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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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Afghan Blasts for BBC News

Today the President of India who is on a state visit to the UK, not that you would know anything about it from the media, was being presented with some items belonging to Mahatma Gandhi at the Indian High Commission. The President is going to take them back to India.

As I was getting ready to go, I was called to go into the BBC about the attack on a private guest house in Kabul often used by UN personnel. Here was a dilemma. Be in time for a ceremony with the President of India, or go and do my job delivering analysis. I struck a deal and hoped to reach the High Commission in time, after my appearance.

President Patil herself was running late, having got quite intrigued on her fist stop, a visit to the Natural History Museum.

Anyway, I got to India House before the outriders, the helicopter, and the Bentley arrived -one of three belonging to Her Majesty the Queen which she lends to certain visiting Heads of State. The security guys at the High Commission dashed out after the President entered to have their photos taken with the vehicle.

Monday, 26 October 2009

MI5 Book Releasing in the US; Huffington Post

"Defence of the Realm" by Christopher Andrew took several years to write, and the author is very interesting, but I was more fascinated by the former M15 Director General Sir Stephen Lander who spoke sparsely and to the point at the launch in London earlier this month.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Pak Military advance with Kotkai taken

Dawn discusses army news of three soldiers dead and the advance into militant territory now that Kotkai is taken.

Meanwhile, Geo News has something approaching an editorial - here is an extract;

Troops overran Kotkai, in South Waziristan, on two previous occasions only to retreat after signing the kind of peace deals that Western critics have savaged for granting sanctuary to Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Witnesses among more than 120,000 civilians displaced by the conflict speak of heavy bombing and long-distance artillery, tactics that maximise collateral damage and undercut modern counter-insurgency doctrine.

While the army says more than 160 militants and 23 troops have been killed, it is impossible to assess the advance, resistance or casualties -- civilian or otherwise -- because the area is cut off to journalists and aid workers.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Two Punjabi Talib leaders arrested

The surviving militant of the Army HQ attack in Lahore on 10/10 has sung, and the army, using intercepted calls according to Dawn, has arrested two more senior ranking Punjabi Taliban leaders.

Sub-Inspector dies in Pakistan after suicide blast at motorway interchange

And so it continues. Geo News said that a suicide bomber blew himself up and a second individual was apprehended near a motorway interchange on the Islamabad Lahore highway.

Pakistan Military say they have Kotkai, after fierce fighting

Dawn said that the Pakistani army has announced that it's bombardments and attacks on Kotkai have been successful. The psychological victory is that it is the former home of Hakimullah Mehsud and one of his main aides, who trained suicide bombers.

What is not being trumpeted quite so loudly is that the two men departed some time ago.

The Pakistani army said that many houses had been converted into bunkers and that there was also a training camp for suicide bombers in Kotkai.

While attacks from the Taliban and Talib sub-committees will likely continue in other areas of Pakistan, it seems that the authorities, though stepping up security and trying to fight rearguard on those, will not be deterred from their main objective in South Waziristan.

A Pakistani defence chief has decsribed the typical militant compound in the area; a large one might contain a watchtower, courtyards, separate quarters for guests, men, women and animals, and would be surrounded by caves and bunkers in the mountains. This ex-army man commented, "Mehsuds don't fight in the plains."

Friday, 23 October 2009

Hillary Clinton to travel to Pakistan

the US State Department has announced that Secretary Clinton will be travelling to Pakistan "soon" but the exact date will not be announced "due to security reasons."

Brigadier and Driver gunned down in Islamabad

Motorbike riders opened fire on army officers in Islamabad.

Bomb Blast in Peshawar's Hayatabad District

15 have been injured, in this blast just outside the Swan restaurant used for weddings and functions. The Hayatabad area is a residential district.

Meanwhile, SSP Peshawar said 50-60 kilograms of explosives was used in the blast.

On Tuesday, two bombs were found by police by a girls' school in Peshawar.

