Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Priyanka and Post 2015 Goals

Priyanka Chopra appeared yesterday at a United Nations function in Mumbai to launch the mobile phone app of the manipulative "One World Survey."

The OWS is manipulative because it pretends to be consulting people on international development priorities but actually excludes from its list of six anodyne goals all serious problems afflicting development. 

Predictably, of the six choices offered by the OWS, "the votes so far have indicated" strongest support for "better education" followed closely by "better job opportunities" and "better healthcare.

Quite oblivious to the snake oil she was peddling, Priyanka twittered prettily on about how the Survey was meant for "the most marginalized communities in India," how it was "truly groundbreaking" that with a simple phone call "people can take a virtual seat at the UN to participate in a global conversation on a road-map for the future," and how "for the first time I feel we have an opportunity at hand to think ahead, think together yet individually and have a truly impactful plan for a future without poverty and suffering."

A collection of UN local brass with truly Dickensian names (Grande, Arsenault, Pimple) chimed in appreciatively.

If anyone is able to use the phone app to write in new goals, I suggest the following:
  • Make Tax havens illegal. They have drained trillions of dollars from poor countries.
  • Legitimize all "illicit drugs" so as to drive organized crime out of the racket and cut the largest source of funds flowing into Tax Havens (about $500 billion annually).
  • Rich countries should stop taxing the products of poor more than they do that of other affluent nations.
  • Rich countries should stop paying billions of dollars in subsidies to their own farmers and thereby making it impossible for farmers in poor countries to survive.
  • Rich countries should not insist that their "development aid" is spent on their own companies and supplies.
  • UN documents should not lie about the causes of "resource wars" in developing countries; the truth might stop rich countries backing their corporate interests in violent conflicts that have killed millions of poor people.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Grim End of Creepy Crawly

I reproduce below a shocking story headlined "From stenography to journalism—Ashish Khetan" by an unnamed "Special Correspondent in The Hindu of 23 May. 

"While the rest of the crime reporters were busy taking down what the police or Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) was putting out in Mumbai, journalist Ashish Khetan formerly with Tehelka, says he struck out on his own to go beyond the official versions of “terrorists”and terror cases. His year-long investigation into three major cases of bomb blasts has exposed horrific truths about the way in which the ATS, the Maharashtra police and police from other states have functioned with impunity and virtually condemned and tortured 21 young men because they were Muslims.

"Khetan’s investigative journalism portal aptly named Gulail (or slingshot in English) has “ unearthed internal documents from more than half a dozen anti-terror agencies that show that the State has been knowingly prosecuting innocent Muslims for terror cases and keeping the evidence of their innocence from the courts.”

"At a press conference on Wednesday to present his investigation and screen a film with candid interviews of accused Muslim men, Mr Khetan also said he had sent a letter petition to the Bombay high court with nearly 400 pages of evidence in the form of official investigation and interrogation reports of the accused men and other documents which clearly indicate huge discrepancies. The petition said that his research into the July 11, 2006, train blasts, the Malegaon 2006 blasts and the Pune German Bakery blasts of February 2010 show that the ATS has deliberately created bogus evidence, extracted false confessions by the most inhuman torture, planted explosives in the houses of the young men and implicated innocent youth. In the name of internal security, the ATS and other agencies were misleading the courts, Khetan said.

"Senior police officials have been named by the young men in their interviews, where they speak of torture and abuse and pressure to turn approver for large sums of money. A senior police officer even expressed his helplessness and said it was important for them to find some accused since they were unable to crack the case. There are different versions of the same case notably Malegaon 2006 where the NIA has just filed a chargesheet. Seven of the nine men arrested earlier were released on bail in 2011.

