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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Monday, 30 March 2009

The London Summit Folk Have Spoken - by Email

I have a 25-page media handbook for accredited journalists which has arrived in my inbox. Opening up my email and clicking on the link, I read,

'This handbook is printed on paper made from 80% recycled genuine office waste and 20% paper from sustainable forests. All stationery used for The London Summit 2009 is 100% recycled.'

That recycled cyberpaper is just great.

And now I know about the transportation plan. There was I, foolishly imagining that those kind G20 London Summit folk would be transporting us from a convenient point maybe in Central London to the media building, since the summit is taking place East of the city. (Many media are located centrally or West of the city).

No, no no no no. We take ourselves to the East, to Peruvian Wharf. We can have media parking there, but roads have been blocked and traffic will be slow due to security. Which leaves public transport, a journey of just under two hours for many.

But at Peruvian Wharf, in fact no closer to the summit area than Peruvian Wharf, we can take a 'secure' courtesy bus to the accreditation and search centre where we can fill in forms, get our accreditation, and get searched.

Or the other way round.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Cineforum Interviews

Its been interesting being involved in the meetings preparing for this event. I'm looking forward to conducting two interviews in particular; the first, a conversation with Sadiq Kahn, former human rights solicitor and now Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He's relatively young and fresh.

The second is with an imam whom I don't have to call 'Imam Sahib.' I have met many mullahs and religious clerics in my time but Dr Taj Hargey, who will be on my panel at Cineforum, is quite outspoken, more entertaining than most, and has an interesting take on Islam. He divides it into Western and Eastern systems, being a product of a multigenerational South African family. He is Chair of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, he doesn't wear a beard, and calls Britain, 'Home.' He arranged for Professor Amina Wadud, a female imam, to visit the UK from America in October 2008 and lead mixed-gender Friday congregational prayers in the UK, a first for these shores.

To the best of my knowledge, there have been two Cinefora previously, one in California and one in Italy, but this is the first of its kind in the UK.

Three Days to the G20 London Summit

Ah, the wheels of bureacracy. On the London Summit website, there is a snazzy heading for events and initially there was another snazzy heading; 'Transport for media;' and of course the media office has been very busy this week. So, thinking that there might be fewer journalists calling into the office on the weekend (after Saturday night, you know what I mean) I rang bright and early this morning, Sunday. The telephone transferred to another number, and Victoria answered. I asked about any media events on the 2nd April.

'Its a bit fluid, and we're still working it all out.' She replied.

I asked about how I might bid for an interview.
'That's fluid too, we don't know yet. Why do you want to know?'

'Oh, I just wanted to organise myself.' I replied, suddenly feeling guilty for wanting to plan my Summit coverage.

And the suggested transportation for the press pack into Docklands, given heightened security etc?

'Its all fluid. But someone in the office will call you tomorrow.'

The official website annnounces that the office will be manned from 7.0am Monday through Friday. So might I get a call fairly early please, say 7.0am?

'No. The lead person on this comes in at 9.am. And anyway, you've still got three days.'

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Saudi VIPs Fly in for London's First Cineforum

London's first Cineforum takes place Monday March 30th 2009 and some well-known personalities are flying into the UK from the Gulf region to appear at the event. In advance of the one-day conference, where I will be facilitating, I acquired an exclusive with Jeddah-based Maha Al Juffali-Ghandour, Director and founder of the first private charity centre for children with mental disabilities in Jeddah who is one of Cineforum's headliners.

An understated pioneer, Maha, happily married, with no-one with special needs in her family, found quite early on that there was little or no provision for the disabled in Saudi Arabia. Special needs were something to be hidden away at that time, so Maha decided to create a centre to support the families of disabled children. After careful research, and using connections at the highest level, she was able to set up her centre and says,
'We experienced tremendous support...the authorities made it possible for the centre to attain a formal status, with an official charter.'

Previously, Maha told me, parents would send their disabled 'children to boarding facilities in other countries.' This meant breaking up the family. And now, even parents with unborn special needs babies can come with siblings to Maha's centre and learn how to accept and cope well with their situation.

From the VSA Arts International in Washington,, affiliated to the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts, Maha said that she learnt how to address disability 'in a fun and creative way' as well as understanding how to 'open channels of communication between different cultures around the world...and build on and expand available local resources.' She is now Executive Director of VSA arts- Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Maha is on the Harvard Women's Leadership Board and is an adviser to many institutions all over the Gulf as well as some American schools and universities. In 2002, the Saudi Crown Prince awarded a medal to Maha, a first for a Saudi female, in recognition of her work.

