisible. Then you could go to a Spa.

It is as though someone had given Jordan a trillion dollars and a million slaves and invited her to construct the city of her dreams. For those who believe that consumption is the purpose of life, this is the new Mecca. I think I can sum it up best by saying that I am continually expecting to see Tony and Cherie come round the corner, followed by Mandy, Nat Rothschild, Deripaska and Gulnara. I met nicer people and my soul was less disturbed up country in the middle of the Sierra Leone civil war. My God, I want to get out of here, burn all my clothes and shower for a week.

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Beyond Irony

The videos of both my speech and my interview at the Berlin Freedom of Expression Forum have been taken down. This is not an accident. All the other speeches and all the other interviews are still there. Both series have been renumbered to hide the fact that someting has been removed.

Given that my talk was about censorship and exclusion of whistleblowers, and the lack of genuine freedom in western societies to explain an alternative policy narrative, it is hard for words adequately to describe the apparent behaviour here. The full title of the event was “Censorship and Freedom in Traditional and New Media: The Revolution of Media as a Tool of Freedom of Expression “.

I have written to the organisers to ask what is happening. It is conceivable there is an innocent explanation, though the removal from different places of both the speech and the interview seems hard to explain. Once I hear back from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I will let you know. I do not intend to let this lie.


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Afghanistan: Mainstream Media Awakes

This morning Sam Kiley, Sky News’ security correspondent, stated bluntly that the large bulk of Afghan heroin and opium production is controlled by members of the Karzai government.

That is a simple truth, and I have been publishing it repeatedly on this blog for the last six years, but it runs absolutely contrary to what has been an extraordinary and monolithic mainstream media narrative. The insistence for ten years by an almost unanimous mainstream media that it is the Taliban who contol the drugs trade has been perhaps the most remarkable example of a massive organised lie in modern media history. The question of how a false narrative like that becomes an accepted mainstream “truth” is a key element in control of the state by a rapacious elite using the brainwashing tcapabilities of modern mass communication.

The truly remarkable thing is the truth has somehow broken through. Then today in Parliament David Winnick, opposition defence spokesman, actually stated directly tthat people know longer believe that the presence of our troops in Afghanistan somehow protects us from terrorism, but rather might tend to inspire hatred of the UK.

Again, a blindingly obvious truth that I have been proclaiming for a decade. But absolutely not admissible as an argument on moanstream media in that period, and a truth whose denial was the dedicated work of Winnick’s party when it was in government.

The counter-productive and ruinously expensive nature of the Afghan War is something a high proportion of people fully understood even when they were never reinforced in their understanding by seeing that view reflected in “mainstream media”. Tens of thousands of children have died while arms suppliers and mercenary commanders got very rich. The last nine to be slaughtered in their beds have helped jolt people in the media and politics to talk some semblance of sense at last.

Urinating on dead Afghans, burning Korans and a nighttime killing spree are not the problem; they are symptoms of the problem. A vicious occupation by religious antagonists who repeatedly and continually launch massive violence on civilians, with the intent of imposing by force elements of an alien culture while establishing a massively corrupt and despised puppet government, is not a viable long term project. There is no way to undo the past. The best thing to do now is leave.

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Berlin Conference

This speech in Berlin was to an interesting conference on freedom of expression at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy. It proved useful in forcing me to pull together an overview of my current thoughts on events of the last year or so.

You can find video of other speakers here.

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I was going to entitle this blog post “The Trouble With Nigeria”, but that would require a book not a blog. Probably several volumes.

I spent four years of my life in Nigeria, and one reason I seldom blog about it is that I do not wish to upset my many Nigerian friends, who tend to find my views unpalatable (and it is their country, not mine).

It is only in recent years that I have come to the view that so many of the problems of the world come from colonial boundaries. If the 20th century was The Age of the Nation State – and I think that characterisation has merit – then so many of those nation states, arguably the majority, are defined by frontiers imposed by colonial outsiders. Often the ethnic and social ties of the inhabitants were among the least important factors in the minds of the colonialists carving up maps.

