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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Monday, 30 November 2009

President Barack Obama Video - conferenced with PM Gordon Brown

A Downing Street spokesman said:

"The Prime Minister and President Obama had a 45 minute video-conference this evening, focused on Afghanistan and climate change.

On Afghanistan, the two leaders took stock on overall strategy, and this week's US/UK announcements. They agreed on the importance of combining military and political strategies in Afghanistan, as well as on the need for continued action by Pakistan. They acknowledged good progress on burden sharing, and agreed that they would continue to encourage ISAF allies to do more. The US welcomed plans for a conference on Afghanistan in London on 28 January.

On climate change, they both expressed a commitment to securing a comprehensive accord that has immediate operational effect at the Copenhagen Summit, and agreed to coordinate closely on preparations."

US and UK Criticise Pakistan

Hot on the heels of Gordon Brown's public statement that more needs to be done in Pakistan concerning Al Qaeda, lengthy diatribes appear in two prominent American papers. Geo News reports.

So - Called Terror Experts

It is curious, this world of terrorism and security analysis. I have reported from all over Pakistan, India and Kashmir for the BBC and am familiar with militant terrain as well as army operations. I have interviewed extensively on the ground and got some great exclusives. So when a client asks me to conduct anlysis, many times I have actually been into the area and spoken with key players involved.

But the armchair "terror experts" seem to come from nowhere. One mystifying case is the outfit of the grandson of Thatcher friend Jay Gohel.

Sourcewatch states

"Essentially, the Asia-Pacific Foundation is a family business led by MJ Gohel and supported by his son, Sajjan."

No information appears to have ever been published detailing the Foundation's funding sources. The Foundation does not appear
to publish accounts.

There does not appear to be an "Asia-Pacific Foundation" registered either at Companies House or at the UK Charity Commission. Attempting to ascertain whether and how the organisation has been formally registered is not made easier by the fact it has never published a postal address.

The net is mystified as to the qualifications and experience of S Gohel, and some commentators wonder if he has even been to Pakistan, about which he pontificates as an authority.

Newshoggers.com lays into "untrustworthy sources."Of Sajjan Gohel, it says,

"An LSE postgrad student working for a "Foundation" with absolutely no bona fides and run by his dad? That's ABC's "expert"? I could have named them 5 or 6 better qualified experts off the top of my head - all bloggers!"

It is dangerous for the profession of security analysis, which by definition deals with danger and murder, to be carrying those without depth of experience who may just have started up little groups of their own in order to self-project, make a bob or two out of unresearched and superficial opinion, and perhaps to carry certain messages on behalf of others.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

One Year Anniversary of Mumbai Attacks; Security Update

One year on from 26/11 the public in and out of India wants to know about security and intelligence improvements. A writer for the Hindu has compiled this update.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Al Jazeera International Story Switched to Incendiary Ayodhya Report

A report into the 1992 destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya which sparked hindu-muslim riots in the state of Uttar Pradesh was leaked yesterday so Al Jazeera Int switched to that story. I was prepping in the car on the way into the studio but since I actually covered the aftermath of the story in the 90s and interviewed Ashok Singhal, I could adjust and deliver.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Analysis of the Indian PM's state visit to the US for Al Jazeera International

Getting in ahead of the networks as usual, Al Jazeera International will be setting up a crucial day for PM Manmohan Singh and President Obama and I will be discussing what they are likely to talk about in Washington in the 9am Newshour show.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

With Al Jazeera International on the Deadly Bomb Blasts in Assam, India

Though several broadcasters ran the story on the ticker that today Sunday bomb blasts have gone off in Assam India, Al Jazeera Doha called for a live two-way from London on the subject as to the likely culprits and the reasoning.

The United Liberation Front of Assam has been waging one of the oldest insurgencies in India, since 1979.

Approaching the date in the year, 27 November, when the Indian military launched an offensive on the group and the UFLA was declared a banned outfit,and since two UFLA leaders were taken in for questioning in Dhaka Bangladesh, insurgent action was to be expected.

The ULFA history has also shown that one batallion is pro-talks and prepared to lay down arms, while two more batallions want to maintain armed militancy.

The ULFA traditionally attacks oil and gas pipelines, transport and telecommunications facilities, and security partols/installations. It claims responsbility occasionally but has denied involvement in today's attacks on a police station in Nalbari.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Pakistani Administration admits Blackwater presence in country

Well, alongside a comment from the TTP blaming Blackwater for some recent attacks in Pakistan, Geo News has this admission from an administration official.

TTP Vows to continue fighting but denies some of recent attacks

Dawn has an interesting comment from Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq. He said yesterday that

Tariq revealed that the Taliban only target government installations and people who are against them. Schools, universities, public places and markets that were targeted in the past few months were not done so by the Taliban, Tariq said.

