Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

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Saturday, 31 January 2009

Former Pakistani President Offered Washington Job

The Dawn has reported that former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who resigned in August 2008,has been offered a post in Washington. Oh, it's so hard to relinquish the limelight when you have been centre-stage, and he may well feel that he will attract more respect in the American capital than he does back home, for in Pakistan he has been totally marginalised and was described as a dictator by some as I reported for Spectator.co.uk during Pakistan's last elections.

He won't be the only expat in the States if he takes the job. Akbar Ahmed former diplomat, is now at the American University in Washington,and Maliha Lodi, also a former diplomat and journalist, is a Fellow of the Kennedy School at Harvard University.

Pakistan being so prominent on the World stage, there is much more kudos and gainful employment to be found on the East coast of America -why, you can construct a whole new life for yourself rather than having to retire relatively anonymously to some conurbation in the Fatherland where you might not do much more than contemplate your past and attend parties. Plus, there are more studios and the telephone lines work better Stateside for doing those two-ways to Europe and America whenever Pakistan is in the news.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Aretha Sang British for Barack Obama's Inauguration

This isn't a blog about Aretha Franklin's hat, though the LA Times reports that neo-copies (the designer Luke Song only makes the one original for Aretha) have been highly sought after since Franklin appeared on January 20th 2009 in the hat at Barack Obama's inauguration.

Nor is this a blog about a little verbal set-to, according to the Guardian, allegedly occurring last year between Beyonce and Aretha over Beyonce Knowles's description of Tina Turner as 'The Queen,' a title often used to describe Aretha Franklin. (The royal epithet, in this instance, is applied to the ladies' perceived situation in the musical hemisphere).

However the lady in the first paragraph and the title in the second paragraph do have something to do with the subject of this blog.

For 'My country 'tis of thee,' which Aretha sang at Tuesday's inauguration, also known as 'America,' written by Samuel Francis Smith, was based upon the National Anthem of the UK, 'God Save the Queen.' I'm sure you recognised the tune.

Anyway, the wee Wikifolk who live in that wonderful Wikiuniverse behind our computer screens have much to tell us about the history of both versions of the tune, The British and the American, and point out that Samuel Francis Smith discovered the melody by way of a German adaptation, just in case it seemed as though the US was basing its most patriotic song on Britain's most patriotic song.

For your delectation here is a clip of the UK version sung to footage of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation so that you can compare the two versions.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Pakistan Wants US to stop Drone Attacks

Reporting Tuesday from Pakistan; US CENTCOM Chief General David Petraeus met today with President Asif Zardari to discuss regional security matters. Also in the meeting were US Ambassador to the country Anne W. Patterson and the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The US has been sending drones into tribal areas and Zardari says that Pakistan is not at all happy about it.

I doubt that the US is going to stop.

The Eyes of the World Are On Obama's Inauguration

One day, so much expectation. A big build up, with high levels of interest in any behind - the - scenes information which can be gleaned from Obama's tightly controlled and disciplined team. Since Barack Obama's oratory is one of the reasons for his popular appeal, this piece in the Washington Post about those he has hired to help him with the drafts is of interest as Obama's Chief Writer, Jon Favreau, will be the youngest incumbent in that position in the White House. The informal campaign trail style of working with his team may have to be adapted, the Washpo says, for the White House. Charlie Gibson, ABC anchor interviewing Chief White House Correspondent George Stephanopolous, asked him about the speech in this video clip (titled Watch; George on Obama's Speech) in which the Clinton adviser-turned political pundit said that it is Obama's words which will be in his speech, and that the President-elect got it 'locked down' a week ago.

Personally, I think that Obama will have asked Favreau and his team to think about what goes into the speech, some themes he wanted to discuss (which White House Adviser David Axelrod has started to preview with the media), and that Obama will then have been working on the draft to get the words just the way he wants them for the twenty-minuter we will be hearing later on today . But hey, what do I know?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Mumbai Diary in the Spectator after a BBC All-Nighter

As soon as news of the Mumbai explosions broke that fateful night, November 26th 2008, I was asked to dash into the BBC newsroom at White City, West London, for what I thought would be just a couple of hours of studio analysis. When I got there, the editor asked if I would be prepared to stay all night. It was surreal, watching the footage coming in via NDTV and others, and reacting to it while trying to deliver coherent comment. My friend Karin Giannone and I sat through the horrifying hours at the desk, talking over the pictures. Karin and I were like two guards holding a fort, there was so much happening so fast, we had no opportunity to leave the newsroom even for a few minutes, if you know what I mean. At the end of our stint, when I finally had to go to another broadcaster and Karin was finishing her shift, Karin turned to me and told me how relieved she was that I had been there and that we had been able to go through the night reporting together.

Such adrenalin-filled experiences create memorable bonds between media workers.

I was told by my sources that certain notable people, known names, were holed up in the Taj Palace Hotel, but after announcing one of them on air, I was asked not to identify any others. I thought that this was auntie's super - bureaucracy at work, until I found out, chillingly , that the attackers were watching us reporting on the BBC, News 24 having combined with BBC World, and were roving the hotel, using any information about guests that might come out from us.

After that night, there was a hectic week of visiting different stations which I recorded in a Diary piece for the Spectator, perhaps the only place I could actually report a little of what was actually going on in my mind while I was trying to stay cool, calm and collected. Never has a story so resonated with me, as did the Mumbai bombings, since the areas of the attacks were places important to me from time I've spent in the sprawling Bombay of my earlier life.

