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Middle east

Reporter's Notebook

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2010-01-29

High-level representatives from more than 60 countries are attending a conference in London focusing on the security and reconstruction of Afghanistan. FRANCE 24’s Leela Jacinto follows the behind-the-scenes action.

The action on Thursday is centered in and around London’s Lancaster House, where a high-level summit on Afghanistan is being held.

8.15 am, Media Centre - Gigantic tent erected in Green Park opposite the Lancaster House functions as the conference media centre. As usual with high-level summits, journalists will be covering the conference from afar.

Across the table, a reporter from Geo TV, the popular, private Pakistani TV station, is yelling on the phone in Urdu. He bangs it down and complains to the other news teams around. “Office is saying give me story. I'm saying, ‘What am I going to give?’” They say, “Give me story.”

He does have a point. Stuck here in high security land, we stare at the TV screens. Our computers feed us our first early morning report. Hopefully, later in the day, we’ll get some live action …

8.45 am   The BBC’s Lyse Doucet walks in, resplendent in a bright red winter coat. Among the journalists gathered here, she’s the “grande fromage”. A seasoned Afghanistan reporter, Doucet moderated a special town-hall style meeting last night between Afghan President Hamid Karzai, British PM Gordon Brown and a gathering of students – including Afghans in the elegant Pillar Room at 10 Downing Street.

Doucet stops by to say 'hi' to the FRANCE 24 team and her old friend, FRANCE 24’s London correspondent, Benedicte Paviot. Gracious as ever, she poses for a photo. If Doucet is here, the action should be not far away.


1.30 pm   What’s the best way to grab media attention? Wear a headscarf, drape yourself in traditional robes and then distribute your media flyers.
There’s a press huddle around a group of Afghan women dressed in green veils and colourful Afghan overcoats. They’re part of a coalition of Afghan women’s groups here to raise the once-hot, but now-overlooked issue of Afghan women’s rights.
It’s hard to elbow my way through the crush of journalists around the women, but I manage to squeeze myself next to Mary Akrami, founder of the Kabul-based AWSDC (Afghan Women Skills Development Center). Akrami has come to the London Afghanistan conference from Kabul, she says, on behalf of Afghan civil society. “But we were not allowed inside the conference area, so here we are in the media centre, trying to raise our voices for Afghan women’s rights.”
The 33-year-old activist says she is not opposed to the key issue at this summit: reconciliation and reintegration of Taliban insurgents. But, she insists, the process must not, in any way, compromise women’s rights.
I guess that would call for gender sensitisation courses in the Taliban reintegration package. I’m glad I’m not part of the soon-to-be formed National Council of Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration.
But when I mention Karzai’s invitation to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to help facilitate reconciliation efforts, Akrami gets incensed. “We Afghans don’t want their hand anymore. Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, they interfered in Afghanistan a lot and we dislike what they did,” she fumes. “This is our country, it’s not just President Karzai’s decision. That’s why we are here, for the international community to hear us.”
A camera-wielding member of the international community nudges me out of position. For the moment, Akrami has the ears of the media at the press enclosure but I’m not sure who else is listening.
2.15 pm   Getting summit participants to speak to us in our  tent in the park across from  Lancaster House is a tricky business.
The French Embassy in London has promised to bring French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner into the studio area for a brief interview with French TV crews here.
In a few minutes, we’ve been warned. I can’t be late. On my way to Studio 1, I pass a reporter from Stars and Stripes, a US news agency operating from, but independently of, the US Defense Department. “Gotta rush,” I say. “We’re interviewing Kouchner.”
‘Kouchner who?’ asks my colleague. ‘I’m sorry, who’s he?’
Inside Studio 1, however, everyone knows just who Kouchner is. There’s a low-level scrap about whether the first two questions will be in English or French. Ouch again. I stay out of this one.
Kouchner arrives, the questions roll. Is the French foreign minister convinced about Karzai’s anti-corruption initiative? “Am I convinced?” he asks rhetorically. “I want to be convinced.” How about his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan? Will the new strategies work? Kouchner laughs. “Do I believe it will work? It’s difficult to say. This is necessary otherwise it will be the end of our believing in this fight.”


Date created : 2010-01-28