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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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

PM's Letter to Burmese Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi


We were informed by Downing Street that the Prime Minister wrote to Aung San Suu Kyi today, "as part of his continuing efforts to support her and engage with the Burmese people. The letter was passed to the Burmese authorities (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) by the British Embassy in Rangoon; this is the formal channel by which messages to her are passed.

In his letter the PM:

- reiterated his strong personal support for Aung San Suu Kyi, her courage and her selflessness;
- called for free and inclusive elections in Burma next year, warning of the consequences for the Burmese regime if the election is not free;
- called on the Burmese regime to engage with Aung San Suu Kyi as part of a genuine dialogue which allows a transition to democracy in Burma, and
- assured Aung San Suu Kyi that the UK will continue to do everything possible to advance change in Burma"

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's New year Message; Extracts

Comments from the text the PM is expected to deliver tomorrow;

“As we enter a new decade, I will continue to do what is necessary to protect and improve this great country in the interests of all the people of Britain”.

On Britain, and the British people

“In my life, I have learnt that there are only really two kinds of people. Those who think things can never change, and those who believe they have to.... And I think the vast majority of British people are in the second camp. We are a nation that combines responsibility with fairness, compassion with aspiration - always reaching higher, dreaming bigger, aiming for ever greater things”.

On our economic future

“There are some who say we must plan for a decade of austerity and unfairness where the majority lose out while the privileged few protect themselves. I believe we can create a decade of shared prosperity – with opportunities fairly shared among all those who work hard and play by the rules”.

“We can be incredibly proud that Britain’s dynamic entrepreneurs have defied the recession to start up nearly half a million new businesses. There are now 3 million British businesses – more than at any point since records began in the 1980s, and fewer businesses closed in 2009, than in 2008”.

“And I am confident that, if we continue with the tough decisions we have made, unemployment will start to drop this year, and more small businesses will open and flourish”.

“That wasn’t inevitable; it was the change we chose. And so my message today is simple: don’t wreck the recovery. The recovery is still fragile, and it needs to be nurtured in the interests of those who were hit hardest by the recession – the people on middle and modest incomes who don’t want any special favours – they simply want a bit of help to own their own home, set up their own business, and give their children the best start in life”.

On priorities for 2010

“And so let me talk to you about my key priorities for the coming year – about how we will secure the recovery and make the new decisions of this new decade.

My first priority is securing the recovery while cutting the deficit in a sensible and fair way.

The second is radical reform of our public services while protecting frontline spending on schools, hospitals and the police.

The third is a new, cleaned up politics.

And the fourth is maintaining Britain’s global strength and fulfilling our responsibilities against the terrorist threat from Afghanistan and the wider world.

Britain is too great a country with so much potential - and people with such high aspirations - that in the coming decade we must not settle for anything less than big ambitions.

We are determined to reduce the deficit at a responsible pace, without choking off the recovery or damaging the frontline services the mainstream majority rely on. And so our strategy is to go for growth, because we want to build our country up not talk Britain down. Later this week we will be publishing the first part of our prosperity plan for a successful, fairer and more responsible Britain: a plan detailing how we will invest in the industries and jobs of the future. From high speed rail to aerospace to the digital economy to clean energy to advanced manufacturing, 2010 is when we will really get Britain moving forward again”.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Analyst discusses Congress's Strengthening Position in 2009

Amulya Gangula has written a discourse on how Indian opposition parties have not managed to maintain their strength through 2009, while the Congres party is quietly maintaining a growing lead.

Given that the Left has generally been vocal and active, and India's democratic process gives freedom for a strong and healthy opposition, the shift is interesting for sociologial as well as for political reasons.

Geo News Reporter's Child Relatives Killed in Monday's Suicide Attack

Geo News Senior Reporter Faim Siddiqui is in hospital after beng injured in Monday's suicide attack in Karachi,which took place during the Ashura procession on the main Jinnah Road. His yound niece and nephew who were also in the procession were killed in the attack.