"Khetan said he wasn’t out to prove anyone’s guilt but expose the farcical criminal investigation which also reflected deepset anti Muslim prejudice. What is serious is that one of these men Himayat Baig has been given the death sentence for the Pune German Bakery blasts when clearly police had found evidence of another man’s involvement. The case of Qateel Sheikh who died in a high security Pune prison just before he was to testify in a Delhi court is no longer a mystery going by what Khetan’s documents show. The ATS arrested Himayat Baig from Udgir and claimed he had carried out the German Bakery blast. However, a year later the Delhi police arrested Qatil Siddiqui and Interrogation Reports obtained by Khetan show he is linked to the Pune blast. These reports were not produced in the court which finally gave Baig the death sentence. Police then tweaked reports to show Sheikh’s involvement in another case.

"Presenting all the facts, Khetan has asked the high court to order an independent commission of inquiry into the conduct of the investigating officers, action against officers guilty of violations and relief for the victims of such operations."

My Own Creepy Crawly Update

As for my own experience of official overreach, my grievance filed with the Home Ministry in Delhi got a quick closure and I was instructed in an email to follow-up with the Chief Secretary, Goa. I sent an email to the Chief Secretary asking what I should do about the matter and nearly two months on, have yet to receive a reply.

However, my inquiry has energized the goon squad which seems, judging from its intrusions into my personal space, to be curious about my sexual inclinations. It's too creepy to go into the details, but in case they have any doubts after four years of surveillance and the latest experiments, I am straight and not a pedophile.

The need to clarify these matters probably arose because someone noticed I am celibate (my own experiment with Truth), and that I bought some elementary alphabet books for my ex-cleaning lady's illiterate 10-year old daughter. (My offer to get her a tutor was declined).

As for the fiasco of my cancelled trip to the World Social Forum in Tunis, Thomas Cook continues to be superbly inefficient and uncaring: they're still holding on to the refund for the travel. 

The IPL Should Sue The Times of India

The IPL has an open and shut case of defamation and material damage against the Times of India.

On the basis of nothing more than unsourced reports of so-called "Police investigations" (read fishing trip) about spot fixing, the TOI and its television arm TimesNow, have carried on the most reckless campaign of malign speculation.

An IPL lawsuit would not even have to prove it has suffered damage from the relentless media campaign by our "elite" media.

TOI was dumb enough to carry a front page report on 24 May 2013 on the loss of the IPL brand value. It said,  according to "well placed sources," that major sponsors were reconsidering their support. In a highly improbable assessment, it said that Pepsi, the IPL's primary sponsor, "may stay till the end of this season but will reconsider its association with the League after that."

Times Now's egregious Arnab Goswami has gone out even further on the defamatory limb, heaping abuse on the IPL its head, and his son-in-law who happens to be the CEO of the Chennai Super Kings. And all on the basis of vaporous talk emanating from "Police sources."

When the new Law Minister Kapil Sibal addresses the issue of illegal IPL betting tomorrow, he should give some time to reviewing the responsibility of the Delhi Police Chief in precipitating the current mess. In particular, Sibal should look at the timing of what has happened.

The Delhi Police stumbled on the possibility of spot fixing in the IPL during its investigation of a gangster. That worthy seems to have been the primary source of information about the three Rajasthan Royals players.

Now, consider that sports betting is dominated by gangsters, and that Dawood Ibrahim in Pakistan is widely reported to be a key figure. How difficult is it to imagine that the Delhi Police were fed the tip about match-fixing, and that Dawood had a hand in it, acting, as usual, on behalf of the ISI-Brit combine that has been green with envy at the success of the IPL?

Sibal should examine what exactly the Delhi Police had on Sreesanth when they arrested him. If it was no more than a dicey tape recording of a phone conversation in which the cricketer might or might not figure, there should be severe action against those responsible for his humiliation. In the absence of any real evidence, the Police are now traipsing around shops where Sreesanth might have spent any ill gotten gains.

Another aspect of the timing of the "scandal" is significant. It came just in time to find mention in international coverage of the the Cannes Film Festival observance of 100 Years of Indian Cinema. It is not just the IPL that our "elite" media have smeared but the entire country.