Disney MD Talks

Michael Cairns, MD of Disney Channel UK and Ireland gave me an interview about an interesting initiative they have pioneered to develop Saturday classes in the UK for children, to accompany ' Cheetah Girls One World' a Disney Channel original movie which travels from New York to Mumbai.....marking the company's push towards capturing huge Indian audiences. This project has actor Anupam Kher, and the Ealing Institute of Media involved.

I have observed Disney stepping up orginal programming in the UK, too, with a dedicated animation arm in their West London HQ now. I'll be writing the story over the next week or so.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Barack Obama Inauguration Concert Featuring Denzel and Stevie

Wow, there are so many inauguration events lined up not only in 'DC' but all over America and the rest of the world. The BBC reports a special concert January 18th where Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Jamie Foxx and Denzel Washington, among others, are set to appear. It is claimed by the executive producer that some pertinent songs like the late, great Sam Cooke's 'A Change is Gonna Come' are going to be sung, rather than a showboat of artistes' own hits.

I just had to include the clip; I challenge you to remain unmoved by a listen.

And for those in the UK interested in knowing about inauguration celebrations, Democrats Abroad have a whole lot of stuff going on. Though the US Embassy did host a big election night party November 4th, 2008, word comes that there isn't an official inauguration event on January 20th 2009 in the American building in Grosvenor Square.

Saudi Arabia's Intelligence Chief Visits Pakistan

Saudi Arabia, considered a country of influence in the politics of South Asia, particularly with relation to Pakistan, has sent its Intelligence Chief on a visit to Pakistan today 13th January. Last month, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal visited Mumbai.

But with all the posturing between India and Pakistan, few on the outside know of the ritual communication which continues irrespectively, with military chiefs from both countries in regular telephone contact, and the political leaders talking to each other, sending good wishes for the incoming year.

In Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia, it is the royal families and many of their extended kindred who also wield political power. Often, cousins or other relations become highly elegant ambassadors for their countries. They are often very cool and when I go to meet them for interviews, I can always expect a stylish reception with impeccable manners in plush surroundings. Hey, they even answer my questions.

Pakistan, India and Sky News

So the papers are now reporting India's increasing impatience with Pakistan. Elections in India are scheduled for May 2009, but the loose rhetoric is being pegged to the fallout of the Mumbai/Bombay bombings in November 2008. Sky News, with whom I very much enjoy working on various studio- based shows, kept the Mumbai attacks story going the longest as a single story -longer than any other network in the UK, to the best of my knowledge. The first night and day of the attacks was very busy for us all, I was in the Sky News studio, also interviewed for Sky.com in one of my breaks, did a live webchat (really have to watch the spelling on that one with a time limit but very exciting to get the questions live once I am announced) and then back again for the nightly Press Preview, a great half hour show where we, the guests, are the informers/entertainers. All my experience and knowledge gained from interviewing and studying militants in Kashmir, Pakistan and India had to crystallize into on the spot analysis which, had it proved wrong, would have been disastrous as the news was going everywhere and people were relying on us to deliver serious thought. As it happens, I seemed to be correct in my conclusions. Sky are very co-ordinated with their different platforms, and able to react with great speed to these fast moving news events despite being outgunned sometimes on manpower.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Memorial for Benazir Bhutto at the Pakistani High Commission

On the 27th December 2008, the first anniversary of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a memorial was held for Benazir Bhutto whom I interviewed in Pakistan and met with in London. There were photos of her all over the walls and staircases of the High Commission in Knightsbridge, and the bright lights and candles heightened memories of her personality and achievements that day. Benazir with Margaret Thatcher, Benazir with Shimon Peres, Benazir with different world leaders; but in all the photos, it is her, not they, drawing the eye. She had a luminosity and a charismatic presence and as I discovered from some of the lady mourners with whom I sat for prayers on white sheets after taking off our shoes, she was affectionate and respectful to them too. Wajid Shamsul Hasan, now Pakistani High Commissioner to London for the second time, has written how he considered Benazir to be a sister to him. I went to the High Commission with Mohammed Ziauddin, of the Dawn Group whom I quote in my articles sometimes; he is one of those veteran respected journalists whom I take very seriously and he will be sorely missed when he finishes his tenure in London this year.

There were a few cameramen taking footage of the photographs for news reports later in the day covering world-wide memorial events marking the occasion. After segregated prayers, we all came together in a marquee in the garden with heaters round the insides to keep us warm. While Wajid with his tinted glasses sat quietly watching us on a chair looking cute and sanguine in a fur hat and snug coat, a friendly Imam, Abduljalil Sajid, said in English to the mostly Pakistani audience that this was not a day for speeches but he wanted to tell us that he was called to Dubai by Benazir whom, he observed, was punctilious in making sure that all three of her children were given moral and religious instruction every Thursday, and Fridays she would take them for prayers. This was an interesting insight into her private devotion and gave a sense of her family discipline.
After the Imam finished his brief address, cries of 'Bibi Jinda hey!' (Bibi, Benazir, still lives) arose form PPP supporters, an emotive rally which was picked up a few times.

Afterwards some of the senior journalists went to sit in the office of the High Commission Press attache who was busy issuing a press release to Pakistan and who was quite distracted because someone had apparently walked off with her son's mobile.