But the extraordinary thing is the way that entirely artificial national boudaries work, in the sense of creating national loyalties. Ethnic Ewes view themselves as first or foremost Ghanaian or Togolese, and indeed speak different official languages from their cousins in the next village. The creation of independent nations in Central Asia from deliberately unworkable borders (a power ploy by Stalin) is sufficiently recent for the genuine taking hold of strong national loyalties, cutting across ethnicity and geography, to be able to have been closely studied – the work of Olivier Roy is fascinating.

The title of The Catholic Orangemen of Togo takes an amusing example of the distortion on peoples of colonial legacy in Africa, but the book considers much more serious ones.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and the hostage killings today result directly from tensions arising from Nigeria’s entirely artificial colonial borders. This is going to upset my Nigerian friends, but unfortunately the forcing together by the British of the Sultanate of Sokoto, Emirate of Kano, half of the territories of the Lamido of Adamawa etc with the Kingdom of Benin, and the Yoruba confederation, with the Ibo and other chieftaincies and at least sixty other ethnicities, was always an extraordinary and perilous construct.

I described the government of Nigeria in The Catholic Orangemen as a simple pump, by which military controlled governments dominated by Northern generals moved cash relentlessly and only northwards, from the populous and productive South to the comparatively empty and barren North. The demands of “Democracy” required a whole history of ludicrously false censuses and electoral registers to negate the obvious truth, that the South is vastly, vastly more populous than the North.

Two southern Presidents in a row – Obasanjo and Jonathan – have reduced the permanent flow of money northwards. Not stopped, but reduced. Most of that wealth anyway ended up in London or Geneva, but it did have some social spread in the Northern populations. That has also reduced, and that is why the violence by Northern based terrorist groups has increased. It has nothing to do with Al Qaida, despite the nonsense on our television screens.

I have not here discussed the terrible effect of oil in promoting the World’s worst corruption, or the currency overvaluation that destroyed a once great agricultural economy. I have not discussed the resulting urban flight, despair and poverty, or the corrosive effect of a totally corrupt elite in encouraging a whole urban society to view fraud as the normal means of transaction. I have not covered the dignity of the remaining rural population, the despoilation of the oil areas, or the greater social cohesion of Northern society. You can learn a little on each in The Catholic Orangemen (the purchase button on the right is working again). Chinua Achebe remains indispensable to understanding.

I am dreadfully sorry for the dead construction workers, British and Italian. But the heart of the matter is a false colonial national construct.

My Nigerian friends are proud of their country, but I am afraid to say Nigeria’s existence a a single entity is a great British error.

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NHS Privatisation

An excellent posting here on the “lawmakers” who stand to make money out of turning over the NHS to private profit.

Is it fair to call this privatisation? The NHS will continue to be funded by taxpayers, but the primary motivation of those supplying the medical services will no longer be care or public service but private shareholder or partner profit, and the percentage of the taxpayers’ money paid for the NHS which ends up as shareholder or partner profit will exponentially increase. NHS hospitals will be allowed to give 49% of their beds over to private patients. I think it is fair to call this privatisation.

But it is also worth remembering that this process of the “marketisation” of the NHS was given a massive boost by New Labour in the 2006 Health Act under Blair and Milburn. As the research I linked to above makes plain, as usual all three neo-con parties are absolutely in it together. Maybe that’s what “We’re all in this together” really means.

What they are all in is the trough.

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Pointless Death

There is something extraordinarily pointless about the death of six British soldiers today at the fag end of a war which we have lost, the purpose of which is long since vanished. Of course Afghans die daily in this war, which is not meaningless for most of them as it involves ridding their country of an extremely unwelcome and alien occupying force. Each death is a tragedy, but we can be forgiven for being most immediately struck by the deaths of our own.