The Help Centre is now a template and attracts families from all over the region. Maha also links with Japan, preferring to establish with those she knows through personal contacts.

Though she has developed a professional life away from her role as wife, mother and daughter, I asked her about emotional involvement with the special needs children after all these years. Maha replied, ' I do get moved and yes, and I still cry very often.'

Friday, 27 March 2009

G20 Accreditation Received

Ha, even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is fallible. To gain my accreditation for the forthcoming G20 Summit in London, I took great care to check how my editor's letter of assignment should be written, whom it should be addressed to, etc. The London Summit Site informs would-be attending press folk that they only get one shot at an accreditation request, so any booboos and we're out!

The site also told us that we would receive our yea or nea within five days of the request going in - to give them adequate time to check and process us, it must be stated.

I was also informed by Victoria in the office that there was a limit on the number of press they were sanctioning anyway, so when I applied on March 17th 2009 I did expect to hear back from the FCO before.....the 26th March.

Poor dears, so overworked.

India Tests Ballistic Missile Interceptor

Its absolutely nothing to do with muscle-flexing or upcoming elections, you must understand. But March 2009 saw India's Defence Research and Development Organisation, DRDO, test-fire its third Ballistic Missile Interceptor from a mobile launcher on the Integrated Test Range on Wheeler Island in Orissa.

India seems keen to demonstrate the robustness of her ballistic missile system (BMD).

The two-stage interceptor missile, fitted with advanced systems, neutralised the 'enemy' target missile at an altitude of 75km. To mimic an incoming enemy's missile trajectory (any guesses as to who the 'enemy' might be?) a Dhanush missile, reaching an altitude of 120km, was launched from a ship about 100km away.

DRDO's previous two interception trials were held in November 2006 and December 2007.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Manoj Badale of Blenheim Chalcot and the IPL's Rajasthan Royals

Last year Manoj Badale, co-founder and managing partner of Blenheim Chalcot, interviewed me, so this year I wanted to interview him.

Manoj's HQ is a modern set of offices in Hammersmith, West London, which is where I first met him. For my interview with Manoj, I was tight for time, yet he agreed to the interview and answered all my questions within 24 hours.

I didn't know that he was leaving for a week-long trip to Europe immediately thereafter. Being an old-fashioned hack and trying to abide by the code of conduct of my profession, I needed to send him his quotes for checking and so I pursued him through his secretary. He took time out from his trip (I didn't find out whether he was on a ski slope or on the beach or neither) to read and answer so that we could publish.

And then, when the whole story about the Indian Premier League moving out of India for 2009 became headline news, Manoj was everywhere on the bulletins and Newsnight, in his capacity as Chairman of the Rajasthan Royals team.

It is quite rare for an interviewee to be truly demure but one of Manoj's endearing characteristics is that he sees his operations as being 'work in progress' and shuns the word 'success.'

His interview can be read here starting page eight and if you click on the 1:1 icon on the grey tab above the text you can magnify the page.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Bomb Blast in Islamabad; Interior Affairs Adviser Blames 'Uzbekis'

A suicide bomber has blown himself up at a Special Branch building in Islamabad Monday 23rd March, reports Dawn.com. One policeman has been killed and at least four others injured.

What's worrying is that Rehman Malik, Interior Affairs Adviser, said that his team had prior knowledge that something was going to happen. Apparently, a Taliban leader has ordered an Uzbeki hit squad to target certain cities.

'We had very authentic information that 15 to 20 Uzbek suicide bombers had been sent... after a meeting of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),’ he said during a visit to a hospital shortly after the blast.'

In that case, what preventative action was taken?

Separately, GroundReport is saying that a Dawn News Channel reporter has been killed in Lahore and that journalists will be protesting.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Indian Security Al Jazeera English Newshour

Like most of the international news networks, Al Jazeera English is leading on the decision to move the IPL tournament out of India and they asked me to analyse the situation from the Indian security perspective with the background of the elections. I told viewers the astonishing fact that up to 15,000 National Cadet Corps college students are being mobilised for security duty in Andhra Pradesh.

The Newshour programme which went out at live at 9.0 pm GMT with the cricket story at the top of the show will be repeated Monday morning 9.0am GMT.

Indian Premier League 2009 Out Of India Amidst Security Fears

After the attacks in Pakistan on the Sri Lankan cricket team, Lalit Modi of the Indian Premier League seemed sure that the upcoming season could remain in India. But the current IPL season due to start April 10th and finish May 11th clashes with general lower house elections taking place in 28 states between April 16th and May 13th. The IPL submitted three different schedules to the Home Ministry but the Federal Home Minister has now declared that he cannot deploy enough security personnel to cover the cricket as well as the polling.

