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, 28 June 2009

SkyNews.com; Why the US and the UK love India

I have written the latest of my analyses pieces for Skynews.com on the reception that India's new commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma received in the US and in the UK this last week.

Trawling through the comments that come in from round the world, I see folk getting into serious discussions with each other on various lateral topics and am not sure at which point to intervene with my own reaction.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Pakistan's Sharif Brothers in London for Five Days

Though the five day trip is reportedly private, Nawaz and his brother Shahbaz, Chief Minister of Punjab, are expected to meet both PM Gordon Brown as well as Foreign Secretary David Miliband during this visit.

Geo says that Nawaz Sharif's wife Kulsum is in the UK for a medical check up. The brothers flew in on a private plane.

Pakistani Army Chief Meets Russian Counterpart

As reported in Geo News, the interesting Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, known as COAS, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is on an official visit to Moscow to meet his counterpart General Vladimir Boldyrev, Commander-in-Chief of Russian ground forces.

This visit is highly significant, given the geopolitics of the area, and the Russian Federation's historical links with India. Watch this space carefully.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Hafiz Saeed Detention Lifted on 'Technical Grounds'

The principal group blamed for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks which I reported on, the Lashkar-I- Toiba, is said to be using the Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a front. The Chief of the JuD, Hafiz Saeed, is the man India says is behind the attacks, which is why the country has been campaigning to have him brought to court.

He was put under house arrest in December 2008, but released just a couple of weeks ago, much to India's surprise. The Hindu reported;

ISLAMABAD: A Full Bench of the Lahore High Court on Tuesday ordered the release of Hafiz Saeed, the chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, known as a front organisation of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The LeT has been blamed for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, among other strikes.
Mr. Saeed was placed under house arrest in December 2008 during a government crackdown on the JuD following the Mumbai attacks and shortly after the U.N. Security Council 1267 Committee (on Al-Qaeda, Usama bin Laden, the Taliban and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities) designated him and the group as “terrorist.”

Saeed challenged his detention in the High Court on technical grounds. He has managed to escape detention on 'technical grounds' twice before.

Trawling back, I found this interview with Saeed.

Interestingly, Saeed condemned the killing of senior cleric Dr Naeemi which happened on the 9th June as 'Unislamic.'

Analysing Baitullah Mehsud for Al Jazeera English's Newshour

Following on from the Pakistani NWFP Governor Owais Ghani's statement in Islamabad Sunday to launch

'A decisive operation...to eliminate Baitullah Mehsud and dismantle his network,'

I was invited into Al Jazeera English to explain on Newshour who Mehsud is.

While in the Knightsbridge newsroom, I was pleased to meet Washington AJE anchor Riz Kahn who remembered that we spent a night in the English Midlands judging a beauty contest together a few years ago. He was then with CNN and I was more singly with BBC.

While compiling my own analysis for Al Jazeera , I came across this 2007 piece from The Long War Journal, a Talibani Who's Who,

Baitullah Mehsud: The most powerful Taliban commander in South Waziristan. Signed a peace deal with the Pakistani authorities at Sara Rogha in February 2005 which ceded authority to the Taliban. It was agreed that the army will evacuate tribal territories, the Taliban will not attack the army, foreigners will not get protection, the army will not conduct operations against the Taliban if they agreed to help in the completion of development work. Established established 16 offices in different parts of the Mehsud territory which are still functioning. Baitullah has a lashkar [tribal militia] of 30,000. http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2007/01/the_pakistani_taliba.php#ixzz0IhGeSLRO&D

Mehsud's Talibani group associated with one of the legitimate hardline political parties in the region.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Peshawar and Lahore Attacks; Live Analysis for Sky News

Last week, I was talking to Jason de la Pena live during specially cleared schedule time after the simultaneous attacks in Peshawar on the Pearl Continental Hotel and the seminary in Lahore. He asked about who I thought was responsible.

I said at the time that a Taliban group must have been involved, and a couple of days later the Tehrik-i-Taliban claimed responsibility.

AFP reported a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban saying,

"We attacked Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar because foreigners were coming here and were making conspiracies against Islam and Taliban," Maulvi Omar, spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Bomb blast in Lahore

Reports are coming through that there has been a bomb blast in Lahore it took place after Friday prayers and a mosque was demolished. The location was near Jamia Naseemia.

So far, four are killed, many more injured. It is a suicide blast.

There has also been a simultaneous blast, a suicide attack at an office near an army cantonment at Noshehra. There are 30 injured and three reported killed.

These are most likelyTaliban revenge attacks on account of the Pakistani military offensive in the NWFP.

The trend is for two to three vehicles to be used in these attacks, with firing as well as bombs being used. But in Peshawar, last night, at yet another attack, the technique changed again with a hand grenade being used.

Militants warned that there will be more attacks. At the mosque, a cleric is reported killed. Dr Sarfraz Naeemi was outspoken in his condemnation of suicide attacks, saying that they were unislamic.

Currently security in cities like Lahore is at a heightened level, with cordons and an increase in the number of police and army visible on the streets. Airports are on high alert, with travellers being asked to report three-four hours in advance. An emergency has been declared in hospitals in Lahore.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Chinese Incursions into Indian Territory

While the world tends to focus on relations between India and Pakistan, it isn't widely appreciated that the Sino-Indian situation is of an equally high priority for India.

The Times of India reports that, in 2008,

'Chinese incursions into Indian territory peaked in 2008, with 270 "violations" being recorded in the western, middle and eastern sectors.'

