The Mound

Recorded and Knit together by WS

Walking across Hyde Park from Knightsbridge, clocking in those steps to bring me close to my allotted healthy number, I reached Marble Arch and for a moment couldn’t find it.

Marble Arch Obscura

Hyde Park is comfortably London, full of geese and people but that is not enough for the hop-on and hop-off tourist busses that wait – not too hopefully – by the roadside at Marble Arch. The Arch, long ago dumped here, has now been squashed by The Mound that has been built beside it and sits like a giant turd making the poor Arch look quite tiny and shabby. Marble Arch was built to be a state entrance to Buckingham Palace but didn’t fit and so was moved to its place at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street, close to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. The the best thing about ‘Marble Arch Mound’ is that it is a temporary ‘pop-up’ though no-one is saying when it will pop-down. Like any pop-up the goal is to encourage the now non-existent tourists to pay up, climb up, look down and empty their pockets in the shops below. The cost to build the mound ballooned from 2.5 million pounds to over six million. “I resign!” said a Westminster City Council deputy minister, but that isn’t going to help The Mound go away.

The Mound

Does its conception, its construction, speak in a oblique way of England today? Covering something that is not fit for purpose, The Marble Arch itself, that eventually found a happy placement, is now surrounded by detritus and foolishness – rather similar to what we see at the other end of town in Westminster.

Now that everyone has returned from their holidays to watch over the evacuation of foreign nations and afghans from Kabul the Prime Minister has slid off to the G7 Summit leaving the British Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow to ‘carry on’.

Very Busy Dominic Raab

The lucky few, those who can afford it, tripped off to Spain where the sun was scorching and the mosquitoes bit, much like England’s Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, who was found sunning himself in fashionable Crete and not picking up the brought-to-your-lounger telephone to answer a call from his Afgan counterpart. The quickly put-together photo shoot of Raab behind his big desk, English and Chinese flags flying, one hand gripping the big chair, the other holding his telephone, looking earnestly at the computer screen are fooling no-one. 

Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was ordered to stay in Kabul while the rest of the UK embassy staff and their families left on Friday night. We see and hear only the English and American struggles but there are other countries whose presence in Afganistan is no longer welcome and they too are trying to get their people out.

Kilgore in the Morning

“I want my men out of there. Now.” Says Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. Raab is no Kilgore. 

The implosion of western forces in Afghanistan, the walk-through of the Taliban takeover of their country’s government, remains a debortle of immense proportions. So many stories of terror render most of us sick with helpless heartache at this moment of suffering caused by each and every one of us. No wonder there was a full house when Boris recalled the government last week. More ruffled than usual – not quite taking in that everyone was really calling for his blood – his bluster could not cover his bemusement. And when the past Prime Minister, Teresa May, stood up to speak she was heard, even as some of us blinked at her dress of bright Conservative Blue caped in Mourning black. But there were others, retired but young military men now serving their country in another way, ashamed of their government. For a moment I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe one of them could step forward and possibly lead this country into some new beginnings.

Where are the hyenas hiding in those benches? But here comes Tony Blair, wearing the wise elder-statesman look with slightly too-long silver hair as he shakes his head smiling ruefully, ‘Why can’t you pull yourselves out of the hole I dug for you?’

Holes for whole countries are one thing, traps for individuals are another. The Weekend Financial Times newspaper has a weekly column, “Lunch with the FT.” which during COVID has all been virtual. But this weeks interview took place in Warsaw, Poland where journalist Magdalena Miecznicka met with the defected sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and her husband. Because poison is a weapon of choice for Russian and therefore Belarusian authorities only Magdalena was eating. The story that 24 year-old Krystsina tells is harrowing, from her first realization that someone is trying to remove her from Tokyo and return her to a mental hospital in Minsk. Her grandmother tells her not to return to Belarus and her husband escaped to the Ukraine before Poland. She was escorted from the Olympic Village by a psychiatrist and a Belarusian committee official to Tokyo’s Haneda airport where she was saved by an app on her phone. Typing in ‘I need help they are trying to take me out of the country by force.’ and translating it from Russian to Japanese, she reached an airport policeman who took her to safety. Magdalena’s article is quietly compelling, mixing Borsch soup with Poland and Belarus and all that it means to suddenly leave your country, your home with as many of your family as are able. Krystsina’s parents escaped but what will happen to her grandmother? We go from one story to many as in these Afghan days, another wave of desperate immigration carries fearful repercussions for the families left behind. 