After the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, India cannot afford another largescale international incident and election poll security is in itself proving a headache for the government. 2.1 million security personnel and 4 million civilian officials will be deployed. In Andhra Pradesh alone, cover is needed for 66,ooo polling stations, up from 54,000 polls in 2004 at the last election. Polling takes place in five phases on five different days round the country.

India says that whereas 70%of the polls had uniformed personnel protection in 2004, it wants 100% coverage this time.

Tarique Ghaffur, former UK Metropolitan Police Security Chief, told me exclusively today,

'Soft targets like sport and hotels are now part of global terrorism. This provides an unprecedented demand stretch on security forces. I know the BCCI and the IPL will take security seriously given current threats and risks.'

Of the four possible venues outside India being discussed by the IPL, Dubai has taken itself out of the running, which leaves the UK, South Africa, and one other, thought to be in the Gulf. That result will be announced, the IPL has said, by Monday evening.

In Andhra Pradesh, around 10-15,000 members of the National Cadet Corps are being used for the very first time to help with security, an indication of just how stretched security services are.

US CIA Chief on Sub-Continent; Indication of US Focus

Leon Panetta, Obama's second-choice CIA Chief, in a clear indication of the the 'AfPak' direction of Washington's main inetlligence concerns, touched down in Islamabad Saturday after a visit to India. He was in town to talk to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani.

The powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Agency head Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha also met with his opposite number Panetta. This follows a visit by US National Intelligence Director John Michael McConnell and Federal Bureau of Investigation chief Robert Mueller.

Pakistan-watchers note that the Prime Minister, Gilani, has emerged from the recent political turmoil over the deposed Chief Justice, restored yesterday, as a stronger figure and that he may be shoring up his own base for a political dance which may take place at a future date. Sunday March 22, he meets with Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif who broke away from a coalition with President Zardari last year. Also present at the meeting at Nawaz's estate, Raiwind Farm,is Nawaz's brother Shahbaz, it is being reported.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Is Sherry Rehman Still In Post?

There seems to be some confusion as to the exact position of Pakistan's Information Minister. Who knows what conversations are going on behind the scenes? Reports of Sherry Rehman's resignation following the blocking of key Pakistani private TV channels went round the world, but now there appears to be a little damage limitation work going on. An appearance of unity is vital for the President, Asif Ali Zardari, whose credibility has been damaged by the U-turn the government has had to take during the past five days.

UPDATE Sherry, in what appears to be a heartfelt interview with Geo, says that she HAS resigned and explains why.

Indian Election Schedule

714 million voters constitute the world's largest democracy. So the 2009 election is a monolithic operation. What needs to be remembered is a point made by Sir Martin Sorrell on the sixteenth of March that India is a collection of twenty-eight states and seven union territories.

Each state has its own language, customs, culture, politics and history, so India can almost be viewed as a collection of countries. Hindi, the national language, is a bit of a unifier. The middle and upper classes mostly speak English too.

Six million civil officials will oversee this election, the fifteenth since Independence. The Lower House, the Lok Sabha, consists of five hundred and forty-five seats, and the election will be in five phases.

So polling days will take place on; April sixteenth, twenty-third, thirtieth, May seventh and thirteenth.

The total Indian electorate is greater than the combined populations of the US and the Russian Federation.

The current Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami will retire during the polling phase, and his successor, Navin Chawla, will oversee the actual elections.

An Indian visa centre has just opened in Cardiff. I’m not sure whether this means that India is expecting a critical mass of Welsh journalists to be visiting for the elections, or simply that Indo-Celtic relations are undergoing a sudden upswing.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Sir Martin Sorrell Speaks

I found Sir Martin Sorrell's Annual Lecture at the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers in Stationers' Hall last evening quite riveting. He spoke for three quarters of an hour with just a few bullet points for notes, and held my attention completely. He describes the BRIC countries; Brazil, India, China and Russia 'when the oil price rises again,' as tigers of the future, because, he says, 'they have saved better' than Western European economies. Regarding Britain, France, Germany, and what Sir Martin calls the other 'big spenders' of Europe, he feels the outlook is gloomy.

The WPP Chief Executive describes himself as a China bull, and talked extensively not only of the growth potential of that country but also of the possibilities for his own company there.