Elsewhere, in Mohmand Agency, Geo News reports

Updated at: 1420 PST, Friday, October 23, 2009 MOHMAND AGENCY: Eighteen people have been killed when a bus hit a landmine in tehsil Lakro of Mohmand Agency, FC sources said. Women and children are also among the deceased.

Air Force Complex Attack at Attock Kills Seven

Dawn has this report about a suicide bomber attack near Attock on the Air Force complex which has killed seven people including two air force personnel.

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra is the country's major air force maintenance and research hub...

A lone suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself at a check point on a road leading to the complex, around 30 miles from Islamabad.

Television is reporting that PM Gilani is holding a security review meeting. The Interior Minister and all four Chief Ministers are present.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Editorial in Pakistan Daily The Nation; "A Confused Government"

The English language dailies of Pakistan can often be looked to for analysis and objectivity; today's editorial in The Nation is quite damning;

WITH an ongoing military operation and rampant terrorism across the country, the first priority for the government should have been to establish clarity of purpose and strategy. Unfortunately, that is still missing and this weakness stands exposed today as never before. A mere glance at the babble of statements coming forth from government personnel, shows the confusion and panic gripping those who should be allaying people’s fears and providing credible leadership. After the Islamic University (IIU) blast, the Interior Minister declared that it was a security lapse. However, by evening he had altered his mind and declared that there had been no security lapse at the IIU because it was out of the “security zone”. Was he implying that only certain elite areas, “the security zone”, was meant to get extra security, while the rest of the country remains a soft target for terrorists?

A Note of Caution on some Fickle Taliban Leaders

This Dawn editorial serves as a cautionary note to an op-ed I published yesterday by a retired army colonel. Basically the latest piece talks of the sometime changing loyalties of various Taliban leaders.

Gul Bahadur and Nazir, who formed the United Mujahideen Council with Baitullah Mehsud earlier this year, are unpredictable characters who have periodically attacked the security forces. Their ultimate objective appears to be to secure their quasi-kingdoms and rule with little or no ‘interference’ from the state. So the idea that Gul Bahadur, for example, is a ‘good’ Taliban does not really stand up to scrutiny. In early June, the kidnapping of students from the Razmak Cadet College in North Waziristan was apparently facilitated by Gul Bahadur...

the state must be careful and ensure that it is not effectively replacing one menace with another — just like Baitullah Mehsud arose to torment the state after a rival Mehsud group fell out of favour, so may other groups create more problems for Pakistan in the not-too-distant future.

Al - Qaeda Operative Either Killed Himself Accidentally or was Blown Up

We were reading reports of an explosion in Spalga village in the mountains and this is the latest Dawn report.

PESHAWAR: In the first drone strikes since the Pakistan military began its operation in South Waziristan a top al-Qaeda operative Abu Al-Masri is reported to have been killed in a strike from a US unmanned aircraft.

However, conflicting reports earlier suggested that Al-Masri may have been killed preparing suicide jackets in the village of Spalga.

Known as Mustafa Al-Yazid, he was urported to have links with Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi, whom US authorities arrested in an alleged plot to use homemade backpack bombs, he served three years in an Egyptian prison, in the 1980s, for supposed links to the group responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

Rest assured, if the operative has been killed, the US will claim the credit - even if he did accidentally blow himself up while tending to the suicide vests he produced.

Kotkai Battle Continues, Hakimullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain said to be in Area

Dawn. com said that the battle for Kotwai continues and that Hakimullah Mehsud's home there has been pulverised. Surprisingly, both he and Qari Hussain, described as a chief mentor to suicide bombers, are said not to be in Kotwai but are rumoured to be in the area directing their teams.

the military believed that Hakimullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain remain in the region under fire, directing the militants' defences. That information is based on local informants and communications intercepts.

Meanwhile, following yesterday's attack on a university in Islamabad, the government has closed educational institutions across the country "indefinitely" though some may open next week if the security situation improves, it says.

US Provides Bomb Disposal Training to NWFP Police in Pakistan

Geo News discussed bomb disposal training and equipment provided by the US.