Something has to be done to bring our television dadas to a realization of their responsibilities. An IPL lawsuit demanding heavy punitive and compensatory damages might help in that direction.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A New Indian Policy for China

India needs a new China policy that is more than “Hope for the best, Expect the worst.” I suggest that it be oriented to the realization of three primary goals. 

Primary Goals

  • Ensure international support for peace and stability in China as it experiences the economic crash landing that is surely shaping up. Without clear assurance of such support, China will continue its current ill-advised effort to hide the crisis by statistical bluff and political bluster. Combined with miscalculations and paranoia that could make the situation much worse and perhaps open the door for war as a remedy. Some elements of the People’s Liberation Army might want that scenario, but it would be an unmitigated disaster for the Chinese people and for all of Asia. The far right in the United States might also prefer that outcome, but it would be a serious and lasting defeat for America’s democratic mainstream. The only real beneficiaries of war in Asia would be the old imperial Powers of Europe; as the Cold War did when once before their decline seemed imminent, it would give them a new lease of life. (Britain and its proxies in Asia, especially Pakistan, will undoubtedly seek to counter this goal, not least by embroiling India in sectarian violence.)
  • Push China towards democracy. The regime in Beijing should welcome this, for the Communist Party has no real support and is now spending more on internal security than on defense; a transitional road-map with overt international support would help enormously to keep its own population engaged peacefully in the process.
  • Make Tibet independent by a peaceful and negotiated process. Tibet has never been a sovereign part of China. It became a tributary for a few decades after the Mongol invasion of the 17th Century, but otherwise has been an independent entity through history. Beijing will certainly object strongly to any change in the status of Tibet but its genocidal policies have effectively destroyed any little legitimacy it might have had there. After initial expressions of outrage, Beijing power-brokers should welcome the objective of peaceful and negotiated change in Tibet; it will allow China to rid itself of a heavy karmic and political burden and emerge as a modern democratic country fully acceptable to the world as a global leader.


  • International: To achieve these policy goals India should institute two processes of ongoing consultations: with China on the one hand, and on the other, with the United States, the Russian Federation, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN. The aim of the latter process should be to agree on and implement a set of measures calibrated to respond effectively and with balance to Chinese behavior, both positive and negative. The two consultative processes should have the stated aim of converging in agreement on a new security framework for the Asia-Pacific region. 
  • Domestic: The Government should issue a White Paper setting out its China policy and initiate a broad all-party consultative process to ensure that it is located outside the partisan sphere of Indian politics. 
  • Programs of public information and education should follow the publication of the White Paper to ensure that Indians are generally aware of what is happening and able to see through the disruptive propaganda sure to come from British/Pakistani mass media proxies in the country.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Britain and Hinduism 3: The Fight for the Future

What kind of India will we have when an “industrial corridor” runs from Delhi to Mumbai and another from Chennai to Bangalore?

Who will benefit most and who will lose most from the $1 trillion in infrastructure investment that Finance Minister P. Chidambaram deems necessary in the next decade?

What will be the impact of a Chernobyl/Fukushima-style disaster at an Indian nuclear power plant?

How will unrestricted foreign investment in the Indian economy change our politics?

How will the Land Acquisition Bill now before Parliament change Indian society?

The answers to those questions should cause general alarm, for in every case they portend disaster.

The lion’s share of the benefits of “development” will flow to a small group of super-rich Indians and their foreign partners. There will be increased employment opportunities for all Indians but that will be poor compensation for a range of devastating costs. “Development” as currently conceived will poison our land, air and water, ravage the country’s natural heritage, destroy the intricate balances on which our social coherence rests, and sell our economic and political freedom to a corrupt global elite.

We do not have to imagine many of the dangers; China illustrates in grim detail the future we are building.

Three decades ago China had a poor but largely egalitarian society under a brutally authoritarian regime (a norm throughout its well-recorded history). “Economic liberalization,” the magic potion now being pushed on India, softened the oppressions to some degree but also made Chinese society the most unequal in the world.

