Stephen attracts a crowd in Delhi
To mark the 60th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan, HARDtalk travelled to the region for a series of interviews. As well as a demanding travel schedule, Stephen Sackur tackled road rage, monsoon rains and flooding -- all in a day's work for HARDtalk's presenter.
One sure indication that times are a-changin' in India comes with a casual glance at the crime stories in the Delhi newspapers.
During my recent visit for a series of HARDtalk interviews I was struck by the growing preoccupation with the spread of 'road rage'. This is a phenomenon I've long associated with frazzled commuters on the choked freeways of Los Angeles. But now, with the Indian economic boom putting ever more cars on the country's pot-holed roads, normally mild-mannered drivers and motorcyclists are lashing out at fellow travellers.
Last week one poor fellow was bludgeoned to death after an altercation with another driver at a traffic light. Daily reports of stabbings, fist-fights and frenetic chases flow into the Delhi police.
And it's not just spur-of-the moment rage which is making the streets of the capital ever more dangerous. Late night car-jacking has spread to the sprawling suburbs. Five 'dacoits' attacked a young travel agent in his brand new car last week, bound him up and dumped him in a field before making off with his vehicle.
A country famed for its willingness to let cows wander across roads at will is now troubled by road rage and armed car-jackers
Is this the new India everyone's banging on about? A country famed for its willingness to let cows wander across roads at will is now troubled by road rage and armed car-jackers.
It's perhaps a salutary reminder, amid all the hoop-la about India's emergence as an economic superpower, that extraordinary growth brings challenges and problems along with unprecedented opportunities. Not least because growing polarisation between rich and poor, city and countryside has undermined traditional Indian assumptions about community and social justice.
As former prime minister V.P. Singh - who's forever associated with a hugely controversial effort to improve the lot of India's lowest castes in the early 90s - told me: 'It's not enough for us to want to ape America. We have to find a way to grow and be ourselves, be Indian, otherwise there'll be all sorts of trouble'.
Traffic continued to be a theme when I left India for Pakistan.
Filming the programme introduction in Delhi
Hardtalk's intention was to intersperse the India interviews with others recorded in Pakistan as both countries marked the 60th anniversary of independence and partition. Our foray into Pakistan almost didn't happen, thanks to monsoon rains sweeping into Karachi.
As we headed from the airport to our hotel the floodwaters were still rising. Cars were stalling. Motorcyclists were soaked to the skin and the Hardtalk crew were torn between taking pictures and swimming for their lives.
We had to battle through the worst Karachi jams in 20 years to get to our first interview at the comfortable home and office of eighty four year old Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada. He'd been Mohamed Ali Jinnah's political secretary in the run up to independence. He went on to be legal adviser to a succession of Pakistani rulers, including four Generals.
We found him fussing about the damage done to his ground floor library by the filthy flood water.
'They tell us they spent millions on new drains for the city,' he said. 'So what's all this flooding? Where did the money really go? The same place it always goes... corrupt politicians'.
The military has presented itself as the best guarantor of domestic and regional stability. Rather like Karachi's drains, that argument now holds precious little water
Mr Pirzada has little time for Pakistan's current generation of civilian politicians but even he seems to recognise that the time has come for General Musharaff to relinquish his dual role as head of Government and the military.
For much of Pakistan's 60 year history the military has presented itself as the best guarantor of domestic and regional stability. Rather like Karachi's drains, that argument now holds precious little water.
In the last two years the security situation has deteriorated, Islamist extremism has the Americans threatening unilateral action and Pakistan's politicians are united in their demand for free and fair elections. All of which makes for a febrile atmosphere. Good for the presenter of Hardtalk, not so good for the Foreign Minister of Pakistan.
Before our interview with Khurshid Kasuri he asked me rather plaintively, 'Why is the BBC giving more attention to India than to us?'
Not so, foreign minister, I assured him. With parliamentary elections coming up, and with General Musharaff's future as president and head of the military to be decided in the coming months I think Mr Kasuri can rest assured that Pakistan is going to suffer no shortage of journalistic scrutiny... from Hardtalk or a host of others.
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