PESHAWAR: As part of its continuing collaboration with Pakistani authorities to protect people in Pakistan from terrorist bombings, the United States Government today provided$150,000 in bomb disposal equipment to the NWFP Police in Peshawar.This contribution is in addition to the $1.6 million in ATA training and equipment furnished to the NWFP Bomb Disposal Squad previously this year.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Pakistani Troops Battling for Control of Kotkai

Overnight, Pakistani army and Taliban fighters have been battling for control of Kotkai.

Ground forces have massed on the western, eastern and northwestern flanks of Kotkai, the hometown of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud and key Taliban leader Qari Hussain, readying for an assault.
"The high-level targets are the leadership. We hope to get the leadership," said Major General Athar Abbas, the army's chief spokesman.
"The forces have taken over the heights, features around Kotkai. Kotkai is the home town of Qari Hussain, formerly known as the mentor of suicide bombers," said Abbas, referring to "stiff resistance" at Sherwangi.

According to reports, Kotkai has not yet fallen.

Islamic University Blast; Two Simultaneous Explosions

The attack on the International Islamic University in Islamabad today should come as no surprise to the authorities since Hakimullah Mehsud had promised that reprisal attacks would continue apace around Pakistan.

The key point is that, just as the Taliban closed or blew up girls' schools in the NWFP, the university which was attacked today has a 50% female student population and so came under the same 'female education' umbrella that the Taliban wish to target.

Another point is that Islamabad is probably the most protected of the big cities since government and diplomatic headquarters are situated here. Attacks here demonstrate the skill of the militants.

Unfortunately, Pakistan, like India and Bangladesh, is not in a position to lock down it's cities the way that London and New York can now be locked down since they have co-ordinated security systems in place.

Pakistan's city security personnel are still in reactive rather than preparatory mode, though they are better placed now than before.

Retired Colonel Writes on Waziristan Op

Dawn has quite a good overview of his take on army strategy for this offensive which he decsribes as "The mother of all battles."

Retired Colonel Sayed Bokhari mentions the Uzbek element;

Figures vary, but it is estimated that Waziristan is home to more than 5,000 hardened militants besides some 2,000 Uzbek fighters. The total strength of the enemy in the area is said to be 10,000. The reported death of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) leader Tahir Yuldashev in a drone attack in South Waziristan in August was a big blow to the violent foreign militant group that was waging a fierce campaign against Pakistan and its state agencies.

Isolating Baitullah’s group from other militant organisations active in the area was an important strategic consideration and perhaps the government has managed to do that vis-à-vis the Maulvi Nazir group in the Wana area in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan. Past events reveal that some militants of the Nazir group were killed by pro-Baitullah fighters inside Mehsud territory, resulting in a bitter feud between the two groups. Hence winning over the Nazir group would not have been too difficult.

Another commander, Misbahuddin, leads the anti-Baitullah group. This group has assisted the law-enforcement agencies in pointing out militants belonging to the Baitullah group even in Islamabad and Karachi. All this is of course countered by what the military will be up against. There are two major forces which are likely to support the Baitullah group against the army — the Haqqani network, which is mostly active in Afghanistan fighting Nato forces, and the IMU.

To take care of this contingency, additional troops are said to have been deployed to occupy the strategic heights along the Mehsud territory’s border with North Waziristan besides the sealing of four access points in the battle zone from Razmak-Makeen, Wana-Ludda, Jandola-Sararogha and Kanigoram-Jandola. The Shawal mountains would thus be the only escape route available to the militants, but would effectively prove a dangerous one for them because of air and ground firepower.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Working the Tribals

The Pakistani army is using the strategy of attacking militant strongholds while working to make alliances across South and North Waziristan.

Geo News reports that a letter has gone out from Army Chief of Staff General Kayani;

RAWALPINDI: Chief of Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani Monday clarified that the objective of the operation in South Waziristan is not to target peace and country loving people of Mehsud tribes, instead the aim is to eliminate Uzbek, local and foreign terrorists.

