I am so delighted to announce that I’ve won the inaugural Portobello Prize for narrative non-fiction, which was set up to “showcase the most exciting new voices in narrative non-fiction, offering debut writers an opportunity to seek out and publish an untold story that reflects our times.” I entered with a proposal for a book about Karachi, building on some long-form pieces I’ve already written. (This piece on an ambulance driver, and this piece on a crime reporter, among others). It will follow ordinary lives through a chaotic period in the city’s recent history.
The inaugural Portobello Prize has been awarded to “electrifying new voice” Samira Shackle for Karachi Vice, a “fresh and thrilling” non-fiction exploration of Pakistan’s largest city.
According to the judges, this “glimpse of a city largely misrepresented and misunderstood is told with a clear sense of urgency and with a personal connection. It will place human drama at the fore as it follows the lives of several citizens of Karachi”.
Read more over at the Bookseller’s website. I now have to actually write the book, which will probably be out at some point in 2020.
In the years after Britain withdrew from Iraq, allegations of misconduct by British troops were coming thick and fast. In 2010, the government established the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat). This was an investigative body that was supposed to bring together all the allegations and deal with them quickly. Perhaps predictably, that was not what happened. The investigation spiralled out of control and closed in disgrace in 2017. In the process, the entire field of human rights law had been called into disrepute, while stories abounded of soldiers whose lives had been put on hold during protracted investigations.
For my latest report for the Guardian’s Long Read section, I spent months interviewing people involved at all stages of the process to piece together how it went so wrong. As Britain faces the possibility of investigation by the International Criminal Court, this could have far-reaching consequences.
The collapse of Ihat seems likely to mark the end of serious attempts to investigate alleged crimes by British soldiers in Iraq, leaving questions about the scale of abuses and accountability unanswered. After such a public failure, what politician would want to reopen the issue? Yet, behind the headlines of corrupt lawyers and incompetent investigators, the true story of Ihat is more complicated. Both military advocates and human rights defenders agree that the scandal around Ihat was at the very least, politically convenient for the Ministry of Defence. With human rights lawyers cast as the villains, the MoD could avoid uncomfortable questions about its own role in training soldiers in procedures that breached the Geneva conventions. “At times, the MoD has been tempted to throw the uniform under the bus,” says Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP who was instrumental in Ihat’s closure.
You can read the full article over at the Guardian’s website and I’ll share a clipping soon.
I’ve written a few pieces about Pakistan in recent months.
Rising from the ashes: a new era in Pakistani cinema (emerge85)
I wrote this piece about Pakistani cinema’s “new wave” back in January. After a long lull – wracked by underfunding and a severe limitation of physical cinemas – Pakistani directors and writers are producing exciting and distinctive new movies. I also discussed the story on emerge85’s podcast.
Don’t be fooled by elections—the military is still in charge in Pakistan (Prospect)
On a less cheerful note, my column in the June issue of Prospect looks at the increasing limits on Pakistan’s democracy as the July election approaches and censorship of media outlets ramping up.
Under the watchful eye of the army (Index on Censorship)
For this report on the ongoing clampdown on free expression in Pakistan, I spoke with journalists who have been targeted by the establishment after criticising the military. The piece – in the Summer 2018 issue – is currently behind a paywall.