Statement by PM Gordon Brown concerning Execution in China of Akmal Shaikh


"I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted. I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken.

At this time our thoughts are with Mr Shaikh’s family and friends and I send them our sincere condolences".

Monday, 28 December 2009

Latest Comment from PM Gordon Brown on Akmal Shaikh

On the case of Akmal Shaikh, a Downing Street spokesman said:

"The British Government has been doing and will continue to do everything within its power to secure a fair trial and clemency on the death penalty for Akmal Shaikh. The Prime Minister has intervened personally on a number of occasions: he has raised the case with Premier Wen, most recently at the Copenhagen summit; and has written several times to President Hu. At every level - including at Ministerial level today, in a phone call from FCO Minister Ivan Lewis to his Chinese counterpart - the Government has raised its concerns, made clear our opposition to the death penalty, and requested a full mental health assessment. We will remain engaged in the coming hours".

The death penalty is due for this individual within less than 12 hours now. His relations, who have flown to China to plead on his behalf, have informed him of the penalty (reportedly he had no knowledge that he had been awarded an execution by the Chinese authorities).

How the US is working on Counter-terrorism in Yemen

The New York Times reports that the US has opened up a covert front in Yemen in the war against extremism, training the military and working closely with the President. General Patreus and John Brennan, Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, have already made separate secret visits into the territory.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Nigerian Attacker Story for Television

Al Jazeera English took some fresh angles for me to examine on the story Saturday which has been headlining now since Thursday evening, when I got a tip off from America that it was not a firework which had been exploded but something far more sinister.

Al Jazeera London asked me to talk on security implications in the wake of the failed attempt, probable new strategies being deployed by Al Qaeda, and we discussed off-camera the politicization of this security issue in Washington.

An excellent Deputy News Editor called Awad Joumaa in London from Al Jazeera HQ in Doha conducted the interview having spent much of the day in central London outside the suspect's flat. Awad had examined the electoral roll, finding several members with the same family surname registered to the luxury flat.

ABC News published an excellent write up describing how Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab was connected with Al Qaeda leaders after making an internet approach and taken to a village North of Yemen capital Sanaa.

American born imam Anwar Awlaki who survived a US backed air attack this week is a major Al Qaeda recruiter. Abdulmutallab lived with him in Yemen for about a month.

The device, according to ABC News, was made at the village in Yemen, and consisted of a six-inch packet of powder and a syringe with a liquid. Both were sewn into the student's underwear.
On the subject of security measures, given the location of the device this time, I'm not sure that even a "pat down" would detect something like this. The body scan I mentioned on Al Jazeera might work better, but my American aviation security source told me, "Magnetometers and puffer machines don't always catch everything.Screening doesn't always work."

I think Yemen is going to play a major role in training militants and launching anti-US attacks in future as Afghan camps reduce somewhat, though the Afghan Pakistan border remains highly porous and militant leaders adopt smaller, more mobile methods of training and operations.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Second Peshawar Attack in Days

Dawn notes

The attack occurred at a security checkpoint in one of Peshawar's busiest areas in an army cantonment outside a government office and a church, where Pakistan's Christian minority were preparing to celebrate Christmas.

Unusually, this attacker appeared to be on his own and on foot, when he was stopped passing through a sceurity checkpoint which is where he blew himself up. He had nails in his vest to cause maximum damage. The use of the lone attacker marks a return to older techniques of attack, rather than the contemporary team-operations of forced entry at high speed, mostly in vehicles.

The blast which killed at least five occurred near an airlines office and and Shia mosque. Peshawar has been very much a focus for attacks over the past six weeks or so.

On Tuesday, as noted in this Dawn editorial, there was an attack on the Peshawar Press Club in which a head constable was killed trying to protect the premises and those who were in it.