Dawn.com stated,

According to government officials, militant commander Maulvi Nazir and his Ahmadi Wazir tribe in the Wana region had publicly dissociated themselves from the Mehsuds. And they were confident that commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur, based in North Waziristan, would stay neutral.

Two thirds of South Waziristan is made up of Mehsud tribes, the rest are Wazirs.

There has been concern amongst analysts that tribes in North Waziristan, at present focused on supporting, training and engaging with the Afghan Taliban, might turn to supporting Hakimullah Mehsud and his network in South Waziristan if the conflict continues for too long, so it would seem that the Pakistani army is engaging in preventative action.

General Patraeus in Pakistan just after Cancer Op

In a sign of how important Pakistan is to Washington, the Head of US Central Command, General David Patraeus, was sent to Pakistan for two days barely a week after being treated for prostate cancer. He is in Pakistan for two days for talks with Pakistani commanders concerned with the South Waziristan Operation.

Dawn reports; "The US is rushing in equipment that would help with mobility, night fighting and precision bombing."

The Pentagon said that Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, has also called Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to emphasise continued US support.

Went to See "Up," Missed a TV Appearance

With it being a festive weekend, and my sons who are normally phenominally busy having some time to share, we three decided to see Pixar's "UP" Sunday once I had waited a suitable amount of time to make sure that I was not needed in studio for the afternoon.

As luck would have it, one of my television clients called me on my mobile half way through the film; since I try to respect whichever situation I am in, I had switched my phone off.

But the film was really good, made with great craft and care to the Pixar standard. We appreciated and enjoyed our time together. Precious family moments enrich and nourish. A stable and peaceful home is the bedrock we need to work at our best on the international stage.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

With the BBC News Channel as the Pakistani Military Offensive into South Waziristan Starts

As the attack got under way, I was into Television Centre to discuss what could ensue.
The interesting point in this offensive is that the Pakistani army has used a different strategy to SWAT; soften up with air raids and amass on the outskirts of the tribal region. An HQ was set up in 2004.

Will the militants resist as we expect, using booby traps and tunnels, or will they disperse?

And what will happen to the civilians left behind, with the army blocking the roads and no NGOs/refugee relief agencies able to function in South Waziristan?

Friday, 16 October 2009

With the BBC News Channel on the Latest Pakistan Attacks

With less than half an hour's notice I got my notes together and went in to talk to Chris Eakin on the implications of the latest attacks in Peshawar and on security establishments in Lahore and Kohat.

What Hakimullah Mehsud said would happen in his recent statements, that there would be attacks on security bases, is happening.

The link up with Punjab based groups is noteworthy; it points to the relaxation of law enforcement on them since 2007.

Most interesting is the fact that for the first time, women militants are working alongside their male counterparts; reports say that three were involved in the attack on the police commando training academy, scaling the walls of the compound with backpacks and weapons. I didn't get time to mention this point, and so far none of the UK news channels have mentioned it though it is in the public domain.

Two attackers have been arrested, Geo reported. They are being "interrogated." Rehman Malik, Interior Minister, said that they revealed that the attacks were planned before Eid. Of course. These are not spontaneous outings; they clearly involve highly sophisticated planning and intelligence.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

China Versus India; Border Dispute in Arunachal Pradesh

I have been blogging on Indian concerns over Chinese incursions along the Sino-Indian border but the matter came to a head when Indian PM Manmohan Singh made a visit to the border state of Arunachal Pradesh, a territory China also lays claim to, during state election campaigning.
The Telegraph has some background.

With the background of rising tension, both Chinese Premier and the Indian PM are due to meet October 23rd in Thailand at the Association of South East Nations Summit.

Set against this, Pakistan has been noted racheting up relations with China with President Zardari saying recently that he would like to visit China on a regular basis.

No presaging here, but the Sino-Pakistan partnership could strengthen the latter's position. There has been assistance rendered already across many fields by the stronger nation, and so in the Hindu a report states that Chinese development help in Pakistani Kashmir is strongly being objected to in Delhi.