Up at India's borders with her neighbours, where soldiers from opposing armies almost eyeball each other, there are frequent bouts of cross-border firing. I have visited these remote stations under military escort, they are often alpine and the air is rare.

'Agressive patrolling' is a euphamism for incursion. India says that there has been a spike in aggessive patrolling in the north eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. The Times of India writes,

'Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, General JJ Singh, said on Saturday that two more army divisions will be deployed along the Sino-Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh within a few years.'

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Attack on Pearl Continental Peshawar

The Marriott owned hotel housing foreign aid workers has just seen an attack with at least five killed and roughly 40 injured.

30-40 vehicles have been damaged. The kitchen and laundry areas are damaged.

The soft target is chosen most likely in revenge for the Pakistani military offensive in the area, the North west Frontier Province.

Following a trend, militants seem to have attacked a checkpoint outside the hotel and then driven into the compound in a avehicle packed with explosives.

VIPs, foreign aid workers and polticians stay in the hotel.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Knife Crime Film 'Wondaland' to Debut in UK

Up to 60,000 young people, mostly male, may be stabbed and injured each year, the equivalent of more than 160 victims a day. This finding by the Telegraph is based on worst-case estimates concerning knife violence in England and Wales.

Head First Films and Haphazard Media, founded by St Andrews University graduates, are making a film about knife crime aimed at young people and the education sector. The film companies' founders decided to produce the film after one of their fellow undergraduates was killed in a knife attack in 2006.

The film, titled Wondaland, will look at how knife crime affects the children of a broken family and the members of a gang in an English city.

The team is working with co-producer Robert Graham of Graham Associates to gain investment from private and public sources for the modest £30,000 budget. The filmmakers tell me that MPs, agents and accountants have offered support.

With The Telegraph's figure of knife crime affecting an incredible 400 victims each week, a workshop pack to be distributed with the film in schools and colleges is timely and will help raise awareness of knife crime issues among those most directly involved.

The producers have yet to raise the full amount needed for this worthwhile project; anyone wishing to offer support may contact nicholas.crum@headfirstfilms.co.uk

Head First Films and Haphazard Media were founded in 2005 in Scotland. Head First makes high value films on low budgets, and has several feature films in development. Haphazard Media
recently won the Half Cut Film Festival with the short film Tape 04, and is in pre-production on a documentary about human rights abuses in Iran. Haphazard Media combines Scottish creatives with collaborators from round the world to work on socially-minded film productions.

Wondaland's director, Rhoda Dell, said,

"With anger being expressed more frequently through violence, many have argued that these images have been learnt through media and films, so why not use this same tool to re-educate those so easily influenced in today’s society? film is so integral...both (for)a sense of escapism and as an educational tool. If we provide examples of violence through today’s cinema, surely we can retract them too?"

Friday, 5 June 2009

Terrorist Head Hunter Arrested in India

According to reports in the Indian press, following a tip off from the CIA to Indian intelligence, a senior militant LeT operative, Mohammed Omar Madni, was arrested by an elite 'special cell' of Delhi police Thursday 4th June.

Madni is alleged to be the LeT operative in Nepal, responsible for recruiting prospective militants who could be sent for training in Pakistan. According to reports, he was asked to find graduates who were computer literate.

Police say that they found $8000, Nepalese notes and fake Indian currency with Madni who was allegedly in Delhi to meet someone. The Times of India quoted the deputy commissioner of police (special cell) as saying that 50-year old Madni

'used the porous Indo-Nepal border to send the recruits to Pakistan.' Police say that Madni was charged with 'talent scouting' young men with marine knowledge from coastal areas. He was allegedly charged with finding two young men from each of the major cities in India, preferably those working in fireworks factories. (Fireworks are commonly used weekly during festivals and special occasions so are very popular not just with the masses but across all households).

Madni is described by the Press Trust of India as being second in command to the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed who is wanted in India in connection with the Mumbai attacks of 26/11.

However a JuD spokesman has denied any links with Madni, according to Geo TV.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Obama in Middle East for Press Preview on Sky News

It has been really interesting monitoring the Middle East reaction to Obama's speech in Cairo today, and I will be discussing it as well as other matters in the half-hour Press Preview looking at what tomorrow's papers are saying on Sky News 11.30pm GMT.

My fellow panellist tonight is Nigel Nelson, Political Editor, the Sunday People.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Pakistani Media Roundup Huffpo

Having a look at the Pakistani media for Huffington over the weekend, there were two stories happening just as I filed; one concerned the kidnap of cadets from a college
and the other, a meeting Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari held in Islamabad with his PM, chief and federal ministers, security heads, and governors.

In a sign to the country and the outside world that Zardari is taking the security situation seriously, intelligence chiefs briefed the President's meeting on potential in - country targets, the Punjabi Taliban, and the Taliban in Karachi.

The story about kidnapped college cadets changed mysteriously. First off, media reports said that about 400 young male cadets had been taken hostage by the Taliban in the North West of Pakistan, but the story then moved to reports that the Pakistani military managed to rescue 71 cadets and nine staff members after fierce fighting and some intense negotiation with tribal elders from the area.

Earth Times reported;

'A senior government official claimed up to 400 cadets were taken captive, while the vice-principal of the college said Taliban had seized only 50 people and released half of them shortly afterwards.'

So how many boys were actually kidnapped? Does anyone know or care?

Media reports suggest that the army is about to launch a counter-Taliban offensive in South Waziristan. That region is a safe haven for Talibanis and al-Qaeda fighters.