Responding to queries in which the TTP was blamed for terrorist attacks across the country, the spokesman said the Taliban were not involved in these activities and neither did Shariat-i-Mohammadi allowed them to do so.

Tariq said intelligence agencies, Blackwater and the present government were involved in widespread terrorism. ‘The government is doing this for political purposes and to bring a bad name to the TTP,’ he added.

Journalists were taken blindfolded to a mountain top to hear the spokesman.

Here is some analysis on the TTP regrouping in Orakzai Agency.

Meanwhile, this Dawn editorial discusses Al Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban franchise.

Monday, 16 November 2009

PM Gordon Brown's Foreign Policy Speech at Lord Mayor's Banquet Guildhall Preview

In a short while, PM Gordon Brown will lay out a detailed analysis of Britain's position with respect to key areas such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, here are some preview extracts;

On Britain’s role in the world:

"At every point in our history where we have looked outwards, we have become stronger. And now, more than ever, there is no future in what was once called 'splendid isolation'”.

"When Britain is bold, when Britain is engaged, when Britain is confident and outward-looking, we have shown time and again that Britain has a power and an energy that far exceeds the limits of our geography, our population, and our means".

"As a nation we have every reason to be optimistic about our prospects: confident in our alliances, faithful to our values and determined as progressive pioneers to shape the world to come".

"And that is why I say our foreign policy must be both patriotic and internationalist: a foreign policy that recognises and exploits Britain's unique strengths, and defends Britain’s national interests strongly – not by retreating into isolation, but by advancing in international co-operation".

"I believe that Britain can inspire the world. I believe that Britain can challenge the world. But most importantly of all I believe that Britain can and must play its full part in changing the world..."

"...and to do so we must have confidence in our distinctive strengths: our global values, global alliances and global actions; because with conviction in our values and confidence in our alliances, Britain can lead in the construction of a new global order".

On the threat from Al Qaeda:

“Make no mistake, Al Qaeda has an extensive recruitment network across Africa the Middle East, Western Europe - and in the UK. We know that there are still several hundred foreign fighters based in the FATA area of Pakistan travelling to training camps to learn bomb making and weapons skills. Al Qaeda also has links to the Afghan and Pakistan Taleban.”

“Since 2001, nearly 200 persons have been convicted of terrorist or terrorist-related offences in Britain. And to those who say this threat is not real, I ask them to consider that almost half of those convicted pleaded guilty”.

And what this means for the campaign in Afghanistan and our support to Pakistan:

“Vigilance in defence of national security will never be sacrificed to expediency. Necessary resolution will never succumb to appeasement. The greater international good will never be subordinated to the mood of the passing moment.”

“So I vigorously defend our action in Afghanistan and Pakistan because Al Qaeda is today the biggest source of threat to our national security - and to the security of peoples lives in Britain… and tonight I can report that more has been planned and enacted with greater success in this one year to disable Al Qaeda than in any year since the original invasion in 2001.”

“Tonight I want to leave you with a clear summary of Britain’s case, and that of the coalition as a whole. We are in Afghanistan because we judge that if the Taleban regained power Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups would once more have an environment in which they could operate. We are there because action in Afghanistan is not an alternative to action in Pakistan, but an inseparable support to it”.

Another suicide attack in Peshawar

The fabled suicide attack trainer and cousin of TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain Mehsud, is carrying out his promise of making sure suicide attack is followed by suicide attack. In fact, Qari Hussain has promised that there will be "similar attacks in all parts of the country."

Meanwhile, the fifth attack in eight days in Peshawar has taken place, killing four.
The city of 2.5 million has mounted anti-Taliban militia of its own, and one of the five anti-Taliban leaders was killed last week.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

CIA thinks it gets value for money from ISI

The American press these days is coming out with some entertaining and innovative material on Pakistan, especially compared with the British media.

I have just watched Fareed Bokharia on CNN introduce his HBO documentary on the 26/11 attack in Mumbai, with audio of "controllers" instructing their foot soldier attackers in Mumbai. I was interested to hear quite localised, simple, Punjabi/Urdu spoken, and the footage is gripping.

Now, the Los Angeles Times details how the CIA pays for arrested or killed militants in Pakistan and discusses the delicate relationship it has with the Inter Services Intelligence Agency, which it does not completely trust.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Into the Studio; More Attacks in Peshawar

Al Jazeera English ran with today's attack in Peshawar as their top story and invited me in to talk about the reasons why Peshawar is the main target of the Taliban at the moment. This network tends to come out with important, different angles on topics so I enjoy the challenges that it sets me - get something wrong or make a mistake and I could spark a riot of complaints so I am always careful in what I say.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Suggestion; Taliban Opening up New Fronts in North West; "Helped" During Offensive

Saad Khan, writing for Huffington, quotes a BBC Urdu piece and has put forward the theory that

"The Pakistani military tipped off the Taliban before the offensive...it appears that the Pakistani military entered a deal with the Taliban...Pakistani military recaptured the territories while the Taliban retained their carde, ammunition and organizational structure."