This is how it happened.

Massive Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) created a new class of super-rich Chinese so wedded to their own and foreign interests as to be completely alienated from their own people: an astounding 80 per cent of the country’s millionaires have either emigrated or plan to do so.

The urge to flee abroad has good reason. Their wealth has been built on the expropriation of the land from millions of poor farmers and the exploitation of some 280 million “migrant workers” who powered China’s manufacturing boom but continue to live hand to mouth in urban areas without residency rights or social services. Almost all wealthy Chinese are related to corrupt members of the Communist Party, and many have done nothing more to earn their fortunes than gamble with embezzled public funds in real estate, commodities and stock markets. The enormous asset bubbles they have created are now moving towards collapse, and there is little hope the regime will be able to bring them to a soft landing. When the inevitable crash comes, the modern version of China’s traditional “peasant rebellions” will surely target the rich; it makes sense for them to leave.

Much of the country they leave behind will be a toxic wasteland. The tens of thousands of dead pigs, ducks and dogs that have floated down Chinese rivers in recent months are only the most graphic indicators of the poisonous nature of China’s widely hailed growth. The hazardous air pollution in many Chinese cities, the deadly contaminants in the soil and groundwater of many agrarian areas and the recently discovered “disappearance” of some 27,000 small rivers underline why the rich plan to flee.

There is a broad misconception that despite these heavy costs China has risen to the status of a super-Power-in-waiting. The reality is the opposite: its rapid economic growth has left China virtually incapable of facing foreign pressures. The much vaunted “workshop to the world” now has over 50 per cent of its exports in the hands of foreign corporations, and an even larger proportion of its manufacturing tied into transnational production chains. In short, foreign corporations effectively control the Chinese economy and the Communist mandarins know it. The fact that corporate biggies kowtow to Beijing only indicates that they will do anything for profit.

These scary facts explain China’s regional belligerence over the last two years: like its Mini-me counterpart in Pyongyang, the regime in Beijing is hoping that its growling and snapping will be mistaken for strength and perhaps help rally domestic support in dealing with the impending crises.

It is very clear that the proponents of “economic reforms” in India do not recognize what has happened in China as cautionary. At last year’s Mumbai “summit” of Indian business leaders under the aegis of the World Economic Forum Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries called for the government to get out of the way of business. “In today’s world” he declared, “everything is instantaneous, everything needs to happen now.” State and Central governments in India should “align and move a lot faster” in making decisions affecting business.

The general fatigue with arrogant Babus made Ambani’s demand pleasing to the gallery, but in view of our history it is a dangerous proposition. Indian businessmen pursuing their own interests untroubled by national political concerns were primarily responsible for British success in colonizing, ruling and indeed, Partitioning India. Robert Clive borrowed the money to bribe Mir Jafar at Plassey from Jagat Seth of Calcutta, the wealthiest banker of Mughal India. In the 150 years that followed, every expansion of British rule happened with the collaboration of Indian financiers and dalals too engrossed in their own profit to see what they were doing to the country. Such people even helped arrange the “communal riots” that killed over a million people at Partition, and they have continued to be foreign proxies in independent India.

It is frightening that all this is unseen in the push for “economic reforms” to attract greater foreign investment in India. Even recent examples of anti-national behavior by Indian businessmen have been swept under the rug.

Consider, for example, that the Ruia brothers of ESSAR felt no compunction in helping Hutchinson-Whampoa, a Hong Kong based conglomerate with close links to China’s People’s Liberation Army, to enter the Indian telecom market; nor did they feel the need to keep New Delhi in the picture when structuring a deal in the Cayman Islands to sell their joint venture to British telephone giant Vodafone. Now, when money laundering is a major national issue, Vodafone is set to roll out the “m-pesa,” its mobile telephone “currency” that will make it impossible for the government to track payments to violent subversive groups in the country. (The rollout is set to begin in the troubled Northeast!) Meanwhile, ESSAR agents have been caught making payments to Naxalites.

