Archive for December 29th, 2007

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Death of an icon

29 December, 2007

Jemima Khan may have referred to her – somewhat unkindly, I felt at the time – as a “Kleptocrat in an Hermes scarf”, but Benazir Bhutto was much more than a flawed politician.

I, too, was disappointed at her inability to advance the cause of women’s rights in Pakistan when she was Prime Minister, but she faced almost implacable oppostion by the army – an enormously powerful force in Pakistan – during her tenure. It was interesting to listen to a friend of hers on the Today programme yesterday morning, talking about how she felt that Benazir had perhaps lacked the leadership/management skills necessary to force through the changes she genuinely wanted to see.

Whatever it was that held her back from achieving all that she had set out to, Benazir Bhutto was still the first woman ever to be elected as the democratic leader of a Muslim country; an achievement in its own right, even if it owed more to notions of dynastic inheritance than meritocracy.

She was perhaps the best chance Pakistan had of bringing together the three apices of power: President, head of the army and Prime Minister, to work together against the twin scourges of extremism and poverty.

Whatever the truth of her assasination (is it just me, or does it strike you as nit-picking, to argue that the fall from the blast of a suicide bomber killed her, rather than the bullet that was aimed at her?), she will remain an icon in international politics, someone in whom the west had invested great hope, it is true, but with a core of steel that would doubtless have seen her prepared to argue with us if necessary, when it came to the country about which she cared so passionately.

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Talking to the Taliban

29 December, 2007

I bought my husband this year’s book of Matt cartoons as a stocking filler, silently acknowledging that I really wanted it for myself. I spent a pleasant half hour on Christmas Day, sitting on the sofa (ignoring the inner voice telling me to start packing the bags for our trip to Granny’s), revisiting all of my favourite cartoons from the past year.

One that struck me anew was that of the Devil skating, behind him a newspaper, bearing witness to the new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

I admit that, had you asked me three years ago whether Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness would ever be in the same building together, let alone office, I would have suggested that Hell would indeed freeze over first.

And yet, it came to pass (couldn’t resist it – influence of the season).

The situation in Northern Ireland once seemed as intractable as any other on Earth, yet proved not to be, in the end, after years of work. That that work included low-level, behind-the-scenes talks with the IRA from the outset should not surprise us.

Ultimately, the situation in Afghanistan requires a political solution, and we won’t ever achieve that unless we are prepared to talk to people we would rather avoid. History teaches us to be wary in Afghanistan, I agree, but refusing to establish lines of communication will lead us nowhere.

I can assure you, as a Service wife, that I hope we are talking to elements of the Taliban: we want a resolution to the apparently intractable problems of the region as soon as possible. We owe it to our hard-pressed Service personnel, not to expect them to stay in Helmand a moment longer than is necessary.