I will set off for India in a week on the next stage of my research for my biography of Alexander Burnes, including his own terribly wasteful death in the First Afghan War. In 1840 and 41 the British Army fought two pretty reasonable battles in just the area of Helmand where the six new deaths have occurred. Both were similar affairs, with British forces numbering over 2,000, including artillery, cavalry and infantry, defeating much larger forces of Pashtun tribesmen. The artillery was criticial. Both tactical successes had no effect at all on the eventual disastrous result of the British occupation, which achieved nothing but death.

We are in alliance with an Afghan government and army dominated by Northen Alliance warlords, plus the renegade Karzai clan of Pashtuns, fighting on the losing side of a civil war to support a massively corrupt government, which is incompetent only in that we have a total misunderstanding of what it is trying to achieve. The purpose of the Afghan government is to use NATO forces to enforce a temporary monopoly of power by the warlords who control the government. This will enable them as long as it lasts to loot billions in aid money and control the booming heroin trade. Then when NATO leave, so will they with their billions.

Seen in this light, its own light, the Afghan government is extraordinarily efficient. It is only incompetent if you imagine its purpose is to establish western governmental institutions, the rule of law, schools, roads etc. It has no intention of doing any of that, except where a little bit of actual development is required to keep lootable aid funds flowing.

There will be no long – or even medium – term effects of our occupation, except for even greater ingrained hatred of the West in the Afghan population.

I wonder who will be the next soldier to die for that?

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Sometimes the horror of the abuse of power in the world just seems to close in, and I want to run away from the toil of blogging against it. To rage against the dying of the light is indeed noble; but also energy-sapping, and the light dies anyway.

Where do I begin? Not content with giving over the entire NHS budget to be plundered for private profit, the police service is now being privatised. The use of coercive force against its citizenry is the ultimate sanction of the state and must in a civilised society only be exercised with utmost restraint and control. Of course, in the last twenty years the British and US states have moved fast towards the use of fatal force against foreigners for profit, in their wild embrace of companies of mercenary killers. So while shocking, it is hardly surprising that politicians seek to find profit for their paymasters in use of state force against their own citizens. It makes you wonder whether anything the government can do would be so shocking as to wake the public from the lull of Simon Cowell or the Sun on Sunday. I fear in truth they could shoot asylum seeker children on the streets without the bulk of the population lifting a finger.

Then we have Obama on his knees before AIPAC, accepting his marching orders and promising that the US will participate if Israel decides to attempt to launch Armageddon. Are there no US taxpayers out there, unbesotted by religous fanatacism, who find it humiliating to have their national leader so obviously powerless and crawling before the Israeli lobby? Given that it is the US which funds Israel, and not vice versa, it is all very peculiar. Or is it simply that the US taxpayer funds Israel, but Israel funds US politicians, thus Israel is simply a de facto pimp in the diversion of taxpayers money into politicians’ pockets?

We then have the very largely state owned Natwest Bank increasing mortgage rates on households whose real incomes were already falling, with all the media politely reporting that this is due to higher rates Natwest is having to pay for inter-bank borrowing. Which is to ignore the tens of billions free cash Natwest has received through first bailout then quantitative easing, and their recent access to effectively as much as they wanted from the European Central Bank at just 1%.

I am not a fan of Putin; the real democratic deficit in Russia comes not from the bussing and vote-rigging, without which Putin would have probably scraped over 50% anyway, but in the lack of media access for the opposition and the use of state resources effectively to campaign for Putin. But how different is that from what happens in the UK anyway? How much airtime do voices against the war in Afghanistan get? Or against the bank bailouts?

One cheerful moment, on last night’s Newsnight. Jeremy Paxman actually challenged the Israeli Ambassador, who seemed keen to attack Iran, over Israel’s nuclear weapons. First time in years I heard such a thing on the BBC.

Then when the Israeli Ambassador replied “Israel is not the one threatening to attack other countries” Paxman replied “You just discussed attacking Iran”.

All of which is entirely obvious, but almost totally absent from broadcast media.

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