Mukesh Ambani is another recent example. Today’s richest Indian felt comfortable blindsiding the Indian government in signing a deal in the British Prime Minister’s office to allow BP, perhaps the most predatory of the major oil companies, entry into our strategic energy sector. Reliance got $8 billion from that deal but India was left with an unpredictable and serious security threat.

The blindness to security aspects of investment decisions has become endemic. Some people are even pushing to open the Indian defence industry to FDI at a time when a former Chief of Army Staff is suspected of treasonous collusion with foreign arms suppliers and a former Air Force Chief is under active investigation for corrupting a procurement process. Perhaps decision-makers in the Finance Ministry should each be given a desktop copy of US President Dwight Eisenhower's speech warning of the threat to American democracy from the "military industrial complex." 

This state of affairs is more than a failure of policy-making, governance and Intelligence; it points to a wholesale loss of political dharma. That is also the reason for the unending series of “scams” our politicians generate. Instead of the selfless and visionary leaders of the pre-independence era the Indian political class now seems to produce only insatiably greedy and corrupt individuals devoted to nothing but their own profit.

Those who retain their basic integrity have tended to be, like the current Prime Minister, technocrats with little sense of history or the long-term interests and needs of Indian society. Mr. Singh’s speech at his alma mater in Britain a few years ago, and the direction of his economic reforms illustrate the extent of that intellectual vapidity. The Supreme Court’s green lighting of the nuclear plant at Koodankulam and the multidimensional idiocy of Justice Markandey Katju indicate that the judiciary suffers the same disease. In other areas, especially the vitally important realm of mass media, the falling away from integrity and excellence has been scandalous.

Unless we understand why this has happened and take remedial measures, our future will stand on sand.

Fortunately, we do not have to look far for an accurate diagnosis. The Bhagavad Gita in Chapter 2, Verses 62-63 says that a focus on material objects breeds sensory desires that are inevitably frustrated and cause a delusive state of mind. A deluded mind cannot remember, and without memory human intelligence loses its power of discrimination; with that, the “Self itself is lost.”

During the colonial era the national focus on freedom brought out the best in our leaders; since independence the predominant concern with “development” defined entirely in material terms has called out the very worst. The votaries of “development” have no historical memory. They do not remember how India was colonized and the terrible price exacted by foreign rule. In their delusional state they dismiss Gandhi’s specific warnings about industrialization and are blind to the fact that the global environmental and economic crises confirm his prediction of disaster.

The widely deluded state of the Indian elite is not all grim and earnest; there is comedy in its manic desire to become ersatz Europeans. Editors of “elite” newspapers see nothing weird in routinely using photographs of Europeans to illustrate Indian stories. The advertising industry cleaves to the idea – unsupported by any evidence – that Indian consumers are most powerfully induced to buy by salacious depictions of European models and mores. English television channels imitate their Western counterparts in breast-beating coverage of individual cases of child abuse, rape and murder but routinely ignore the millions of baby deaths that make India one of the most dangerous place in the world to be an infant.

Largely because of that dementia in the mass media, Indians in general do not see that the country's mounting wave of crime and corruption is driven by the social dislocation and moral confusions of its “development.” Harsh new laws and punishments will not make a whit of difference if we do not change the nature and patterns of economic growth to support the stability and coherence of our society.

How realistic is it to expect that we can change a model of “development” that has gained such weight and momentum?

It is entirely realistic, for our democratic processes allow it: but we must initiate and support the necessary political action.

The remedial process must begin with the awareness that British rule of India did not end in 1947; the people who took power were Brown Sahibs incapable of charting an independent Indian route to modernity. They have remained emotionally wedded to the British and perhaps even been in their pay. A look through Jawaharlal Nehru’s writings, especially his letters explaining the world to teenaged Indira, illustrate just how little he knew/understood/cared about traditional India. The contempt Markandey Katju sprays on all Indians is bred from that same combination, and unfortunately, it is widespread among our so-called “secular” elite.