What can Delhi actually do about this apart from protest?

As the South Waziristan battle Commences, 90,000 Flee

Reports are coming out of Pakistan that 90,000 civilians have fled the region in anticipation of a bloody winter battle between the army and militants. The BBC has a background piece with maps.

If the military goes in with full force, the militants are likely to disperse rather than attempt to hold territory, analysts say.
They will almost certainly engage in guerrilla warfare. With their knowledge of the terrain they are likely to launch ambushes as has been the case in previous years.
But a lot depends on military tactics. Previously, the military has not had a clear strategy when venturing into Waziristan.
This time round - after the success in Swat - troop morale is likely to be high.
For the army's part it would have to hold the roads and the main towns. Currently the Mehsud-dominated centres of Ladha, Makeen and Sararogha are virtual no-go areas.
A primary military target would be to take control of the heights and put up outposts. They will also go after mid- and high-ranking Taliban commanders.

In 2004 the Pakistani army suffered heavily at the hands of Wazir-affiliated militants.
There is a possibility that a military offensive against the Mehsud group in South Waziristan could draw in to the conflict militant groups based in the Wazir tribal areas of South and North Waziristan.
These groups are currently part of an al-Qaeda-affiliated network who have so far concentrated on fighting inside Afghanistan. They have "peace agreements" with the Pakistani army.

Who is lead Pakistan Army HQ Attacker Aqeel?

Al Jazeera English has an interesting background piece on the alleged leader on the ground of the Army HQ attack Saturday in Rawal Pindi, "Aqeel, " who is in custody though seriously injured. It looks into the Punjab connection.

Aqeel was recruited into Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, armed groups based in Punjab province.

Jaish and Lashkar have long been blamed for attacks on Western targets in Pakistan, as well as on minority Shia populations.
Both groups are believed to have had links with Pakistan security agencies, which used their members to fight proxy wars in Afghanistan and India before 2001.
The Punjab connection is significant because ethnic Punjabis dominate the army and the major institutions of the Pakistani state, Shuja Nawaz, head of the South Asia Centre at the Atlantic Council in Washington, has been quoted as saying.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Maoists Surround Polling Station in India

30 polling station officials have been surrounded by Naxal Maoists in Khamtala village in the state of Maharashtra.
Two helicopters and 50 commandos are on their way to deal with the problem.
In Gadchiroli, naxalites have been firing at security personnel much of the day.

The Hindu reported yesterday that a wave of Maoist violence has been unleashed in West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Bihar.

In Jharkhand, Maoists blew up rail tracks at Jharandih in Dhanbad, resulting in the Shaktipunj Express and some local trains being held up at various points, Senior Public Relations Officer of Dhanbad Rail Division Amrendra Das said adding a light engine derailed after a one-and-half metre section of the track was blown up.
A group of 12 Maoists set three trucks ablaze in Giridih district’s Isri area and blocked the Dumri-Giridih road with felled trees. Maoists also partially blasted a road bridge connecting Dumri to the Grand Trunk Road and gunshots were heard, Giridih Superintendent of Police Ravi Kant Dhan said.
Hazaribagh Superintendent of Police Pankaj Kamboj said Maoists partially damaged a road with explosives at Sardalo, bordering Bokaro district.
In Bihar, Maoists blasted the telecom tower at Salaiya village. Maoists also dug up a 15-metre stretch of a road at Chanda village, disrupting traffic between Deo and Dhibra. They left behind pamphlets, claiming responsibility for the action, official sources said.

Just last week, the naxals killed 17 policemen in Gadchiroli. This is Maoist heartland, forested and highly rural.
Polling is under way in Maharashtra and two other states.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Overnight in the BBC studio on the Pakistani Army HQ Attack

As soon as the rescue attempt began Saturday night GMT, I went into the BBC News Studio to cover unfolding events. The overnight anchor was Alistair Yates, and the editor in charge was Peter Simmonds, who is one of the nicest editors I have ever met. (The sensitive, highly intelligent ones stand out and can be counted on the fingers of one hand.)

