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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Sunday, 31 January 2010

Farrukh Dhondy's Latest Short Story, for the Times of India's Crest Magazine 30/1/2010

Click anywhere on text to enlarge

Thursday, 28 January 2010

London Afghanistan Conference Communique

This site below carries the full text of the Communiqué from today's Afghanistan Conference.


Sunday, 24 January 2010

TV Commentary on US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in India

With US Defence Secretary Robert Gates's visit to India this week, ahead of his meetings in Pakistan, I was asked by Al Jazeera English to comment on India's relations with the US, China and the Russian Federation. I was able to mention the remark made to me by the Private Secretary to the Indian PM, "President Obama speaks to the Prime Minister very frequently."

Of course, while relations are warming with the US, India doesn't forget her old ally the RF, with whom she has a ten-year military pact and from whom she has just bought a number of MIG 29 fighter jets.

India says she plans to spend $50b over the next five years on updating her military hardware. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have both been licking their lips over a $10b contract for 126 multipurpose fighter jets, on the cards since 2008. The smart money is on Boeing getting the deal.

The Indo-US 2008 Singh-Bush civil nuclear deal helps India reconcile her ambitions with her limited uranium reserves.She wants to quintuple her nuclear-energy generated electricty output by 2020.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

UK Still Spending on Counter-Terrorism in Pakistan

Just received this note from the Foreign Office;

"Year on year, counter-terrorism spending has increased this CSR. On current plans we expect a further increase next year. Spending on counter-terrorism this CSR is more than double what it was in the last CSR.
Pakistan has remained our top priority for counter-terrorism and has rightly been the largest single recipient of our counter-terrorism support throughout this period.

We are constantly reviewing the precise allocation of our counter-terrorism spending to ensure that programmes are most likely to reduce the threat of terrorism and radicalisation.

Looking more broadly than counter-terrorism, the UK is the second largest aid donor to Pakistan and we are increasing our aid for the period 2009-13 to £665 million "

Monday, 18 January 2010

Cold War Allies Still; India Buys Russian Fighter Jets

From the Economic Times;

NEW DELHI: Russia will supply more than two dozen MiG-29 fighter jets to India's navy in a $1.2 billion deal to be finalised this week, a defence
ministry official said on Monday.

The proposed deal comes after the two countries agreed on a 10-year military pact in December to cover weapons development, aircraft and maintenance contracts worth more than $5 billion.

The agreement was signed during a trip to Russia by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, reflecting the former Cold War allies' desire to maintain a close defence relationship.

Article by PM Gordon Brown

British PM Gordon Brown has just written this article, which was published in the UK, on Millennium Development Goals;

"The unpredictable crises like the catastrophe in Haiti show once again both the fragility of life on our planet, but also the very human instinct to come to the assistance of those in need. The impact of the earthquake has been truly horrific for Haiti's people and it is a catastrophe that is still unraveling. It is a tragedy beyond imagination.

Where men and women and children are suffering under the heaviest of burdens that place must for that moment become the centre of our world's attention, the world's compassion and the world's humanitarian help.

But we should not lose sight of our wider responsibilities to address the daily suffering of millions. The first decade of this millennium was striking for the way concern over global poverty finally captured headlines and attracted sustained political and popular attention.

In the years immediately after the breakthrough agreement on Millennium Development Goals, great strides were made and there were genuine grounds for optimism. Now a convergence of global crises - which are economic and environmental - threatens to reverse recent gains and end an era of progress when it has only just begun.

For poor countries, the climate crisis is not some abstract problem measured in terms of future generations but a stark, dangerous and pressing reality. Ecological catastrophe is already killing 1,000 people every day and a new hunger emergency looms.

While the climate crisis has been slow to build, the effects of the financial storm have been sudden and severe. Without diminishing the suffering the global recession has caused many families in the well-off world, there should be no doubt that in poorer countries it has been the grim difference between life and death.

Let me put the toll plainly. It is feared that 400,000 more children will die each and every year and millions more who would otherwise be on the path to learning will grow up unable to read and write.

So faced with two grievous and simultaneous challenges, I believe that the 12 months of 2010 will be as decisive as the 10 years of the last decade. Our mission must be both to deliver past pledges and pursue new ways to answer climate change and overcome the economic constraints that could imprison hundreds of millions in permanent poverty and despair.

First, we must stay the course to make poverty history. Britain will not only keep our aid promises in 2010, we will exceed them. That is why today, the UK is publishing draft legislation that would make it the first country in the world to give a permanent guarantee we will reach and maintain the United Nations aid target of 0.7 per cent. Of course, aid alone is not the whole solution. But with revenues falling and demand for services increasing in developing countries, aid can play an irreplaceable role in keeping schools and hospitals open and providing a vital safety net for the destitute.

The terrible events in Haiti also remind us of the need not just for development assistance but humanitarian relief to save lives in emergencies. The UK has already sent specialist teams and pledged £6m to help kick-start the aid effort - we know that much more will be needed as we move from relief to recovery.

