Stories written by Owen Bennett-Jones

Big Little Lies

Pakistan has had plenty of genuine conspiracies. The assassinations of Liaquat Ali Khan, Gen Zia and Benazir Bhutto were all planned and plotted — and yet no one was brought to justice. Hidden hands have influenced elections and jihadis have been given secret funds. In such cases conspiracy theories seem entirely appropriate. Even so, there is a national tendency to explain just about any event by way of a conspiracy theory. With the dreary, and more often than not, unenlightening phrase ‘who benefits?’, people claim to be able to see the schemes behind the most mundane happenings.

Mutual Discontent

Western countries Britain amongst them have a tendency to tell Pakistan what to do. For years the cry was `do more! against the Taliban. And when Pakistan did eventually do more, there came `more still! It sometimes seems as if the West has a view on each and every area of Pakistani life. `Close down radical madressahs! `Dismantle the hawala system!` `Build more schools!` `Introduce family planning! `Chuck the Afghan Taliban leadership out of Quetta!` And so on. Many of these ideas have merit. But what would happen if Pakistan responded in kind. What would it tell the British to do? For many Pakistanis, the most pressing demand would be for British action on the MQM. For years now, they complain, the MQM leader Altaf Hussain, secure in his London home, has yelled threats down the phone line to rallies and other events in Karachi.After decadesof Britishinactivity, the rising number of complaints from Pakistanis, many of whom directly contacted Scotland Yard, has resulted in a longrunning hate speech investigation as well as another into possible incitement to violence.

Threat Perceptions

Here — in alphabetical order — are six countries that have considerable involvement in Pakistan: Afghanistan, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Clueless in Iraq

For many Americans and Brits the 2003 Iraq war is seen as not only a disaster for Iraq and its neighbours but also as a defeat of the US and UK forces. The recently published Chilcot inquiry lends its considerable weight to this view. It went so far as to describe the circumstances in which the British pulled out of Basra, after negotiating a deal with a local militia there, as “humiliating”.

Military March

A British politician, Enoch Powell, once remarked all the political careers end in failure. Richard Nixon may have reached the White House but later, as he looked back on his life, his reputation lay in ruins. Margaret Thatcher may have vanquished all her opponents but eventually they forced her out. Powell was right in part because the politicians` promises are always so lavish they can never be kept.