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

A Dereliction of Duty

Recorded and knit together by WSM

“On an extraordinary scale”, said Major Gen Charlie Herbert, who served three tours in Afghanistan between 2007-2018. “It is almost impossible to believe that the Prime Minister departed on holiday on Saturday; he should hang his head in shame.” 

Again – I might add, as we continue shaking our heads at the inconceivable conceit of this government while trying to wrap our minds around the suffering, fear and deaths that are taking place in Afganistan this week.

It came quickly, to those who have been diverted from the Middle East by relief at getting through the Tokyo Olympics with some honour, and then the helpless sadness at the latest earthquake destruction in Haiti with the number of dead reaching 1500 and Storm Grace closing in on the country. I think back on the young firemen from California who flew in to help in the last earthquake and pray another wave are willing to take on that relay baton. 

Throughout the summer the BBC gives trial runs to hopeful new young newscasters. So on Sunday night a lovely young woman smiles her way through the news from Afganistan before going live to Kabul. But Secunder Kermani, the BBC’s Afganistan correspondent was not there. In his place is a clearly nervous, Malik Mudassir who has a hard time staying focused on the camera. Afganistan is the third most dangerous country for news reporters. The BBC reporter Ahmad Shah, was killed in the province of Khosa, earlier this year on a day which left nearly 40 people dead.

Ahmad Shah reporting

This evacuation remains a withdrawal of shambolic proportions that is ever changing as I write. There is no captain of the ship. No brave president Ashraf Ghani staying until the last. Ghani is gone. The Kabul airport seems to have been allocated an international zone and over 60 countries are operating from makeshift desks and computers at that site. The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, is there helping to process visa applications for over 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans. Dominic Raab’s office said the evacuation efforts will continue for “as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so”. Cordoned off by the US troops this area of the airport is – for the moment – a safe haven for some. There are literally thousands of citizens from countries around the world, each that held a little presence, for their own ‘special interests’ in Afganistan, now clamoring to reach the airport and a plane. Like players on a monopoly board, they are now all ready to sell their stock for a flight out of the country. Except for the Russian and Chinese embassies. They are staying in town for informal chats with the Taliban leaders as they form a new government. Russian’s Presidential envoy to Afganistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that Moscow would decide on recognizing the new Taliban government based “on the conduct of the new authorities.” Vladimir must be chuckling at the debortle that his ‘Lets make a deal’ orange puppet offered last May. Like a patient fisherman he can just keep warm, sitting on the banks of this river of history, watching his line bob and duck under the rippled water that is Afganistan today. History, repeating again, from the Coup of 1953 in Iran through to this moment. With Joe Biden’s stance, can or will America and western countries keep their sticky fingers out of other peoples pies? It is doubtful.

But it is possible that when Boris Johnson said, “There is no military solution to the ‘problems’ in Afganistan’ he may have been saying – finally – a long-overdue truth, in all senses of the word. In August, when the country ‘shuts up shop’ and goes on holiday, there is usually a flurry of silly activity to find the Prime Minister on his or her holiday and, in the best English journalistic way, make a mockery of their chosen hideaway. But this year all was strangely quiet. And now we know why. Both the Prime Minister and the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, popped off for their summer holidays at the same time on Saturday. Johnson to Somerset, and Raab was in Cyprus until Sunday, hours before the fall of Kabul. Neither had showed up for work for over a week. Boris Johnson’s departure on Saturday, despite public warnings the Taliban would be in Kabul within hours, has been soundly criticized as a “dereliction of duty” by former senior military and security figures and may well cost him those deep conservative votes and pockets he counts on.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, appeared to choke up as he spoke of his regret that “some people won’t get back”.

The Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen called into the BBC, live on air “There will be no revenge  on the people of Afghanistan. We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power. We assure the people of Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe – there will be no revenge on anyone. We are the servants of the people and of this country.”

Spokesman Suhail Shakeen. Photo from the Daily Express

On the Sunday night news screen, a middle-aged Afganistan woman, a teacher – of girls – spoke with bewilderment at her new reality, “I thought I was doing good, teaching.” On a phone from an empty room she looks about thoughtfully, now unsure what will become of her. And neither are we as posters and billboards depicting women in places of influence are blacked out throughout the cities of Afganistan.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com