Sir Martin was one of TIME magazine's 100 people most likely to influence our lives in 2005. I managed to be the first questioner of the evening, and I asked him which two world leaders he would choose to ask questions of at the forthcoming G20 Summit in London. I'll let you know what he answered when I get there myself in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Lawyers' Long March; Sky News

I wrote this story yesterday for Sky News.com.

Despite the various noises made by interested parties such as the US (and of course that titan of world politics, the UK) President Zardari is intent on shoring up his position; not only has there been tear-gas aimed at those marching, but also police now surround the estate of former PM Nawaz Sharif who plans to join the Long march, along with many of his supporters who have joined him at his house.

The Government says that Sharif is a free agent and can come and go as he pleases,he is not under house arrest, and that the security is in place for his own safety. Given the security lapses which continue to plague the country, resulting in death and destruction, it is hardly believable that all of a sudden, Zardari's political rival has suddenly become the President's prime safety concern.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Eerie Familiar Wind in Pakistan; Private TV Taken Off Air, Military Crackdown on Protests

There is a four-day Long March taking place in Pakistan. It arises from former President Musharraf's sacking of a Chief Justice, and there was a previous Long March by lawyers in 2008, supported by all opposition parties, including the PPP now in power. The PPP was also a proponent of free speech and a free media, for Musharraf took the privately-owned GEO TV off air during times of turbulence.

Post-Musharraf, the uneasy coalition led by Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widow, and Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister, split when it became apparent that Zardari has no intention of reinstating the deposed Chief Justice and all those lawyers who were sacked alongside him. So the Long March continues, amidst a military crackdown and a ban on such peaceful protests.

With opposition leaders such as Imran Khan in fear of arrest and detention, GEO TV has again been taken off air in certain parts of Pakistan.

A notable important editor, Sherry Rehman, former friend of Benazir (I interviewed both, separately, for the BBC) supported Zardari and the PPP and was made Information Minister when Zardari came to power. In recent months, she has been at the coal face, defending Pakistan and Zardari at all junctures. A fearless editor, she has always defended a free media and has tendered her resignation due to the muzzling of a media outlet many Pakistanis watch and trust for objective analysis.

Sherry has a flat in Knightsbridge, London, which is one of the venues where I interviewed her, though I talk to her in Pakistan when I go there. She has unlimited energy, talks quickly and articulately, and paces around while she talks. For her to resign is a significant move, and that, together with the lawyers' protests and the ban on GEO TV, are red lights for Pakistani politics which the rest of the world needs to note.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Exclusive; Tarique Ghaffur Analyses Lahore Attacks

I have been sent a document written by Tarique Ghaffur, a 12-page analysis of the Lahore attacks which took place last week. Until recently, Tarique headed up the entire security operations for Britain's 2012 Olympics and was one of the Metropolitan Police's two most important chiefs. He is among the world's foremost experts on protecting and securing major cities from terrorist attacks and major emergencies, and now that he has set up his own company, he's going to be in demand all over the planet.

Tarique's paper is highly comprehensive and I am publishing some of his key findings, which he prefaces with the daunting observation that,

'despite the extensive global law enforcement effort, no country can consider itself immune to terrorist attack'

He sets out the background to last week's shootings in Pakistan;

'Pakistan is experiencing many ongoing and simultaneous violent fronts within its own borders that are extremely difficult to control.'

As we know, the political PPP/PML/N coalition has split, with some consequent political and operational manouevring...

'in the week before the attack, almost all the senior posts in Lahore City and Punjab provincial police were changed as President Zardari's PPP party took control of the province, apparently including the officer responsible for providing the security to the Sri Lankan team.'

Tarique picks up something overlooked by other analysts; that the sports convoy split into two at the point of departure.

'It would appear that at around 8.30am a convoy comprising the Sri Lankan players’ and umpires coaches, police jeeps, motorcycles and an ambulance, left the Pearl Intercontinental hotel for the 15-minute drive to the Gaddafi Stadium. It would also appear that the Pakistani players’ coach and convoy left at 8.35am on this day, unlike the previous two days when they had all travelled together in one convoy.'

'It was also clear that the security configuration appeared to be for an escort, i.e. facilitation through traffic, and not a protection configuration. When the convoy was split by the late departure of the Pakistan team, it appears that the escort was then divided between the two teams, thus potentially reducing any security afforded to both convoys. While there has been little or nothing revealed about the security of the Pakistan convoy, there has been much criticism about the dearth of security around the attacked Sri Lankan convoy. Proper ongoing risk assessment should have been used to determine the appropriate security requirements for each convey before either was allowed to move, not simply distributing the resources immediately available.'

