Recent talking

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 13.27.45On Friday 31st October, I appeared on BBC News Channel’s paper review, discussing the following day’s front pages. Oliver Brown of the Telegraph and I talked about Foreign Office travel warnings, the Virgin Galactica crash, and the government’s child sex abuse inquiry. A recording of the show is on iPlayer (available until the end of November).

I’ve also appeared on numerous Monocle 24 shows, including this one on 4th November, when I discussed various aspects of counter-terrorism policy with Raffaelo Pantucci of the Royal United Services Institute.

Recently, I’ve also taken part in various panel discussions, including a fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Manchester for the Foreign Policy Centre, discussing global peace-building.

Recent work

TV vans outside Park View school in Birmingham. (My own photo).
TV vans outside Park View school in Birmingham. (My own photo).

I wrote a piece for Deutsche Welle about the new counter-extremism guidance in schools that was introduced following the “Trojan Horse” scandal. You can read the full piece here.

The government’s new guidelines for “promoting British values” in schools are on top of the existing “Prevent violent extremism” program, which makes teaching about online safety and other elements of counter-extremism compulsory. There have been questions from head teachers, who say that the new guidelines have been rushed through without an adequate consultation period.

I’ve continued to blog regularly for the New Humanist, where I’m assistant editor, and for Middle East Monitor. I’ve also appeared on numerous Monocle 24 radio shows, including both general discussions of foreign policy, and analysis of ongoing political instability in Pakistan. On Thursday 4th September I appeared on BBC 5 Live’s Richard Bacon Show, discussing the top stories from social media that week.

Recent work

thumbThought I’d share links to some of my recent work. Last week I wrote a piece for the New Statesman about the “I, too, and Oxford” and “I , too, am Cambridge” campaigns which highlighted racism at elite institutions.

Of course, whiteboards do not have the space for the full complexity of the arguments about racial insensitivity, about prejudice at elite institutions, or about where curiosity ends and offensiveness begins – and nor did the original campaign pretend to. But those whiteboards serve the important purpose of articulating the small instances – the mundane comments, not always intended to offend – that are difficult to confront in the moment, but add up to a painful whole.

You can read the full piece here.

I’ve also continued to blog regularly for the New Humanist, including this piece on Turkey’s Twitter ban, this on foreign fighters in Syria, and this on Burkina Faso’s “pleasure hospital”.

On Sunday 16th March I appeared on the BBC news channel’s paper review. I’ve also been on numerous Monocle radio shows, most recently this discussion of the day’s foreign news headlines (25 March).

Talking and writing

536929_10100984242009918_51119100_nOn Monday 16th December, I appeared on the BBC News Channel’s paper review, discussing the next day’s front pages with the broadcaster David Davies. I’ll be appearing regularly on the show, with my next appearance on 14th January.

During December, I also appeared on BBC Radio Five Live’s Richard Bacon show, discussing the week’s headlines, and on several shows on Monocle radio, discussing the Afghanistan-US security pact, among other topics.

I’ve written a few more blogs for the New Humanist, including this one on gender stereotyping in schools and the assumption that girls can’t do science, and this piece looking at the shifting definition of modern slavery.

Earlier in the month, following the death of Nelson Mandela, I wrote this piece for the New Statesman. It recounts my interview with Mandela’s right-hand man, Ahmed Kathrada, who served 26 years in prison with him in Robben Island. Here’s a short excerpt:

I met Ahmed Kathrada on a chilly autumn day in 2010. A book of Nelson Mandela’s personal papers, including transcripts of taped conversations and letters, was being released. Mandela, even then, was too unwell to travel to promote the book, so Kathrada – his closest friend and adviser – was doing the media rounds on his behalf.

About a decade younger than Mandela, Kathrada was in his 80s and needed assistance to walk. He told me that in the last few years, they had started to call each other “Madala”, or “old man”, a sign of their affection and mutual trust. There was good reason for this trust: they both stood in court at the high profile Rivonia Trial, and subsequently spent 26 years in jail together. After their long captivity and the end of apartheid, they stood in parliament together, too; while Mandela was president, Kathrada was a member of parliament for the African National Congress (ANC).