A major reason for their dismissive attitude is the narrow, intolerant concepts spread under the rubric of Hindutva by the Hindu Mahasabha and its modern progeny, the Sangh Parivar. Having seen the damage caused by their interpretation of the Hindu ethos, Indians in the national mainstream have very rightly rejected it as subversive and dangerous. But they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, for in rejecting Hindutva, they have dismissed Hinduism itself. They have closed themselves off from a broad and generous tradition that offers an alternative to Western style “development.”

Perhaps the best way to delineate the difference between the Hindu and the Hindutva approaches is to look at their attitudes to India’s Muslim and Christian minorities. The Hindu attitude is to blur the differences and emphasize commonalities; Hindutvadis underline differences and demand dominance for their own beliefs.

The difference is rooted in history.

Conversions to other religions, especially those won by the sword or under the compulsions of power, appear in the long Hindu view as the unavoidable price of meeting existential challenges. Only by Indians walking in the shoes of the invasive Other will we be able to know how to respond; that has been at the heart of the tremendous Indian capacity for assimilation. The Hindutva approach springs from the British attempt to divide Indians on the basis of religion. Its offensive and unsupportable demand for social dominance is essentially an expression of insecurity and fear; it weakens India.

That difference between considering Muslims and Christians as part of a general Indian alliance in dealing with global realities and seeing them as traitors in waiting reflects a deeper division.

The silent confidence of the Hindu mainstream is embedded in the faith that Truth alone will triumph. Missionaries can use every dirty trick to win followers but in the end, the great verities of India’s eternal faith will prevail. In that context, individual responsibility is no more or less than to preserve personal dharma, to be honest in thought and deed, to understand that in all things God works for the ultimate victory of the Good.

In contrast, the Hindutva approach is totally Semitic. It is based on the belief that the defence and propagation of socially dominant Hinduism is necessary to ensure the survival of their faith. It reacts to conversions with hatred and violence. It has no faith that human destiny is eternally governed by a deeper and stronger moral reality.

The net result of these differences is that today no figure, party or movement brings the mainstream Hindu perspective into politics as Mahatma Gandhi did; our "development" is rooted in confusion.

If we are to resolve the internal contradictions of Bharat that is India and make it a meaningful global presence it is imperative to bring clarity to our concept of development. Who are we as a people and what do we want to become and/or do in the world?

To achieve that clarity we must wean the Hindutvadis into a more generous consideration of Sanatana Dharma and bring the so-called "secular forces" to reflect on the value and worth of that ancient tradition.

Part 4 of this essay will look at how we can effect those changes. Read Part 1 and Part 2

Sunday, May 5, 2013

MacUrquhart and Hammarskjold's Restless Ghost

I just came across an interview of former United Nations Under-Secretary-General Brian Urquhart on the UN News Centre web site. It was supposedly conducted in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of Dag Hammarskjold’s death in September 1961. How I missed seeing it for over a year is a mystery, but it’s never too late to comment on what Urquhart said. But before I do, here’s a bit of necessary background:

Hammarskjold was a little known Swedish diplomat who was appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations primarily because of expectations that he would not rock the boat at a time of high Cold War tensions. His predecessor, Trygve Lie, had thrown the organization into a crisis by alienating the Soviet Union with his too fervent support of UN intervention in Korea.

In an understated Swedish way, Hammarskjold turned out to be a spectacular surprise. Among his historically important achievements were the negotiations in China for the release of 17 imprisoned American airmen; the fielding of a UN peacekeeping force that helped resolve the messy crisis created by the British-French-Israeli attempt to take back control of the Suez Canal; and beginning the UN Secretariat’s involvement in opposing apartheid in South Africa.

His last, fateful achievement was to defend the newly independent Republic of the Congo after that enormously mineral rich country was thrown into chaos by Belgium, its former ruler.