Second, given the scale of the challenges, we must find new and innovative sources of finance to fight poverty and climate change. We have already generated billions of pounds by selling bonds and from public donations, but I am convinced that more is practical as well as possible.

The IMF, for example, is looking at how the financial sector can contribute more towards paying for the burdens of government intervention, including a global financial transactions tax which could raise substantial revenues if the details can be addressed.

Third, we must ensure that developing countries not only deal with the crises but invest in the future. As in the UK, investing in education is critical to future growth. That's why I'll be working with Sepp Blatter from Fifa and President Zuma of South Africa who have vowed to make education for all the legacy of the first World Cup in Africa through the 1-Goal campaign.

Fourth, we must encourage the capacity of developing countries to grow their own way out of poverty. There is, through the G20, a new opportunity to pursue global growth that includes and benefits low-income economies.

This year, we have all the international means that we could wish for to embed progress and account for the pledges we undertook at Gleneagles at the climax of the Make Poverty History campaign. Most crucial is the UN Poverty Summit in September, where I believe we must agree a substantive global action plan - underpinned by specific national commitments - that sets out clearly how we will achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

To build momentum, we must build high level political resolve early. 2010 is a test of the world's concern for the poorest - and their faith in us. In conscience and in our own self-interest, for their sake and ours, we dare not fail. We must act now to give the entire world back its future and its hope."

Amids all the politicking and pre-election grandstanding, in an environment where parties are keen to take potshots at each other, certain qualities and redeeming features may be overlooked. It isn't often noted that Gordon Brown is passionate about education, and gave a very acceptable TED talk recently.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Downing Street Comment on Haiti

We received this message from Downing Street;

"It is with great sadness that the FCO have confirmed the death of Frederick Wooldridge, a British member of the United Nations team in Haiti. The Prime Minister's thoughts are with his family and friends at this most difficult of times. The Prime Minister is hugely grateful for the work that Frederick and others were doing in the UN Stabilisation Mission: helping to build a stronger Haiti, and giving people hope where they had none. The Prime Minister's thoughts are also with the families and friends of those British Nationals whose whereabouts have yet to be confirmed.

The Prime Minister has also today sent a message of condolence to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, following the UN's confirmation of the deaths of the UN Special Representative in Haiti Hedi Annabi, his Deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa, and that of Acting Police Commissioner Doug Coates. The Prime Minister said that his thoughts were with the Secretary General and with the families and friends of those who had been tragically killed, as well as with the people of Haiti themselves.

The Prime Minister continues to follow the wider situation in Haiti closely. He spoke this morning to the British Ambassador, Stephen Fisher, on the ground. The Ambassador updated the PM on the latest developments. He confirmed that while co-ordination of aid was improving, the scale of the challenge was huge: priorities now were getting food and water to the survivors, providing rapid medical care and emergency shelter, and restoring the electricity supply. While security was a problem, there was so far no generalised breakdown of law and order. The British team remained at the forefront of the international effort, and were also working to establish contact with all British Nationals, some of whom were still unaccounted for. The Prime Minister thanked the Ambassador and his staff for their work".

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Jaswant Singh Launches International Edition of "Jinnah" and Speaks in London

Jaswant Singh, Member of the Lok Sabha or Lower House,and former External Affairs and Finance Minister, held a press conference in the House of Commmons with journalists,an MP and members of the House of Lords, including Lord Dholakia.

In attendance were Indian as well as Pakistani journalists. In India,the appearance of the book caused much controversy and Singh's explulsion from the BJP.It has been in the best seller lists,
and has had to be reprinted 23 times.

He said that "Pakistan became the step-child of Uttar Pradesh."He observed that "India's immediate vicinity is in turmoil," and said, "I find it disturbing that foreign troops are fghting on the soil of South Asia...we find NATO troops in Afghanistan."

On drones, he seemed to indicate that it was wrong, in his opinion, that "because drones are unmanned, so drones can attack anywhere in the world."

He described how, on a meeting with former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Singh's turban was admired by the PM - so the former sent 11 of them to the latter.He added that Rajputs value three things highly; a horse, a sword, and a wife, so it is not advised to admire those items since protocol demands that the item is immediately presented to the admirer.

Singh was in town for a debate on Pakistan. He spoke for a very short time, preferring to take questions from the floor. That's amazingly rare. He spoke humbly and declined to answer where he felt it wasn't appropriate.He avoided answering my question, but then very quietly dropped a hint as to what his answer would have been, afterwards, when I talked to him one on one.

Interesting Designer


At a recent exhibition of her latest collection at the Indian High Commission's Nehru Centre, the designer Shazia Saleem enjoyed unexpected attention for her contemporary Rajasthani puppets.

Shazia Saleem specialises in sustainable high-end fashion using hand woven textiles. She showcased her collection of Indian handloom silks and Khadi cottons using creative displays, one of which was a large wooden frame from which luxurious silk evening wear and Rajasthani puppets were suspended. The puppets were made using the remnants of silks and looked delightful in amongst the dresses.