Recent work

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

I thought I’d share some links to some of my recent work.

I’m still blogging regularly for the New Humanist. My recent posts include this one on breastfeeding and whether state-funded bribery is the best way to encourage it; this post on the shocking conditions for migrant labourers in Qatar and other Emirate states; this on the National Sex Survey and our continued failure to have a grown up public discussion of sex; and this blog on the disturbing report that budget cuts are pushing domestic violence services into a “state of crisis”.

I also recently wrote a piece for Index on Censorship about declining press freedom in Bangladesh, a country I’ve visited many times in the past:

Journalists in Bangladesh face a double threat: Violent retaliation from Islamist groups on the one hand, and official repression on the other.

I’ve appeared on numerous Monocle radio shows, including a discussion of the new head of the Pakistan army on 27 November (podcast here), and of the new Pakistan Taliban chief on 8 November (podcast here). I’ve also continued to blog regularly for Middle East Monitor on various issues affecting the Arab world.

Recent speaking

Earlier this week, I took part in a Google Hangout for the BBC’s World Have Your Say. I’ve appeared on their TV and radio shows before, but this was a new experience! The video, where I’m discussing the future of Pakistan with the BBC’s Lyse Doucet, and Pakistani journalists and bloggers including Bina Shah and Sana Saleem, is still available to watch here:

I’m a regular contributor to Monocle radio, and have appeared on a few shows recently. On 24th June, I discussed the big stories in Pakistan that week (podcast here), including the massacre of foreign tourists in Gilgit, and the charges against Musharraf. On 2nd July, I appeared on the Asia Show to explain the energy crisis and Nawaz Sharif’s plans to tackle it (podcast here).

Press freedom in Pakistan

Journalists in Islamabad protest in 2009.
Journalists in Islamabad protest in 2009.

I contributed a short segment to Monocle 24’s special package on World Press Freedom Day. The podcast is available here. I’m on from about 19 minutes in. Here’s the text of what I said:

It’s sometimes a surprise to outsiders quite how free and vibrant the media in Pakistan actually is.

The outgoing government has many faults, but it’s done a lot to further freedom of expression. Newspapers have played a significant role in uncovering corruption and acting as a check on power over the last decade.

Reporters critical of the government face less official interference today than they did before the return to civilian rule in 2008, but it’s not an entirely positive picture.

Last year, a United Nations report ranked Pakistan as the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Since 2000, more than 90 journalists have been killed– mostly Pakistanis.

Last year, I did some work with the national newspaper Dawn, and entering their offices in Karachi involved multiple metal detectors, bomb detectors, and bag searches, because the Taliban had directly threatened media groups over negative coverage.

This high risk of death leads to a degree of self-censorship. This year’s Human Rights Watch report said that “a climate of fear impeded media coverage of the state security forces and militant groups”. So while government corruption is freely reported on, the powerful military establishment remains largely untouched. Journalists know which areas they can push and which they can’t.

Foreign reporters are safer – and therefore freer – than local journalists, partly because we can afford to take more security measures. But most still proceed with a degree of caution on certain topics, like the ISI. However, we can be safe in the knowledge that the worst that’s likely to happen to us is a swift exit from the country, while local journalists have nowhere to escape to.

Recent opinionating

PTI supporters attend Imran Khan's rally in Lahore, 23 March.
PTI supporters attend Imran Khan’s rally in Lahore, 23 March.

Here’s a round up of some of the opinion pieces I’ve been writing recently.

New Statesman

Manoeuvres and rallies as Pakistan’s election campaign heats up

I wrote this piece after attending Imran Khan’s big jalsa (rally) in Lahore. This is set to be a tight race, and nothing – not even assassination – is beyond the realms of possibility.

Historic moment as Pakistan’s elected civilian government completes full five year term

There are still challenges to be overcome, but merely surviving is something of an achievement.

