Musharraf, our son of a bitch
President Musharraf’s exit had become inevitable, but in recent months Pakistan has become considerably more volatile. Now that his relatively benign dictatorship has come to an end, it risks becoming even more so, writes Kishwer Falkner. We will miss him.
Of particular concern to the west is the increasing Talibanisation of Pakistan’s border regions, where al Qaeda is also now well established. This is bad news for Nato’s effort to stabilise Afghanistan. And Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) is once again suspected of giving covert support to radical Islamists. In western intelligence circles, it is widely believed that the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in July was the work of the ISI. And the elected Pakistani government’s recent attempt to render the agency more accountable was retracted within hours, raising fears that it is running its own agenda.
Now that Musharraf is gone, the electoral college can get on with choosing his successor. But the president’s departure has not made domestic politics any more stable either. Key issues will be sidelined as the two main parties jockey for position in anticipation of fresh elections, triggered if either party leaves their uneasy coalition. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N is expected to do well next time, thanks to his superior political skills, hence the cheer among Islamists at Musharraf’s departure.
The west’s Pakistan strategy has been unravelling ever since Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December, and is yet to be replaced with anything meaningful. For Musharraf, Henry Kissinger’s aphorism about “our son of a bitch” might turn out to be a suitable epitaph after all.
Just as the left seems to have stopped lusting after the Swedish model, the right’s interest is swelling, writes Johan Wennström. Madeleine Bunting argued recently in the Guardian that Britain should not “import the Nordic way.” Societies like Sweden, she said, are built on a dangerously inhibiting egalitarian code which obliges everyone to work together. The fact that Bunting misspelled the name for this code (Jantelagen) perhaps suggests that her knowledge of the subject is limited. But while the left may be giving up on the Swedes, it seems it’s now the right’s turn to cherry-pick from the model. The Spectator’s political editor Fraser Nelson is often found praising the Swedish free market in eduction. But has he noticed that top-rate income taxes in Sweden are over 50 per cent? Hardly something to set the Tory conference alight.
Image, below: Peruvian inmates wearing joker costumes line up next to a prison guard during a ceremony marking “Resocialisation day” at the Castro prison in Lima, 11th July 2008
Capitalising on the widespread acclaim for his first two books, on 9th September Barack Obama will bring out a third: Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise. While his first two tomes were visionary in scope, this one will carry detailed proposals on healthcare, energy and national security; an answer to critics who claim he lacks substance.
The only problem is that Obama didn’t actually write the book. He has penned the foreword, but the rest is a compilation of his speeches, and articles written by his campaign team. Obama does not even own the contract for the book; it is held between Crown, a division of Random House, and his presidential campaign. As such, all review requests must be directly approved by the campaign, and no copies will be sent out to critics until the date of sale (by which time the e-book will already have been released). Neither are the rights being sold anywhere outside the US, much to the chagrin of Edinburgh-based Canongate, which published Obama’s previous books in Britain.
Less than a day after AP announced the book’s release, in mid-August, it had reached the top 75 on Amazon.com—not bad for a set of recycled policy proposals. Obama’s stock, it seems, has soared so much that his publicists can dictate their own terms—and he no longer needs to bother writing his books himself.
So now it looks as if we are going to have three factions vying for power within the inner sanctum of No 10. There are the old Brown loyalists—Sue Nye (who, on account of being married to super-rich Gavyn Davies, is paid only a nominal salary), Ian Austin, Damian McBride and so on. Then there are the technocrats, brought in a few months ago when everything started going pear-shaped—in particular Stephen Carter and Jeremy Heywood. But the latest gossip is that Brown’s old Edinburgh friend Wilf Stevenson is going to be moving in too, perhaps to hold the ring between the two other factions. Stevenson has spent the last ten years setting up and running the Smith Institute, the centre-left think tank which has faced a long investigation from the Charity Commission for allegedly being too close to Gordon Brown. The commission recently decreed that the Smith Institute was not, after all, Gordon’s in-house research body—so it may not be too thrilled to discover that Stevenson’s next move is to No 10.
A final stand
The tragic loss of playwright Simon Gray, who died on 7th August, came just weeks after a controversial interview in Standpoint magazine in which he attacked the National Theatre for being afraid to criticise Islam. A bold, original voice has been lost. Having noted the mysterious departure of Standpoint’s publisher in our last issue, however, it pains us to record that the last three weeks have seen an ad doing the rounds for an “art director/designer” at the same publication. Is the task of defending western civilisation starting to take a costly toll?
China’s Olympic absentees
Officially, tickets for every single Beijing Olympic event were sold out. Yet there were some remarkably vast patches of vacant seating at many key occasions. The problem, wise heads in the blogosphere have suggested, is China’s particular vulnerability to a habit that blights many major sports: bigwigs being given seats they won’t fill. Central to business in China is the notion of guanxi—an informal principle of mutual relationships based on favours and “face.” Countless officials will have been given tickets for events, and will in turn have passed them on to friends and associates. By the unwritten rules of guanxi, recipients can’t turn down such gifts, even if they hate sport. So they accept—and then stay at home.
Spare a thought, though, for competitors in the equestrian events, hosted by Hong Kong—one of the world’s great horse racing cities, but an Olympic ingénue. Many fans, used to a rather faster pace, walked out halfway through competitions like dressage. “It was boring,” complained one. “The horses just walk around.”
We aim to astound
As Thomas Gradgrind puts it in Hard Times, “Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts…Stick to Facts, sir!” But, as I’ve learned in my six years compiling the “In fact” column for Prospect, a fact can be a very slippery object, writes Tom Nuttall. Shorn of context, it can lend undeserved authority to a shoddy opinion; combined with other artfully selected particulars, it can crowd out dissent. Yet for the most part, we tend to revere facts; they drive scientific development, they fuel political debate.
“In fact” traces its ancestry to the very first issues of Prospect—and, like the magazine itself, it cleaves to no particular ideology beyond a desire to draw attention to the original, the provocative and the stimulating. To coincide with our 150th issue, it thus seems fitting that we’re able to present a compendium of our facts to date—the book, pictured on the left, is published by Preface on 4th September. You’ll find details of a reader offer on page 45 and, to the left, of a suitably fact-themed competition.
To celebrate the launch, Prospect plans to organise a special pub quiz, complete with celebrity chairperson, to test our friends’ and readers’ mastery of the finer points of all things factual. Details will be announced on our website, so keep your eyes peeled. And if your appetite for miscellaneous information remains unsated, you’ll be able to browse plenty more online after 4th September at our dedicated new fact-site, www.infact.org.uk
In Fact…the competition
To celebrate the launch of In Fact, we’re giving away five copies for the five best reader submissions to the “In fact” column—all of which we’ll publish in October. To enter, email your fact, its source and date to email@example.com, plus your name and address, by 16th September.
Jobs for the Brits
Now that global credit has officially crunched, the British press has been falling over itself to report gloom, writes Harvey Cole. Unemployment, headlines tell us, reached 1.67m this June, an increase of 80,000 since the start of the year. What nearly every newspaper has failed to report, however, is that over the same period the number of people in employment rose to a total of 29.56m—the highest since records began in 1971. The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance was also lower in June than a year ago, and was just over half its 1997 level. Still, we mustn’t let data get in the way of bad news.