Tarique highlights a feature possibly endemic in the Sub-Continent;

'Despite relatively large human resources, Pakistan police appear to be incapacitated by a lack of money, equipment and training. A Pakistani constable makes on average around $80 a month, compared with about $170 for a Taliban foot soldier.'

And though we have talked of similarities between the Mumbai bombings in 2008 and this latest attack, Tarique extracts this difference, while saying that the assailants were not as well prepared as they might have been.

'The fully armed attackers initially went up against totally unarmed civilians, (In Mumbai) until armed police were deployed to what had developed into a chaotic operating environment... The attack in Lahore was significantly different, in that the attackers went up against a specific small and single target passing through a well-established route, with predictable security in place around it. Additionally, this was not a suicide attack as the suspects clearly had an exit strategy which they successfully accomplished.'

'The attackers obviously had access to extensive firepower, but appeared inexperienced in its use, maybe through shortages of ammunition for training. The rocket launcher missed the target, as did the hand grenade. In addition, the Sri Lankan coach apparently had its windshield shattered and only 25 bullet holes after being held at the scene for around 90 seconds.'

'While the AK47 has a practical rate of fire of 90-100 rounds per minute firing single shots and 400 rounds per minute when fired in bursts, the magazine only holds 30 rounds. Therefore the rate of fire is dependent on how many of these heavy magazines each attacker was able to carry and their proficiency in using the weapons. While twelve attackers armed with AK47s could have laid down extensive fire power over 30 minutes, this does not appear to be the case.'

Regarding tactical training for protection deployment, Tarique has this to say;

'One of the first actions when a critical incident occurs is to secure the area and provide a security exclusion zone through armed and unarmed cordons, as appropriate. This provides the first visible representation that the security forces have taken control of the scene. It is my understanding that cordoning off the area took considerable time to put in place, if it ever went in effectively.'

'The next area of concern is around the secondary response to the incident. The apparent absence of any armed police deployments to the scene for the estimated 30 minute duration of the attack raises significant concerns around command and control of what had become a critical incident. In 30 minutes, resources could have been deployed from a number of miles away, let alone those engaged in outer cordons in the vicinity. Therefore it is difficult to understand what contingency arrangements had been put into place to take on an armed attack on the convoy. Through 30 minutes of attack not one attacker was shot, not one attacker seemed concerned about taking appropriate cover from any return fire and all the suspects left the scene unchallenged. There are clearly some critical operational lessons to be learnt from this tragic incident.'

This paper, which also covers the gold, silver and bronze types of command and control, as well as media handling in the event of a crisis, is not yet on general release and I have subbed it down to some core paragraphs. It makes fascinating reading, and its author, now free from the constraints of his previous high level position, is going to be of great value to those seeking to make areas under their jurisdiction, safer.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Tanzanite King

With the economic meltdown, investors have been turning to gold and rare gemstones as safer long term options. Enter fine jewellery designer Faisal Jooal, whose clients are so exclusive that he won't even reveal their names to me. His Kenya-based family has been trading in in gemstones for four generations, but Faisal, who studied at the London School of Economics, took the business to another level by entering the rarified world of exclusive gemstone design.

Faisal sources his gems from mines in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, Australia, and other places. He mentions a ruby mine in Tanzania, though the highly sought coloured tanzanite seems to have become his signature stone. He describes as his favourite, a mine owned by the South African Mining Company in Tanzania as 'The most socially ethical. It is one of the most adavanced in the world.'

He told me he has built relationships with key sources so that 'when the finest pieces come out of these mines, they know who to bring them to. Consequently, we get some of the world's biggest pieces and gemstones that people don't even get to hear about.'

With pieces first available from Harrods Fine Jewellery Room in 2003, Jooal then opened a store in Mayfair in 2006. He revealed that he only needs 200-300 clients in each territory, due to the nature of his product. He plans to open stores in Dubai, Moscow, New York, Monaco, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Delhi and Mumbai.

For Asian Enterprise Magazine, I get some really interesting CEOs from different disciplines and I love using the opportunity to get into their heads a little bit and ask them whatever I want. The interview with Faisal Jooal is in Issue 6, volume 1.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Lahore Shootings Update

Since I reported on the Lahore shootings targeting the Sri Lankan cricket team, there have been some arrests. Pakistani police tracking Muhammad Aqeel have arrested a man called Shafiq from whom he bought a sim card, as well as an alleged accomplice of Aqeel's called Talat whom police arrested after a raid in the Liberty Market area, the scene of the shoot-out.