As a UN peacekeeping force battled Belgian mercenaries in the breakaway province of Katanga, Hammarskjold went on a peace mission to the region and was killed when his aircraft crashed near Ndola in what was then the British colony of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).

A British-Rhodesian commission of inquiry ruled that pilot error had caused the crash. A UN investigation could neither confirm nor deny that finding and left on the table the suspicion that Hammarskjold’s plane had been shot down.

In 2011, a Swedish aid worker in Africa stirred up those suspicions when he published a report recounting eyewitness accounts of people in Ndola who remembered the crash.

The Urquhart interview is clearly meant as a rebuttal but it has the effect of heightening and broadening suspicions. This is the relevant part of the interview:

UN News Centre: Over the years, you’ve been very firm in your belief that the plane crash that killed Hammarskjöld was an accident. What do you make of claims that his aircraft was deliberately shot down due to foreign mineral interests in Katanga?

Brian Urquhart: You know, the older I get the more absolutely convinced I am that the conspiracy theories don’t hold out at all. There are about 50 of them and if one’s right, all the others are wrong for a start. That puts out 49 of 50.

The present so-called revelations, which come from interviewing 86-year-old charcoal burners in Zambia, are not new at all. These same people, when they were much, much younger 50 years ago, were interviewed by the Commission of Inquiry for five days on the ground where they’d been when the crash took place.

This new theory is based on the charcoal burners believing they saw a small plane following steadily behind the big plane when it crashed. Well, the Commission of Inquiry were not stupid. They came to the conclusion that what the charcoal burners had seen was the navigation beacon on the high tail-fin of the DC-6, which was a great feature of that aircraft. And of course it was following steadily – it was part of the aeroplane!

People seem to assume that you just jump into an aeroplane in the middle of Africa in the dark and say “’bye chaps, I’m going to shoot down Dag Hammarskjöld, see you in the morning!” It’s nonsense. There were no aircraft in that part of the world with night-flying control, no aircraft with proper ground control, and finding an aeroplane in the middle of Africa at midnight is not something you just do.

At the point the plane crashed, it was in the landing mode. It had its wheels down, it had its air-brakes on, and it was exactly ten feet too low to clear the trees on the top of a little mound which was on the run-in path and it hit them. Frankly, I don’t really think that the conspiracy theories help very much.

UN News Centre: Why do you think there is this fascination about his death?

Brian Urquhart: Well, there is about everybody who dies a violent death, particularly if they’re famous. Look at JFK or anybody you can think of. And people who like to see their names in the paper can do it easily now, particularly on anniversaries, by saying they’ve got new evidence.

I would be the first to wish to discover someone who had murdered Dag Hammarskjöld. I think the world lost an incredibly valuable citizen in that disaster. But I’ve been thinking about it for 50 years and I’ve never been able to see the smallest evidence of this at all, or indeed that it was possible.

Incidentally, he wasn’t flying in his own aircraft. He changed aircraft two hours before he took off so that Lord Lansdowne, who was the undersecretary for the colonies, I think, for the British Government, could go to Ndola, which was then in northern Rhodesia [now Zambia], to prepare a reception for Hammarskjöld. So if they were going to shoot the plane down, they would have shot down the one with Lord Lansdowne in it.”

There are a number of significant omissions and distortions in what Urquhart said.

Perhaps the most important omission is Urquhart’s failure to mention that he was in the Congo at the time and that he had been a British Intelligence operative. If I remember rightly the research done many years ago, the notes of which are not with me, he was also involved in arranging the logistics of Hammarskjold’s travel.

The most serious of his distortions is the assertion that the UN Commission of Inquiry interviewed the men whose testimony Göran Björkdahl recorded in his 2011 report. As The Guardian reported in August of that year, it did not.

