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.

Interested parties are invited to comment.

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Thursday, 30 July 2009

As Indian Cabinet Minister Speaks at CBI, One Audience Member Behaves Oafishly

We all have to sit through over - long speeches sometimes. In broadcast journalism, lengthy press conferences and hours and hours of interviews are our bread and butter. We have to develop patience and manners in order to arrive at our destination; the finished article or the finished programme.

I can't recall how many hours of unused material sit on my shelves and in my notebooks. Those who can deliver succint, pithy phrases at our request are few and far between. So we wait, and we suffer for our work.

Oftentimes, people bore us and we switch off. But we need to tolerate. I don't know why, but I am still astonished at boorish oafs of a certain age and from a certain class and background who betray a schoolboy mentality and gross lack of manners sometimes, in this green and pleasant land.

A glaring example remains from a recent high level conference in London. There, at the illustrious heaquarters of the Confederation of British Industry, I sat in the front row next to one Sir Thomas Harris, KBE CMG. He was sitting next to Richard Lambert, Director-General of the CBI.

On the panel in front of us, chaired by Lord Turner, was Anand Sharma, India's new Cabinet Minister for Commerce, fresh from a visit to Washington, in town to meet with Peter Mandelson and to give the keynote address at this conference called 'Managing Global Crisis.'

After Mr Sharma had got up to speak, Sir Thomas Harris began to shuffle around in his seat. As Mr Sharma continued, speaking thoughtfully and clearly, my neighbour said to me and also to Richard Lambert, 'Too slow!' meaning, presumably, that Mr Sharma, in Sir Thomas's opinion, was talking too slowly.

Sir Thomas then proceeded to sigh loudly, make faces and shuffle around some more, his gestures now being noticed by panel members who were giving him quizzical looks. Finally, he got out his shiny black briefcase, opened it and started rummaging around in it noisily as if he needed to be elsewhere.

I thought this behaviour the height of rudeness, especially so since Mr Sharma was a guest in Britain and the country is hoping to do a lot of business with India.

India is the second largest investor in Britain, with a recession-busting 44 per cent jump in the number of projects it has created since 2008. Indian investments have led to 4,139 new jobs since last year, contributing to a pool of nearly 8,000 British jobs.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Rajmata of Jaipur passes

London is very much a province of both India and Pakistan, particularly for the elites of the two countries. Many have summer homes here and vacation in the capital to escape the heat back home as well as to enjoy London's social season; Ascot, royal garden parties, etc.

Some have stronger ties; the Rajmata of Jaipur was born in London and was a frequent visitor. Elegant and regal, with her saris and short dark haired bob, she was always polite and friendly. The Rajmata invited me several times to her home for a cup of tea; we sometimes spoke on the phone but I never took up her gracious offer.

Sadly, now, if I do visit, she won't be there.

Post- Clinton India Visit Analysis; the US Loves China too, Don't Forget

This run down on India from an American academic pushed a lot of buttons and was quite comprehensive. It garnered some comments defending India, interestingly.

While analysts have talked about India being a US -friendly bulwark against rising Chinese military might, they crept back into the woodwork when the Sino-US love-in happened virtually the day Clinton returned from her Asian odyssey.

America is playing a smart game which ultimately serves her own best interests.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Pakistan's ISI to India, Let's Take Tea Together

Everyone knows about the influence of the ISI, the intelligence wing of the Pakistani military which dominates and is involved with all aspects of life in Pakistan.

From shadowy agents who tap and follow foreign journalists and aliens, to colonels and brigadiers in civilian clothes who 'mind' official visitors, the ISI is all pervasive. I've encountered their personnel at different levels.

Now, they have come out and this report in the Hindu newspaper shows that they want to be acknowledged for their role in bilateral politics.

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: Days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani met in Egypt, the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence floated a suggestion that India deal not just with Pakistan’s civilian government but also directly with its Army and intelligence agency.
Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha made the out-of-the-box overture during a meeting earlier this month with the three Indian defence advisers representing the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force attached to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, The Hindu has learnt.

The Hindu has learnt that during the course of the extremely cordial meeting, Lt. Gen. Pasha came clean in stating that the ISI and the Pakistan Army were involved in framing Pakistan’s India policy, along with the Foreign Office. He made the oblique suggestion that India deal directly with these three institutions if it had a similar three-way mechanism.