Peter made sure that I had a computer to go to inbetween the live studio appearances and spent some time making sure that I was properly logged in and able to access the information I needed for updates. He reminded me about the BBC Newsfeed ENPS system that I had been trained to use.

On the hour, with the BBC leading on the Pakistan attacks and rescue mission as the top story, I gave updates and analysis after we had an overview of events from Pakistan.

Peter was solicitious and concerned that I was comfortable at all times during the all-night session and took me for a cup of tea into the fresh air for a chat and a break from the newsroom. In addition, it was Peter who saw me into my seat and off set each time, a duty normally delegated to someone else. All members of the team greeted me as they passed my desk, making sure that I was OK and ready for the next hourly appearance.

My rigorous BBC training has inoculated me with the need to always say something new and fresh, so as the story unfolded I was able to add more information and background to give colour to quite a complex situation. The porous Afpak border, changing militant strategies, drone attacks, all factor into this situation. Covering the story continuously for so many hours meant that I could take ownership of the material and I felt that everyone was working well together; anchor, editors, and me.

Newsrooms are busy places, with people hard focused on their computers, often working. It is rare for editors and senior staff to take time out to look after folk, especially over many hours, and Peter Simmonds's care made the whole experience so much more pleasant than the already pleasant experience of covering a breaking news story.

Overnight, and with major events, the BBC News Channel and BBC World merge, providing the biggest television audience in the world. This experience reminded me of the best elements of being part of a BBC team and why, on occasions like this, the Corporation has no parallel.

Tehrik E- Taliban Pakistan Claim Responsibility for Army HQ Attack

As I mentioned over the weekend, the TTP have claimed responsibility for the Army HQ attack in a call to Geo News and Dawn has published the same information today. The TTP is working in conjunction with other groups and apparently a punjabi faction provided the foot soldiers who carried out the attack.

Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan were planning attack on GHQ in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

Watchers should not be surprised that the TTP and other groups link up in the same way that NATO forces join hands to cover different locations.

The Guardian today discusses the only surviving attacker who is seriously injured. He is a former member of the Pakistani army.

Aqeel, the only surviving attacker, was being treated for serious injuries, (army spokesman )Abbas said. He confirmed that the militant was a former army medical corps soldier from Kahuta, a town in the army's Punjabi recruitment heartland that is home to a major nuclear weapons facility.
Aqeel deserted the army in 2004, he said, and joined Jaish-e-Muhammad, a notorious militant group that in recent years has spawned splinter groups which have become allied to al-Qaida.

Today's blast targeting a military convoy in Shangla by the SWAT valley killing over 41 is part of the same deadly protest promised by the TTP and its cohorts.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Attack on Pakistani Army HQ; Comparing the Coverage

6.0am GMT AP news started flashing up on the Sky News ticker about the shoot out in Rawal Pindi, with gunmen driving up to Gate No 1 at army HQ in my parents' home town.

Recently, since gunmen know that they will eventually be stopped, though it appears this group managed to get through a first police check, the tactic has been to use gunfire and hand grenades in attacks. This time the attackers were in army uniform, AP said this may have confused the army security guards, and used a white van.

A full half hour after Sky News flagged up the story, the BBC News channel had no word on the topic and were gaily continuing their other subjects of the day, seemingly oblivious to the dramatic and highly significant attack.

Four hours later, a shoot out had resulted in six army personnel and four attackers being killed. Sky was saying that two gunmnen were still on the loose in the compound, and on Radio 4, the BBC's Aleem Maqbool was saying that the shoot out was over, with everything under control. He was quoting an army spokesman.

Over on Radio 5, the bulletin said that "sources were saying that there were still gunmen on the loose" - a clear example of how un-joined up the BBC is.

Now, nearly eight hours since the attack began, there has just been more shooting in the compound but we have not yet been told if the gunmen have been killed or captured.

The Pakistani administration took Geo News and Sama TV off the air during this episode, they are often objective in their coverage.