The Kafkaesque reality of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, is under police investigation for alleged blasphemy after making the case on television for the law to be re-examined and for the death penalty to be removed.

Express Tribune

Protecting women from domestic abuse

It seems unlike­ly that any of the major partie­s will includ­e a commit­ment on gender-based violen­ce in their manife­stos

Pakistan’s youth bulge

How import­ant will young people actual­ly be in decidi­ng the electi­on result?

The Good, the Bad and the Election

With the curren­t climat­e of uncert­ainty, it will do wonder­s for public confid­ence if the electi­on goes ahead at all.

Who is a terrorist — and who isn’t — in Pakistan?

If Pakist­an cannot agree on how they view TTP, it’s diffic­ult to see how anythi­ng fruitf­ul can come out of peace talks.


I’ve appeared on a few shows on Monocle 24 in the past few weeks. On 22 March, I discussed Perves Musharraf’s return to Pakistan (podcast here). On 26 March, I ran through the top political stories in Pakistan, including Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif’s respective election campaigns, and the power crisis (podcast here).


I also blog regularly on the Middle East for Middle East Monitor. An archive of those blogs can be seen here.

Pakistan’s political theatre

Qadri's supporters gathered in Islamabad.
Qadri’s supporters gathered in Islamabad.

On 15 January, Tahir ul Qadri’s “long march” reached Islamabad and camped outside Parliament. While it stopped short of the 1m people he’d promised, a good 30,000 or so turned out. I wrote this blog for the New Statesman looking at the Qadri phenomenon and explaining why some people are suspicious of his motives. On the same day, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. Immediately, the talk was of a judicial coup; a power-grab by the back door. I appeared on this Monocle 24 show discussing the latest developments and what it meant for the forthcoming election. In the typical, dramatic style of Pakistani politics, the crisis was soon resolved and the election is back on track. As the dust settled, I wrote this column for the Express Tribune, exploring the underlying reasons that Qadri was able to muster so much support so quickly: deep dissatisfaction with the political system as a whole.

Other things I’ve been working on over the past few weeks include this post about the Delhi gang-rape case over at my New Statesman blog. It looks at the difficulty of translating “watershed” moments into action in a misogynist society with an under-equipped police force.

I also wrote this column for the Express Tribune about the 10 million Pakistani women missing from the electoral roll, and the challenges of getting women to the ballot box.

Recent writings

Boys collect water in a fishing village in Karachi. Photo: my own
Boys collect water in a fishing village in Karachi. Photo: my own

The picture on the left is one I took during a visit to a small village on the outskirts of Karachi, for a piece about water sanitation. Below is a link to that piece (written for Dawn), and to some of the other things I’ve been writing recently.


Bilawal is key to PPP regaining mass appeal in Pakistan (27th December)

Following the PPP co-chairman’s speech on the anniversary of his mother’s death, I wrote a piece for the Independent about the importance of dynastic politics.

Postcard from Karachi (13th December)

This short piece describes a trip to Lyari, one of Karachi’s most dangerous areas.

Express Tribune

Revisiting Malala (6th January)

Malala Yousafzai was released from hospital last week, but has anything really changed for women activists since she was shot? This piece asks why we wait for women to become victims of serious violence before taking action.

Celebrating Christmas in Pakistan (31st December)

The week after Christmas, I looked at the continued persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan.

Polio attacks – Pakistan’s future under threat (23rd December)

In the aftermath of the shocking murder of five healthworkers in Pakistan in December, I wrote about the dangerous politicisation of medical aid.


“Everybody needs water, it’s not political” (28th December)

This long feature looks at efforts to provide clean drinking water in Sindh, Pakistan, and the problems faced, including lack of education and poor electricity supplies.


On 4th January I was on Monocle 24, talking about Malala Yousafzai’s release from hospital, and what has changed (or not) in the interim. You can listen to it here.

I was also on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 on the 3rd January, talking about blacking up. (A bit of a break from the Pakistan theme!)