Politics; Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Except in India and Pakistan, you tend to see the same faces and families coming round again and again on the fairground wheel.

The Abdullahs, father and son, have dominated politics in Indian Kashmir for as long as I can remember. Omar is seen as a rising star in Delhi. I met and interviewed his father who has close ties to England. Farookh Abdullah has a reputation with the ladies, but was a perfect gentleman with me over breakfast and while showing me round his official residence (he likes his designer golf clubs and I later glimpsed him playing golf on a course in central Srinagar followed by his bodyguards on my way to an interview).

But now, there is yet another scandal hitting the Valley, so Omar has resigned his Chief Minister post while investigations are underway.

But there will be Abdullahs in Kashmiri politics for many years to come.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

India Improves Second-Strike Capability with Nuclear Submarine

Here is a raison d'etre for the INS Arihant.

Some strategic analysts believe that the belligerence of China, its aggressive border patrols in northeast India, and its claims to Arunachal Pradesh's Tawang region are all influenced by India's lack of a credible second-strike capability. The INS Arihant should, then, help place India in a position of strength when compared to its larger neighbour.

But trials on the sub will take over a year to complete.

It is expected to continue its sea and harbour trials for another 12-16 months before it joins the naval fleet with its complement of around 23 officers and 72 men.

Update 4.8.09;

Russia Today English is announcing that the INS Arihant was built with Russian technology and co-operation, and that the Russian Federation will be giving India on a ten-year lease a more advanced nuclear submarine than the INS Arihant. It has been announced that the two countries are co-operating on defense technology, since the RF has a more advanced capability. India increased its defense budget by 24% in the recent budget.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

HuffPo on US-India Relations

One of my outlets, Huffington Post, ran this Simple Intelligence summary of the US - Indian relationship

Indian Seduction
SI Analysis: US Secretary of State Clinton returned from India after securing nuclear, defense, seucity, energy, space and arms agreements. India is gleeful that the Bush-era policy -- that overlooked its status as a non-signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty -- remains for all intensive purposes in effect. This is because the US needs India as an ally: to pursue peace talks with Pakistan and wants to secure its alliance as a counter-force to China's growth in Asia.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Final Press Conference before Recess at Downing Street

The Prime Minister was quite relaxed, I observed, watching him from a few feet away in the Downing Street press conference. Some serious questions on helicopters and the economy were interspersed with lighter ones on football and holidays. Such as would he like to holiday in Berlusconi's villa? (a smiling demur by way of an answer).

As always, the big TV boys sat in the front row and the BBC's Nick Robinson did nothing to shake off his ' Downing Street pet hack' title (given by his ITV competitor) by being the first the PM picked to ask a question.

Le Monde was there, as well as Africa Today whose reporter danced a little jig outside No 10 while we waited. (She also took ages to ask her question, the PM had to stop her repeating herself because she was going on and on).

There was a Chinese Television contingent but unusually the reporters didn't speak today. The Japanese asked lots about the PM's predictions concerning their forthcoming election; a topic he avoided dealing with directly.

My question was on Afghanistan and Pakistan. I asked if the PM wanted to line up with Admiral Mike Mullen, US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff in agreeing that the map for Afghan battle space needed to be redrawn to include Pakistan. I also asked how that was going to be done. Gordon Brown answered me fully and courteously.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Interesting Snippets in Kasab's Statement

There is a media ban on the publication of aspects of the statement which Mumbai gunman Ajmal Kasab's gave in court Tuesday, but the question I posed in my last post has been answered.

'The court asked him how he had learnt about Pakistan’s acceptance of his nationality, particularly when he had no access to either newspapers, television or the Internet. The lone surviving gunman replied that he had received the news from a guard on duty outside his cell...

He added a detail to his testimony. He told the court that when he and Abu Ismail were given Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) as a target, they were told to take hostages and move them to a higher level.
“We were told to open fire and take hostages to an upper floor and to fight with those who were coming to their rescue, including the police,” Ajmal said.
Ajmal made some crucial statements in court on Tuesday as part of his confession. They pertained to the purpose of the attack as indicated by the perpetrators and masterminds and the message they wanted to send to the Government of India. Ajmal also wanted to convey a message to his handlers.
However, this part of his confession faces a court ban on publication.'

