Donald Macintyre's Sketch: A reassuringly evasive statement, Mr Hague
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt.
Tuesday 04 February 2014
So a “military officer” as William Hague repeatedly described him – or the “distinguished SAS major” as the ex-military Tory MP Adam Holloway put it more bluntly – did, with Margaret Thatcher’s approval, advise the Indians in February 1984 on how they might end the stand-off at the Golden Temple.
But the bloody operation that took place three months later was very different from the one he envisaged.
It did not involve helicopter-borne forces, as he had advised, for speed and “to minimise casualties” or an “element of surprise”, but a ground operation “supported by armour and light artillery” – with which, Hague affirmed, the UK’s officer’s advice was “not consistent”.
No one does a Commons statement more reassuringly than Hague. And he was as conscious as anyone (it was striking how seriously MPs in all parties take the concerns of their Sikh constituents) that the “tragic loss of life” at Amritsar 30 years ago “remains a source of deep pain to Sikhs everywhere”.
That said, there remained what his opposite number Douglas Alexander called “serious questions”. Some, but not quite all of which, were asked today.
One of the sharpest, from Labour’s Geoffrey Robinson and Jeremy Corbyn, concerned the files which Sir Jeremy Heywood’s report reveals were destroyed in November 2009 (under Labour) by the Ministry of Defence as part of a “routine process”. Saying – as he did repeatedly – that this was Sir Jeremy’s report, not his, Hague added that this issue could be considered by a new review of document releases by Sir Alex Allan, a former Joint Intelligence Committee chairman. As well it should be.
Among unasked questions were how – maybe this is frivolous rather than “serious” – Sir Jeremy’s team managed to trawl though 23,000 documents, declassifying a few, in under a month, when it is taking so long to do the same with those required by the Chilcot Inquiry on Iraq. And no one asked about his confirmation that the original documents revealing UK advice to the Indians were “inadvertently” released back in January. Which presumably means that if someone hadn’t slipped up, we wouldn’t have known about any of this in the first place.
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