Coveted throughout the ancient world, India's rich history of hand weaving stretches back many thousands of years. Now, however, it is a dying industry as skilled weavers struggle to compete with industrialisation. Shazia's objective is to revive the hand weaving industry by making it as covetable as it once was and preserve hand weaving skills for future generations of weavers.

Shazia's passion for working with hand woven textiles extends to her recent collaboration with Harris Tweed, the prestigious manufacturers of hand woven Scottish wool, and who have sponsored two of her collections. Raised in Scotland, Shazia studied fashion in Florence and London and now lives and works in London and Delhi, seamlessly blending her cosmopolitan life into her designs .

She was recently selected to represent Britain for the Defra - sponsored Shared Talent India project to help promote Indian sustainable textiles, which showcased in London Fashion Week in September 2009.

Shazia's designs do not follow obvious fashion trends and inside every item is a tag explaining the story of the textile used. "I hope that owning at least one hand woven dress or scarf will become a wardrobe staple as much as the Little Black Dress" she said.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Lessons for US from the British Terrorism Experience

A short post on Huffington analysing the British experience,and a suggestion about solutions

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Encounter in Srinagar, Kashmir

Lal Chowk, in central Srinagar, Indian Kashmir, is currently the scene of a militant/police encounter at Hotel Punjab. Two militants are holed up in the hotel,according to police. A grenade was launched and the shoot-out has been going on for around seven hours, NDTV said. Lal Chowk is a central roundabout in the heart of town, in a congested area full of small shops. I know the area well. This is the first big encounter since 2006.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Northwest Flight 253: A Catalyst for a New Approach to Aviation Security?

An analysis of the implications of the Detroit Bomber episode, produced by CSD,was published by Huffington Monday.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Downing Street and White House to Work Together on "Terrorist Threats" from Yemen-Somalia

This note has come from PM Gordon Brown's office.

"Downing Street and the White House have agreed to intensify joint US-UK work to tackle the emerging terrorist threat from both Yemen and Somalia, in the wake of the failed Detroit terror plot.

Amongst the initiatives the PM has agreed with President Obama is US-UK funding for a special counter-terrorism police unit in Yemen.

The UK is one of the largest development donors to the Yemen and is already helping to train Yemeni counter-terrorism officials.

The increased UK-US joint working, which has been discussed in a series of phone calls since the failed plot, will also include support for the Yemeni coastguard operation.

In Somalia, the PM and President believe that a larger peacekeeping force is required and will support this at the UN Security Council.

The PM has also asked that the evolving threat from Yemen and Somalia be placed on the agenda for the January EU General Affairs Council, and he will discuss with counterparts at the next EU Council meeting.

He also intends to push for stronger action on Yemen from the Financial Action Task Force.

The PM has also called a special meeting of the National Security, International Relations and Development (NSID) Cabinet committee to discuss further the UK’s response to the attempted attack last week. The Committee oversees UK security issues and includes security and military chiefs. This week the PM will hold urgent discussions with Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Defence Secretary and senior advisers on intelligence and security, ahead of the NSID meeting.

This follows the urgent review of airport security ordered by the PM in the immediate aftermath of last week’s events in the US. He expects preliminary findings in days and has pledged to move quickly to improve security wherever necessary.

In an article for the Downing Street website on Friday, the PM made clear his determination to ensure that the UK remains vigilant in the face of the evolving threat from al-Qaeda and reiterated that the UK must never be complacent about the threat of terrorism.

Prime Minister (Chair)
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alternate Chair)
Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alternate Chair)
First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord President of the Council
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Secretary of State for International Development
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Secretary of State for Health
Secretary of State for Defence
Secretary of State for Transport
Attorney General"

Article in Mail on Sunday about Airline Security By CSD CEO Tarique Ghaffur

This excellent piece by my colleague Tarique Ghaffur appears today and has already been highlighted in the Press Preview on Sky news

"Reports from America suggest that Abdulmutallab was on the US Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) list – which contains the identities of everyone American intelligence has ever, even remotely, connected with terrorism.

However, the list is said to contain more than 600,000 names. This is clearly unworkable and inclusion appears to count for little. Indeed, the bomber’s US visa was not rescinded.

Next in the American hierarchy of databases is the Terrorist Screening Database – the TSD. There are a mere 400,000 on this list and most of them would be allowed to fly unhindered to Detroit.

It is only when suspects graduate to two sub-groups within the TSD that alarms begin to sound.

A suitable model might be the international air traffic control system. Countries that want to be part of the international air network have to install professional air traffic control systems to agreed international standards.

Airport security also needs to be run by professionals with clearly agreed international duties, simple lines of command and fast, efficient ways of raising concerns – an efficient local system with robust international links. Unfortunately, rather than this systemic approach, our response to previous terrorist attacks has been little more than a series of knee-jerk reactions."