Urquhart’s attempt to palm off their testimony as ignorant is contemptible. There is no way that what they thought was an attacking aircraft could have been the rear beacon of Hammarskjold’s own aircraft. This is what the reporters from The Guardian wrote about the eyewitnesses they interviewed in verifying Björkdahl’s report:

“Dickson Mbewe, now aged 84, was sitting outside his house in Chifubu compound west of Ndola with a group of friends on the night of the crash. ‘We saw a plane fly over Chifubu but did not pay any attention to it the first time,’ Mbewe told the Guardian. ‘When we saw it a second and third time, we thought that this plane was denied landing permission at the airport. Suddenly, we saw another aircraft approach the bigger aircraft at greater speed and release fire which appeared as a bright light.’

‘The plane on the top turned and went in another direction. We sensed the change in sound of the bigger plane. It went down and disappeared.’

“In the morning at about 5am, Mbewe went to his charcoal kiln close to the crash site, where he found soldiers and policemen already dispersing people from the area. According to the official report the wreckage was only discovered at 3pm that afternoon.

“‘There was a group of white soldiers carrying a body, two in front and two behind,’ he said. ‘I heard people saying there was a man who was found alive and should be taken to hospital. Nobody was allowed to stay there.’

“Mbewe never came forward with that information earlier because he was never asked to, he said. ‘The atmosphere was not peaceful, we were chased away. I was afraid to go to the police because they might put me in prison.’

“Another witness, Custon Chipoya, a 75-year-old charcoal maker, also claims to have seen a second plane in the sky that night. ‘I saw a plane turning, it had clear lights and I could hear the roaring sound of the engine,’ he said. ‘It wasn't very high. In my opinion, it was at the height that planes are when they are going to land.

"’It came back a second time which made us look and the third time, when it was turning towards the airport, I saw a smaller plane approaching behind the bigger one. The lighter aircraft, a smaller jet type of plane, was trailing behind and had a flash light. Then it released some fire onto the bigger plane below and went in the opposite direction.

"’The bigger aircraft caught fire and started exploding, crashing towards us. We thought it was following us as it chopped off branches and tree trunks. We thought it was war so we ran away.’

“Chipoya said he returned to the site the next morning at about 6am and found the area cordoned off by police and army officers. He didn't mention what he had seen because: ‘It was impossible to talk to a police officer then. We just understood that we had to go away,’ he said.

“Safeli Mulenga, 83, also in Chifubu on the night of the crash, did not see a second plane but witnessed an explosion.

"’I saw the plane circle twice,’ he said. ‘The third time fire came from somewhere above the plane, it glowed so bright. It couldn't have been the plane exploding because the fire was coming onto it,’ he said.

“There was no announcement for people to come forward with information following the crash, and the federal government didn't want people to talk about it, he said. ‘There were some who witnessed the crash and they were taken away and imprisoned.’

“John Ngongo, now 75, out in the bush with a friend to learn how to make charcoal on the night of the crash, did not see another plane but he definitely heard one, he said.

"’Suddenly, we saw a plane with fire on one side coming towards us. It was on fire before it hit the trees. The plane was not alone. I heard another plane at high speed disappearing into the distance but I didn't see it,’ he said.”

The Guardian story also mentioned an important element completely missing from the UN News Centre interview: “At the time of his death Hammarskjöld suspected British diplomats secretly supported the Katanga rebellion and had obstructed a bid to arrange a truce.”

That element casts a new light on Urquhart’s role in managing the memory of Hammarskjold, for after the assassination he was given the job, as the UN News Centre puts it, of helping “organize his private papers.” Urquhart subsequently wrote what has become standard biography of the Secretary-General.

Asked about the experience, Urquhart told the UN News Centre: “In the first place, his papers were quite exiguous. It wasn’t just 285 boxes or anything like that. He had kept everything like his library. It was sort of pruned every year and everything essential was kept and all the froth and everything had gone – at least I think that must be the case – so that it was a very intensive business to go into his papers. But you weren’t overwhelmed at the sheer bulk, and I think that was deliberate on his part.”

We are left to wonder if the papers contained any “froth” about Hammarskjold’s suspicions about the British role in Katanga. Were they organized into oblivion?