More Detail from Mumbai Gunman Kasab

Before the presiding judge decided to adjourn the case until Wednesday, Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving gunman from the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, gave out some more information today Tuesday. The Statesman reports Abu Al Kama and Zarar Shah as also masterminding the attacks, in addition to the names he previously gave.

'According to the statement, Zarar Shah provided computer and IT support over VoIP (voice over internet protocol) while finance were organised by Shahid Jamil. He also named one Mazhar Iqbal for crucial role and support on satellite phone line from Pakistan...

He said when he and nine other members of the group started from Karachi, Lakhvi, Hamzha and other top LeT men saw them off wishing success. He said they changed boats thrice till they landed on the shore of Mumbai at Badhwar Park at Cuffe Parade on the evening of 26/11. '

As his raison d'etre for the sudden plea of guilt, Kasab said that since Pakistan is acknowledging that he is from that country, he should now plead guilty. The question remains as to how, if he is in solitary confinement cut off from information about the outside world, did he know about the latest Pakistani development?

Monday, 20 July 2009

Indian PM will go to the US in November

The US has invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to go to Washington for November 24th 2009. The new best friends are continuing the love-in; each has so much to gain from the other.

Richard Holbrooke Leaving for Pakistan Today

US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, leaves for another visit to Pakistantoday from Andrews Air Base today. The US is maintaining pressure on the Pakistanis to deal with militancy in return for much needed aid.

US-India Space Agreement

While discussions on the sale of US military hardware to India conclude, to include a limiting clause, one important aspect, The Hindu notes,

'the highlight of Monday’s discussions between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and the U.S. Secretary of State will be the unveiling of a new strategic dialogue architecture and the signing of an agreement to facilitate the launch of U.S. satellites and satellites with U.S. components on Indian launch vehicles.

South Block officials say the new dialogue architecture is intended to take Indo-U.S. relations to a higher level, 3.0 — to use Ms. Clinton’s phrase — and will cover areas like nonproliferation, security, education, health and development. Although the U.S. side is keen on India making public the sites where U.S.-supplied nuclear reactors will be located, a final decision has yet to be taken on this in South Block.'

Surviving 26/11 Mumbai Attacker Kasab Changes Plea to Guilty

Taking his own defence by surprise, the lone surviving Mumbai attacker Ajmal Amir Kasab has changed his plea to guilty in court concerning the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. He has narrated in astonishing detail how he and his co-attackers were brought from Karachi and has named as the masterminds Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi as well as Abu Hamza. Kasab also named Indian Abu Zungal as having taught him Hindi as well as 'Saeed Bhai' who trained him in Pakistan. He has asked for judgement to be pronounced and for the trial to close accordingly.

There is discussion around whether the confession is voluntary and going to remain consistent.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Indonesian Attack Targeted Businessmen in Executive Lounge

The Australian, today, considers that mining executives holding a meeting in the JWMarriott Lounge of the Marriott hotel were targeted by the suicide bomber in Jakarta in the attack which happened Friday 17th July. The attacker could have headed for a coffee shop in the hotel, but didn't.

One of the men inside the room, the former head of Rio Tinto's Indonesian operations and member of the Australian-Indonesian Business Council, Noke Kiroyan, had no doubt the Marriott bomber had directly targeted the 19 businessmen who had gathered.

"That meeting was specifically for a single purpose," Mr Kiroyan said. "I would say the guy didn't turn left to the Sailendra coffee shop but turned right to the JW Marriott lounge, which is exclusively used by our group for these discussions."

A US embassy source confirmed Mr Kiroyan's view that the businessmen were targeted.

A hotel source said a security guard had challenged the bomber before he entered the lounge but was told: "I've got to deliver something to my boss."

The US embassy source said the Marriott, and the other hotel that was attacked, the Ritz-Carlton, had been designated as high security for visiting diplomats and anyone associated with Western embassies...

'I would think that someone had enough information to go down there and walk the halls.'

Hillary Clinton Calls Pakistan to Account on Mumbai

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, has been clear and unequivocal on her trip to India so far.

Noting that Pakistan houses a ‘syndicate of terrorism’, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her country is watching the actions being taken by Islamabad against the scourge and expected that perpetrators of Mumbai attacks meet their ‘day of reckoning’.