Unsurprisingly, Aqeel, who purportedly belongs to a militant group, remains at large.

In the US, The Chicago Tribune reports that Juan Zarate, Bush's deputy national security adviser for counter-terrorism, has said that banned militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba has replaced Al-Qaeda as the biggest threat to American security.

The US drone attacks on the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, fertile ground for Islamist militant recruitment and training, are, it is claimed, having an impact on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

As I have always said, the titular heads of militant groups are not indispensable. The groups themselves have morphed and transposed over the years as they adapt to changing circumstances and intelligence is shared between those sharing an ideology concerning the perceived oppression of Muslims throughout the world.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Lahore, Off-Diary

Some of the work related to the Lahore attacks is here on Skynews.com and here too.
I am almost sure that despite the 'best intentions' of the authorities, the masterminds behind the attacks will not be apprehended or punished. The chain of command in any case is not linear. There will be arrests, but these will not prevent further violent operations. It is easy to round up suspects and sling them into jail. Happens all the time in this part of the world.

Lahore is a relatively laid-back city, compared to Karachi, with its bustling port activity, stock exchange and ethnic tension. Islamabad is considered a more sterile, manufactured place, with its wide boulevards and mainly administrative/diplomatic buildings.

Lahore has a real history dating back to Mughal times, and its people have their own fashion and sense of culture. The Pearl Continental Hotel, where I stay when working out there, and where the Sri Lanka team were, has a coffee bar and eating area where locals love to go in the evening and observe each other, just like on a fashionable Parisian boulevard, as elegant Lahorites languidly drift by in their up to the minute salwar kameezes.

Lahorites dress differently to differently to those from Karachi and Islamabad. The preparation of the gunmen is interesting, for they too dressed to completely blend in with the urban dwellers, some of them in the style of salwar kameez popular in this town, others in casual trousers, jackets, and shirts. They appeared clean-shaven and wore trainers, along with backpacks containing their deadly ammunition.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Lahore Shoot-Out

As I've been reporting recently, the security situation in Pakistan has been deteriorating with extremist elements becoming stronger and more brazen in their attacks. Right now I'm preparing reports, but will be back after I've filed.

Monday, 2 March 2009


The alleged dissatisfaction felt by the Bangladesh Rifles which manifested in a mutiny widely reported over the last few days is common to border areas around the North of the Sub-Continent where the different military wings vie for attention, resources and acknowledgement from their respective capitals, be they New Delhi or Dhaka. The need for a body count and point scoring means that there is often as much internal squabbling between soldiers from different factions in the same country as there is fighting cross border neighbours.

After two years of army-backed emergency rule in Bangladesh, the country has returned to democracy under Sheikh Hasina Wajed and the recent mutiny has been her first real test in office. She appears to have handled the situation. Despite the current problems, the election held just a couple of months ago was heralded as a watershed by analysts. There were many independent official observers in the country at that time, the biggest contingent coming from the US. A delegation from Britain was led by Baroness Uddin. After speaking at a post-election meeting in the House of Lords recently, Pola Uddin told me exclusively that many international observers had been present and were unanimous in their praise at the way in which the election had been conducted, with cooperation from all political parties, particularly opposition groups, having a voice both during and post-election.

‘This is a watershed election for Bangladesh, with her proud citizens coming out in their millions. People have given their verdict in a free and independent way. It was a privilege to be a witness to men and women participating in a democratic process which was peaceful. We should acknowledge that without the cooperation of the political parties and the leadership of the Election Commission such results would have been difficult to achieve. It is my wish that all parties will continue to work with the government to ensure that one day soon this fragile democracy will be an example to others; however it is only possible if all the political parties continue their cooperation beyond today. I hope that the international community will continue to support the government and the opposition parties in their ambition for a peaceful Bangladesh.” Baroness Uddin said.

“Bangladesh has been known for political violence and unrest. People have proved that they can go through an election. Politics back home always impacts on the diaspora. The Bangladeshi community can take pride because we have demonstrated that elections can change the face of the country; opposition groups are providing the maximum amount of support post-election. This is historic, (often opposition groups boycott parliament.) The Government has indicated that the deputy speaker and the chairs of scrutiny committees can be drawn from the opposition parties, emulating other, older democracies.” Britain’s first female Muslim peer also demonstrated that Bangladesh does not act in isolation.

“What happens in Bangladesh matters to India and China and what happens in the US matters to Bangladesh.” She added.