John Casey

Meeting Ahmad Massoud, the Sandhurst graduate taking on the Taliban

The Taliban do not yet control all of Afghanistan. As most of the country fell to the Islamic militant group with terrifying speed, Panjshir valley, about 100 miles north of Kabul, leading deep into the Hindu Kush mountains, remained unconquered. It is now the last province beyond the Taliban’s control. While many Afghan politicians have

From riches to rags

So accustomed have we become to North Korea as a failed state, 15 times less prosperous than the south, and depending entirely on foreign aid to survive, that we forget that things were not ever thus. I remember meeting Japanese nationalists who boasted that Japan had put more effort into building the infrastructure of their

Pawn or game-changer?

The British were in Burma for more than 120 years, but were never sure what to do with it. They completed their conquest in 1885, annexing Upper Burma and abolishing the ancient, semi-divine monarchy, apparently on the whim of Randolph Churchill. This was contrary to the British imperial tradition of indirect rule, and brought about

A prayer for the Copts

Among the many heartening images coming from Egypt’s winter revolution in Tahrir Square was a photograph of a Muslim and a Copt holding up, respectively, a Koran and a crucifix. While the President of Iran, with motives that were all too plain, nervously hailed what had happened in Egypt as an ‘Islamic revolution’, many of

The revival of Tory philosophy

I hear that the Conservative Philosophy Group is about to be revived after a hibernation of about 15 years. The group, in so far as it has been heard of at all, has the reputation of being a collection of Thatcherite ideologues, exercising an arcane influence over policy. In fact it had no discernible influence

Brutal, bankrupt Burma

Thant Myint-U has a special perspective on the history of modern Burma because his family played a role, albeit a passive one, in one of the most dramatic and well-remembered events in its history. The military-socialist dictator, Ne Win, who seized power in an almost bloodless coup in 1962, overthrowing the elected prime minister, U

A hunt for origins

No modern country wishes to understand itself through its remote past more ardently than does Korea. Nineteenth- century Korean nationalists were anxious to trace their state back to a mythical semi-divine hero, Tan’gun, who founded Korea in the third millennium BC. (Koreans will probably be irritated if it is suggested that this resembles Japanese eagerness

The lure of the jungle

This is a curious story. In 1886, a year after the final British conquest of Upper Burma, a piano-tuner, Edgar Drake, is requested by the War Office to travel to the Shan States – still largely untouched by British power – to tune a rare 1840s Erard piano. The piano was originally shipped to one