Dawn writes of the inadequate protection, training and protection of ordinary policemen;

in spite of their inadequate training, insufficient equipment and facilities and poor monetary status, the police continue to perform their duty as best as they can.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Headley Planned Attacks on Indian Jewish Centres with LeT

The Hindustan Times has some remarkable findings about the suspect charged by the FBI over the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Essentially, he had more targets planned, and they appear to be Jewish centres of various types, according to the newspaper.

The last visit of American terror suspect David Headley, before being arrested by the FBI, to India in March this year was to finalise synchronised terror strikes on Jewish houses located in five cities at the instance of terror outfit Lashker-e-Taiba.

Piecing together the travel trail of Headley during his visit to India in March this year, security agencies, who were briefed by FBI and US Department of Justice officials in New Delhi recently, are understood to have concluded that the US terror suspect was scouting only the Jewish targets including the El Al airlines office in Mumbai.

...The Chabad House in Pahargunj, Delhi is located in narrow lanes and is frequented generally by backpackers from Israel while either going to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh or to western parts of the country.

The sources said Headley also visited the house and posed as Jew while carrying out his reconnaissance mission for terror group Lashker.

From Delhi, Headley travelled to Pushkar in the outskirts of Ajmer in Rajasthan where he insisted on a room opposite a Jewish prayer centre claiming he was a Jew and wanted "holy sight"....

After staying there for three days, Headley moved to Goa where he stayed at a guest house located in Anjuna village along the coast of Arabian sea before proceeding towards Pune where he recced the area around Koregaon Park.

Though initially it was believed that he wanted to target the foreigners coming to the Osho Ashram, it was found later that he had scouted the area for targeting the Jewish prayer centre in the area.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Pakistani Taliban, TTP, Claim Rawal Pindi Mosque Attacks

The TTP have claimed repsonsibility for the Rawal Pindi mosque attacks by email CNN said.

"We reconfirmed it, that the TTP has done it, and will do more which are already planned," the group said.

"We once again mention that we are not against the innocent people and the state of Pakistan but we against those officers and ministers who are American by hearts and minds and Pakistani just by faces," the e-mail message said.

CNN said "The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan took responsibility for the action on Friday but reiterated its claim in an e-mail to CNN on Saturday because media outlets quoted analysts and some officials who doubted the group's participation."

Hakimullah's Deputy,Waliur Rehman Mehsud, told the BBC separately, according to The Hindu,

the Taliban’s primary target was the Pakistan Army, and they would continue to carry out such attacks. The civilians killed in the attack, including the 17 children and aged people, he said, were family members of army officials, and therefore their deaths “did not matter”.

The News stated,

PESHAWAR: The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) once again followed its selective policy of claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks on security forces installations and denying those targetting public places when it claimed having attacked the Parade Lane Mosque in Rawalpindi on Friday.

Waliur Rahman, the TTP commander of South Waziristan, phoned a BBC reporter late Friday to claim responsibility for the mosque attack in which up to 40 worshippers including senior army officers were killed. He said the attack was launched because this was a military area.

Normally Waliur Rahman doesn’t interact much with the media. Azam Tariq and occasionally Hakimullah Mahsud and Qari Hussain contact journalists to provide their version of events. But it seems Waliur Rahman wanted to claim credit for the Rawalpindi mosque attack as it killed a number of serving army personnel and enabled him to claim revenge for the military operation in South Waziristan.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The BBC News Channel and Al Jazeera International on the same day with the Rawal Pindi attacks

Talking about the audacious attacks on Parade Lane Mosque in my father's home town of Rawal Pindi in the afternoon, with the BBC repeating my interview on subsequent bulletins, followed by the Al Jazeera Newshour from London.

I look forward to seeing if the angle will be different.

Anchor Louise Mincham's outfit was unusual and I'm afraid I couldn't resist leaning across Julian Worriker and asking her where she had bought it from. So that Julian didn't feel left out of the conversation I complimented him on his suit too. As it happens we were all wearing different shades of gray.