Apparently in a telephone call to Geo News the Tahreek-e-Taliban, the group headed by Hakimullah, has claimed responsibility.

Latest information from Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder is that three attackers, not two, got into the compound, and one has been shot, one captured.

Update; Geo News reported that up to 15 security and civilian personnel are being held hostage at a second checkpost in the army HQ by four to five attackers, and the checkpost has been surrounded by Pakistani security. The militants are said to be asking for the release of some of their compatriots.

This episode demonstrates not that the Taliban are on the back foot but that they are as audacious and determined as they have ever been- and that they can wreak damage if they wish.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Peshawar Attack Kills 41, Second Within Two Weeks

AP has details of a fatal attack in Peshawar;

A suicide bomber detonated his vehicle near a crowded market in Pakistan's northwest city of Peshawar on Friday, killing 41 people. The government responded by saying it had "no other option" but to launch an offensive in the militant stronghold of South Waziristan along the Afghan border.
The attack in the Khyber Bazaar area also wounded more than 100 people and demonstrated the ability of insurgents to strike in Pakistan's major cities despite ongoing operations pressuring their networks and the death of their leader in a U.S. missile strike.

There was another fatal attack in Peshawar barely two weeks ago. The new Taliban leader, Hakimullah, is flexing his muscles and these attacks prove that whichever Taliban chief gets killed, there are always others waiting to pick up his gun. Baitullah Mehsud's death was hailed as a propaganda coup, but the facts show that it made no difference to lives on the ground, whatever the US or the Pakistani authorities might say.

What is slightly puzzling is that the government response is to say that "it has no other option" but to launch an offensive in South Waziristan along the Afghan border. This operation has been in the planning for weeks and has involved the visible mobilisation of troops to the region. The AP report seems to indicate that the latest Peshawar attack is being used as a raison d'etre for the massive deployment of Pakistani troops into South Waziristan.

Al Jazeera made the following point;

"What is surprising everyone is that immediately after the attack the provincial information minister came out and said that he knew where the attack came from, and started saying that people should be united against the Taliban even though the Taliban have not claimed responsibility for this particular attack."

OECD Composite Leading Indicators Show Signs of Recovery

From Paris,

OECD composite leading indicators (CLIs) for August 2009 continue to point to recovery in all major economies with CLIs for France and Italy pointing to a potential expansion; however these expansion signals should be interpreted with some care as the CLIs are less precise in differentiating between expansion and recovery than in identifying turning points.
The CLI for the OECD area increased by 1.5 point in August 2009 and was 0.6 point higher than in August 2008. The CLI for the United States increased by 1.6 point in August, 1.6 point lower than a year ago. The Euro area’s CLI increased by 1.7 point in August, 4.1 points higher than a year ago. The CLI for Japan increased by 1.3 point in August, 3.9 points lower than a year ago.
The CLI for the United Kingdom increased by 1.6 point in August 2009 and was 1.7 point higher than a year ago. The CLI for Canada increased by 1.7 point in August, 1.5 point higher than a year ago. The CLI for France increased by 1.3 point in August, 6.6 points higher than a year ago. The CLI for Germany increased by 2.4 points in August, 2.1 points higher than a year ago. The CLI for Italy increased by 2.0 points in August, 10.4 points higher than a year ago.
The CLI for China increased 1.5 point in July 2009, 0.7 point lower than a year ago (unchanged). The CLI for India increased by 0.9 point in August, 0.1 point higher than a year ago. The CLI for Russia increased by 1.1 point in August, 10.2 points lower than a year ago. The CLI for Brazil increased by 0.4 point in August, 8.5 points lower than a year ago.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Prime Minister Brown Talks Afpak with President Obama

A couple of moments ago a Downing Street Spokesman said :

"The Prime Minister and President Obama spoke today as part of regular and ongoing consultations on their shared strategic agenda.
The two leaders discussed their ongoing review of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They agreed to remain in close consultation going forward and on the importance of continued discussion with NATO allies.
The PM and the President discussed the global economy where they noted the successful outcome of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh. They covered climate change where they agreed on the importance of a deal at the Copenhagen Summit in December. They also discussed Iran, where they agreed on the need of a continued, strong international approach to tackling Iran's nuclear ambitions".