Khan also posits that the Haqqanis in North Waziristan are getting support from "some elements of the Pakistani military."

A Dawn writer has some more interesting thoughts, and says that perhaps the Taliban is opening up a new front in the North West to distract security forces. He says the the Taliban has likely moved to North Waziristan and the Orakzai Agency. The Sunday attack, in Adezai village on Abdul Malik, he suggests, was in retaliation for Malik's setting up of an anti-Taliban outfit in conjunction with police and security personnel.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Another blast Kills 30 near Peshawar; Market Attack Example

Dawn writes that the third market suicide attack in three days tore through a crowded street in Charsadda near Peshawar killing 30 and wounding 100. The previous two attacks have also been in the NWFP region. Market places are being targeted now.

It is week four of the South Waziristan offensive. We see army approved photos of weaponry captured and hear of hideouts and strongholds taken by the Pakistani military, but with an alleged 200 militants killed, according to ISPR, where is the rest of the alleged 10,000 militants from the region?

Friday, 6 November 2009

JUI Chief comments Afghan situation linked to Pakistan

Dawn.com comments that rightist religious group JUI chief Fazlur Rehman has made a speech about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said that peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan are inter-linked; unrest in one country leads to unrest in the other.
He also said thait was the US and the Pakistanis who had initially groomed the jihadis to fight against the Russians, a fact that many choose to ignore.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

How are Pakistani civilians coping with the conflict?

Dawn has an outline of how ordinary Pakistanis are reacting to the ongoing conflict in the country. Whereas some time ago Pakistanis were telling me that city life was normal, now, it seems, urban dwellers are fearful and worried. In extreme conditions like Kashmir I have found lots of psychological problems ranging from depression to hysteria and feinting, it appears that the ongoing battles and blasts are affecting the civilian population adversely.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Interview with Lord Mandelson

I asked Lord Mandelson last week,
"What is the key to unlocking the Doha stalemate?"

He thoughfully and slowly replied,
"Well, its very important indeed in my view that we take what was agreed last year as the continuation point. If you start to try to unpick and renogotiate, I think that's a recipe for trouble. I would appeal to all the main negotiators, stick with what we've got, move on from there and find necessary compromise.

The recovery of the global economy is not yet embedded - it's fragile, and what a wrold trade breakthrough would give us is a major new stimulus package for the whole of the global economy from which all of us would benefit."

Interview with Business Secretary Lord Mandelson or Parliamentary Reception with the President of India?

This was the conundrum facing me last week on the last day of the state visit of Mrs Pratibha Patil, President of India, at the invitation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11.

I had bid for Lord Mandelson, First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, two months ago when I knew that he would likely be addressing the UK India Business Council of which he is Lord President, during the President's visit.

So on the day, at the imposing Lancaster House by the Mall, I reminded the UKIBC I was there for the interview, and they directed me to Lord Mandelson's press secretary. The press secretary, who was softly spoken and Irish, directed me to two press aides. I was told to stay close to one of them, a pleasant chap called Ben, who told me that I could walk and talk alongside the Business Secretary after he had given his speech as he was leaving. We were to wait at the bottom of the grand staircase after his speech.

The Irish press secretary then advised us the Lord M would be seeing off the President to her car, or rather the Queen's car, so we should wait outside nearby.

Meanwhile, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office official called David said that he was directed to take me to Parliament if I wanted to attend a reception with the Indian President and hear her address there. I said that I would attend after my interview.

Lord M was still not around, and David was about to leave for Westminster. Lord M arrived, waving to the President as she got into her car. Lord M was chatting on the steps of Lancaster House. David looked at me, and I decided in that moment to fulfill my mission and do my interview. David walked speedily off to his car, and the Business Secretary got to his car door (which he opened himself) while I strode purposefully towards him, my voice recorder outstretched. He stared at my stomach, where my ID card was displayed from a strap round my neck, and waited for my question.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Pakistani Blasts and Hakimullah Mehsud $5m Bounty for BBC News

With a further motorbike suicide attack in Pakistan's Rawal Pindi today, close to Army HQ where a near 22-hr siege took place just a few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to be the first to say on air at the BBC that a $5m bounty had been placed on information leading to or the capture of TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain Mehsud, described as the trainer of suicide bombers, and senior militant Wali ur-Rehman Mehsud.

Today more attacks have taken place at a police checkpoint in Lahore and the UN has pulled out of the NWFP and FATA. What does that say about confidence in Pakistani security?