Clearly, the US's words are encouraging Pakistan to act somewhat faster in the arrests of suspects allegedly involved in Mumabi, though no convictions have taken place on Pakistani soil.

Pakistan Admits Lakhvi Behind Mumbai Attacks

Indian Express.com discusses a Pakistani dossier, sent to India, on the Mumbai attacks.

In the 36-page dossier, that contains some annexures, Pakistan has informed India about the case details of five terrorists, including Lashkar-e-Taiba commander and "mastermind" Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi, who have been arrested, sources said.
Besides Lakhvi, the arrested Pakistanis have been identified as Hammad Amin Sadiq, Mazhar Iqbal alias Abu Al Qama, Abdul Wajid alias Zarrar Shah and Shahid Jamil Riaz.
All the five had provided logistic and other kinds of support to the 10 Mumbai attackers, nine of whom were killed during the gunfights with security personnel. Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only surviving terrorist, was arrested.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Hillary Clinton talks to Aamir Khan

In India for a much heralded visit, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already met with business leaders after a remembrance ceremony for the victims of the Mumbai attacks, and is speaking in relevant and immediate ways on education in a televised conversation with Aamir Khan.

While, behind the scenes, the US would like to see Indo-Pak differences over Kashmir settled, she has publicly said that Kashmir is an issue which should be resolved by both sides looking at it with 'fresh' eyes. Naming the Kashmir issue will not thrill India.

India is a huge potential market for the US which is its largest trading partner. So India has great leverage with the US.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

UK's Most Interesting Athlete Competes Sunday

Aberdeen-based Scot Thompson holds a lot of titles. He has athletics caps for all four throwing events; Discus, Shot Putt, Hammer and Javelin. He has represented Great Britain as well as Scotland in Athletics and the Highland Games since 1995. In addition to Scotland and England, he has won championships in Saudi Arabia, Wales, Northern Ireland.

He will be contesting the World Aviva Trials Sunday 12th July, which will be shown on BBC television. Scot is aimimg for his third podium finish in six years at this event. After some terrible injuries -one suffered a year ago at this very meet when he tore his left groin nearly off the bone- - he's now stronger, lighter and in better shape than ever. Scot has complete mastery and a lot of knowledge of the human body and devised his own rehab programmes (aided by a good physio and masseur, he told me).

Many Olympians I have met get a sizeable ego when they start winning prizes and the world starts to fall at their feet but Scot is the total opposite; he has no trace of ego on him. Most interestingly, he isn't the product of pushy parents taking him off to competitions every weekend and chauffeuring him around for training sessions with expensive coaches. Instead, Scot decided at an early age at school that he would train and build his body, and with self-study, he learnt how to use gym equipment and made sure to train regularly on his own until he was winning competitions.

Scot is blogging regularly for a new £38 m sports village in Aberdeen, as well as writing for http://www.trendmagazine.co.uk and lecturing. He is in demand for appearances and motivational speaking but is usually too busy training to take up the lucrative offers. Read more about him here.

Scot threw his best distance of the year last week, so should do well at the Aviva event Sunday. He is in line for selection for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and with his record and ability, there is no reason why he should not compete for a medal in the 2012 Olympics.

Friday, 10 July 2009

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband in Pakistan

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has been to Pakistan 'More times than he's been to Washington,' he said on his fifth visit to Pakistan this week, demonstrating the strategic importance of UK-Pakistan relations.

In May 2009 a new 'Strategic Dialogue' between the two nations was announced co-inciding with a new strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistan.

Miliband met with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, and Foreign Minister Qureshi who has just been on a visit to London.

The topics under discussion ranged from counter-terrorism and security to regional stability to development.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Clinton's Departure Date for India Confirmed

Hillary Clinton will depart for India and a regional conference in Thailand July 17th, foreign policy site The Cable reports.

Before leaving Washington, she will deliver a major speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.

As I have reported on SkyNews.com and in studio, the US is pushing hard on relations with India mainly on trade and economy, as it sees the second fastest growing economy in the world as a lucrative market not least for civilian nuclear technology after a landmark agreement on the topic was signed with Prime Minister Singh in Washington last year.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Ontario's Finance Minister Very Interested in UK and Gulf

Earlier this year, The Honourable Dwight Duncan, Ontario's Minister of Finance, Minister of Revenue and Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet visited the UK and gave a keynote speech in London at a Canada House luncheon.