Indian Embassy Attack in Kabul

This story broke in the early hours of this morning and has some interesting aspects.

AP said,
A suicide attack against the Indian Embassy on July 7, 2008, killed more than 60 people. The road in front of the embassy has been barricaded since then.

Before that AP posited;
The Taliban did not say why it targeted the Indian Embassy but the attack is likely to raise questions about a link to Pakistan, India's archrival. Extremist groups once supported by Pakistan's intelligence service have struck at Indian targets for years, and the two countries are competing for influence among different ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

The Al Jazeera website, quoting their own correspondent speaking, noted that the vehicle used was said to be "foreign;"
Afghan government and intelligence sources have made clear to Al Jazeera that they believe that foreign hands were involved. This was an operation which was planned by a state and not - I quote - a group of bandits.
Sayyid Abdul Gafoor, the head of the interior ministry's anti-crime unit, said special kind of explosives were used during the explosion and the vehicle used in the suicide attack was not registered in Afghanistan, indicating possible foreign involvement.

Voice of America has a paragraph on the Indo-Pak rivalry in Aghanistan.

The most detailed examination of Indian involvement in Afghanistan comes, as expected, from an Indian paper, The Hindu.

A BBC newsroom editor told me that "on a normal day" we would have done some studio analysis on the story instead of just having the anchors mention it in a list of headlines with some local footage; but today, the major UK broadcasters wanted to focus on the party conference speech of Conservative Party Leader David Cameron.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Query Concerning Afpak border

While working on the Baluchistan/Quetta story yesterday for Al Jazeera English, I read a Dawn editorial which stated that 50,000 to 60,000 people were crossing the Afghanistan/Pakistan border every day. I wonder of anyone can shed any further light on this notion and back it up with some evidence please?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

US Targeting Baluchistan Story for Al Jazeera English

Al Jazeera, ever on the button, is on the story of the US placing Quetta in Baluchistan in it's sightline. I'm working on it and will be on the live Newshour programme 10.00 pm GMT tonight.

Sonia Gandhi's Austerity Drive in India

Thinking about the drive towards austerity initiated by the Congress Party's Chair Sonia Gandhi which I have explored for Huffington Post, it is interesting to read the level of scepticism generated by my piece.

It seems very hard for people to consider that Rahul Gandhi might actually be quite genuine in his mission to explore the lives of the common man at this stage in his career, and that Sonia Gandhi may be interested in the feelings of the majority of Indians, those living outside the gilded cages of luxury.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

OECD; Better News on Consumer Prices for August 2009

Organisation for Economic Development figures published today show a slower fall in consumer prices for August 2009 than for the previous month. Consumer Prices in the OECD area fell 0.3% in the year to August 2009, compared with a fall of 0.6% in the year to July.

Month-on-month, prices rose by 0.2% in August, compared with a fall of 0.2% in July 2009.

Consumer prices for energy were down by 14.4% in the year to August 2009, following a fall of 18.1% in July. Consumer prices for food were up by 0.1% in the year to August, compared with 0.6% in July. Excluding food and energy, consumer prices rose by 1.5% in the year to August 2009, compared with 1.6% in July 2009.

In the euro area, annual inflation (HICP) was -0.2% in August 2009, up from -0.6% in July. Month-on-month, the HICP increased by 0.3% in August, compared with a fall of 0.7% in July. Excluding food and energy, the year-on-year rise in the HICP amounted to 1.3% in August, unchanged from July.
In the United States, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell by 1.5% over the year to August 2009, compared with a decline of 2.1% in the year to July.
In Japan, consumer prices fell by 2.2% in the year to August, unchanged from July 2009.
Over the year to August, annual inflation was 1.6% in the United Kingdom, 0.1% in Italy, 0.0% in Germany, -0.2% in France, and -0.8% in Canada.