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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2007, 13:24 GMT
One day in Pakistan: Views and news

Jill McGivering in Islamabad describes her day covering Pakistan for the BBC's English language online, TV and radio services.

1810: 'Filing at last'

News! While I was going to see the EU team, a colleague from the Urdu service was heading for the press conference I mentioned at the beginning of the day.

It was given by the alliance of opposition parties who are boycotting the elections.

Imran Khan (left) and Qazi Hussein Ahmed (right) in Rawalpindi - 13/12/2007
An alliance of opposition politicians has said they will boycott elections
He's just come back with their formal list of demands. They're calling on the public not to vote.

It's not an obvious story for the global news division but given the interest in Pakistan at the moment, and the fact I think we should try to reflect all the main points of view, I've called the London news desk and offered a piece. They want it.

So I'm now hammering out a radio despatch, a piece of about 300 words, which I'll voice and send to London via the internet. They think it's a candidate for the 1600G bulletin.

Whether it gets on or not will depend on what else is happening round the world and the pieces other BBC correspondents are sending.

But that decision is the job of the editors in London. My job is to file. And, thank goodness, I'm filing at last.

1748: Bird flu fears

The news agencies have posted reports of a mild earthquake in southern Punjab in the middle of the morning, rated just over 5 on the Richter scale. No damage has been reported.

The Americans have issued a press release about help they're giving in Pakistan's battle against H5N1 bird flu. They're giving more than 70,000 US dollars worth of protective equipment, to safeguard frontline workers.

Hospital workers disinfect an isolation room where a patient with bird flu was treated at the Ayuab Medical Complex, in Abbotabad - 17/12/2007
There has been an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu
This is the latest in a stream of stories in the last few days about some recent deaths, just confirmed as the often fatal H5N1 strain of avian flu.

More investigations are underway about whether there's any sign of human-to-human transmission. If there were, that would be a huge story with implications worldwide - but it seems alarmist to file on this at this early stage.

I'm now chasing an EU spokesmen in Brussels in the hope of clarifying the story about the election mission - but no luck yet.

1441: 'Tantalising outing'

Just back in the office after an hour or so out in Islamabad, taking rickety yellow taxis on white knuckle rides through the chaotic traffic.

Jill McGivering
Jill McGivering - lips sealed over the EU briefing
News has reached the local taxi rank that I leave for England tomorrow and they are each lobbying me hard for the fare to the airport.

Sadly for them, my hotel offers a free shuttle.

My outing was tantalising - but also frustrating. I went to the swanky Serena Hotel where the EU election assessment mission is based and had coffee with the team leader.

The good news is that he gave me an insightful briefing. The bad news is that negotiations are clearly at a very sensitive stage - and I cannot report anything for now, not even to you.

I am itching to say more, especially on such a quiet news day. But I must not. I would be a dreadful diplomat.

1250: 'Possible lead'

My colleagues in the Urdu service plan to prepare features on the start of the election campaign. That's something the BBC's English services will cover in the New Year.

There's to be a meeting today in Islamabad of the opposition parties who have decided to boycott the election. It isn't clear what they'll announce today but it's a possible lead.

Pakistanis in Gujrat
Most people are more concerned with flour prices than politics

In the meantime, I'm interested in the EU's comments yesterday evening that they're still undecided whether to send a formal monitoring mission to the elections.

If they didn't, that would be a black mark against the whole process - and potentially embarrassing to the government.

I'd like to see if I can find a Pakistan angle so I can file from here. I've made some calls to EU officials here and hope to meet one of them in an hour's time.

It might not lead to anything - but I think it's worth pursuing on such a quiet day. The bad news is that it will force me to miss Rahmat's lunch.

1030: 'Quiet morning'

The international news agencies are filing updates on stories, which have already been in the news for a day or two.

Islamabad protest, 17 December
The papers cover Monday's protest in Islamabad

One says that the number of soldiers killed in yesterday's suicide bombing in Kohat has increased.

BBC radio took a story from me on the bomb attack yesterday but it's unlikely they'd want to take a follow-up now. It would have to be a very big development.

Similarly, there are small updates in the story about escaped prisoner Rashid Rauf, the British national of Pakistani origin whom Britain is trying to extradite.

That's a story I need to keep an eye on - but there isn't enough movement yet to warrant offering a fresh piece to London.

It's late morning now and the bureau is filling up. Most of the people here are Pakistani journalists who file for the Urdu services.

They're the experts I turn to for advice and help when I'm trying to understand a story. Everyone is sighing over the fact it's so quiet at the moment.

0930: 'Chopping and sizzling'

The BBC bureau is almost deserted. The bureau cook takes one look at me and re-appears with a large black coffee.

I check there are no overnight messages from London (nothing) and start on the thick stack of English language newspapers that appear on my desk every day.

The BBC Islamabad bureau cook, Rahmat Emmanuel
Rahmat keeps the Islamabad bureau fuelled with food and drink
There's a front page story about "seat adjustments" which seems to be a means of political bartering between the opposition parties.

It's too detailed to make the world news agenda but it's useful to understand, so I have a better idea of the deal-making that goes on.

Several papers have dramatic pictures of the police using batons and tear gas on young female students who took part in an anti-government protest in Islamabad yesterday.

I went along to cover the protest - but left to file my radio report before the violence broke out.

The papers are following the election rallies of the main opposition figures on a daily basis. That's just too close up for us.

The BBC's main coverage in English of the election campaigns will start the week before voting day. The bureau cook is already starting on lunch - the sounds of chopping and sizzling and the sharp smell of onion are floating through from the kitchen.

0845: 'Bread and butter issues'

Head for the BBC bureau. The taxi drivers, waiting in their battered yellow cars in the street, are still sleepy, unshaven and wrapped in blankets against the cold.

The one who gets my fare gives me the usual morning speech en route, shaking his head pitifully: business is very bad, these are difficult times. All the shopkeepers and drivers say the same. They think that President Musharraf's state of emergency has really taken its toll, deterring investors and visitors and damaging Pakistan's image.

The question in my mind is whether the lifting of the state of emergency and the January elections will restore confidence. I've been meaning to do a feature on the economic impact on daily life.

A lot of ordinary people I've chatted to here don't focus on democracy and the political parties, as we journalists tend to. They focus much more on the rising cost of living.

The "hue and cry" about the flour shortage - and the long lines of people queuing for flour - is featured in the papers every day. So far there just hasn't been time to look at these (literally) bread and butter issues. We've been too busy keeping track of the main political events.

0800: 'Tuck it away'

Wake at 0800 and switch on Dawn TV, Pakistan's English language television news channel, partly to check if anything's broken overnight. If the BBC news team in London had seen anything dramatic, my mobile, always at my bedside, would have rung by now but so far, it's looking quiet.

Dawn's breakfast programme is focusing on an academic survey suggesting a possible link between pesticides and instances of disease amongst cotton pickers in Sindh province and the south of Punjab province.

They interview one of the authors of the study. She says there are about two million female cotton pickers and they suffer from a high incidence of health problems, from rashes and allergies to cancer. It's the kind of story the BBC might be interested in investigating further but a direct causal link can be hard to prove.

I remember filming a similar story in the Indian state of Darjeeling about the impact of pesticides used in tea plantations and it was judged too legally unsafe to show in the end.

No-one will have time to follow this up until Pakistan's political story has stabilised but it's one of those ideas to tuck away for a rainy news day.

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