These speeches are usually given as a summary of where the particular minister's interests lie after some key meetings have taken place, so they give an insight into what the ministerial team has been up to on its travels.

Dwight Duncan had been visiting the Gulf Region; Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Riyadh. He said,

'Canada and Ontario have an excellent track record in the Gulf region and are respected partners.'

The $10bn worth of goods traded between the UK and Ontario include key natural resources gold, nickel, uranium, precious metals, aerospace products, diamonds, computers, oh, and vegetables.

Investors in Ontario gives access to the North american Free Trade Area market of 440 million people.

With a provincial GDP higher than in Belgium, Greece and in Sweden, it seems investment and trade between Ontario, the UK and the Gulf region looks likely to continue its upswing.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Indian Budget Sent Markets Tumbling

With the news of the 2009 Indian budget, announced yesterday by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, the stock market crashed mainly because of fiscal deficit worries as it felt that there was no significant major reform visible.

The ‘aam aadmi,’ or the common man, stands to gain the most from the budget with a loaded infrastructure push. A 100% increase in spending on power is going to make a huge difference. There are also going to be social sector schemes, and much money will be spent on rural development. The total budget expenditure is going to be the highest since India’s independence in 1947.

However, the deficit could go to a 16-year high, and a downgrade risk for the economy is feared.

An extract from the budget reads;

'The first challenge is to return the GDP growth rate of
9% per annum at the earliest. The second challenge is to
deepen and broaden the agenda for inclusive

Astaire Economist Deepak Lalwani reacted with these bullet - point thoughts;

'Populist budget seen to be fiscally profligate
Rattles market as it lacks market-friendly reforms
Sensex posts largest budget day fall since 2001
Foreign investors disappointed.'

Monday, 6 July 2009

Sri Lanka President says 'Conditions' in Tamil Camps 'Best Any Country Has'

Sri Lanka's President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has said in an interview with India's The Hindu that he wants to resettle 'as soon as possible' the 300,000 Tamils displaced by the recent war with the Tamil Tigers.

“I would say the condition in our camps is the best any country has,” the Sri Lankan President said over dinner with the newspaper's interviewer.

He gives some reasons for the delays in rehabilitation.

The war is over, the Tamil Tigers have undoubtedly been defeated but the essential grievances of the Sri Lankan Tamil population remain, i.e. inequalities in education, employment, and civil rights.

How those are going to be immediately addressed is not clear.

Most important of all, while the world's leaders and the UN make mealy-mouthed utterings, the fact remains that media and independent observers have not had and still do not have freedom of movement to corroborate, catalogue and accurately record what is going on in the camps and outside. WHY NOT?

Tamils themselves, in India and the huge diaspora around the world, in the UK, Europe, Canada, and Australia for instance, feel very aggrieved and will not roll over in the present circumstances.

The Sri Lankan regime is about power politics; rule being retained within the family of the President and his allies.

I am surprised at how his utterings are not subject to any of the same scrutiny that Sarah Palin's are, for instance. The consequences of President Rajapaksa's actions are already much more serious than the hypothetical future consequences of a President Palin.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Watercolour Exhibition at the Nehru Centre, London, Opened by Michael Wood

Last week handsome television historian Michael Wood opened an amazing exhibition of watercolour paintings at the Nehru Centre in London.

Renowned artist Dr. A. Murugesan's exhibition called 'Magical Lands: Magical Landscapes' has indeed captured in art the magical landscapes of Holland, Zambia, Ukraine, India, the USA, Cyprus and Great Britain.

The artist has previously been shown in Lusaka, Zambia, and Kiev, in the Ukraine. Like many high achieving Indians, he is multi-skilled and also holds a senior Indian government post. (Cf Amit Chaudhuri, award-winning writer/ skilled musician.) Married to an Indian diplomat, Dr Murugesan accompanies his wife on foreign postings while following his artistic profession at the same time. So he's producing art-essays of the countries of assignment. That's interesting, and romantic!

Michael Wood is a fan of Dr Murugesan as well as a friend and H.E. Mr Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, the Indian High Commisiioner, was present at the opening.

Londoners have just a few more days to catch the show in Mayfair. Find out more about the understated and talented Dr Murugesan at his site, I am sure he will have a lot more art to show us in the years to come.