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14 JUNE 2008


Somaliland used to be a British protectorate until independence in 1960 when it joined up with its more southerly neighbour, Italian Somaliland to form Somalia.  Years of internal strife followed until it declared itself independent seventeen years ago.  But despite embracing democracy, it remains officially unrecognised as a separate country by the international community.  British businessman Christopher Quinton, recently visited Somaliland.  He found the land to be welcoming and friendly and wonders why it is ignored by the rest of the world.

From Tibet to the Arabian Sea, the Indus River that gave India its name paradoxically flows mostly through Pakistan.  It holds great significance both strategically and economically as it irrigates and provides a vital lifeline for the lands it passes through.  Culturally, its waters also play a spiritual role in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam.  John McCarthy talks to Barry Downs, an engineer who worked on irrigation projects in the sixties, and Barry’s wife Shirley and also to Alice Albinia who travelled length of the Indus from Karachi to the Himalayas forty years later to discover its history and the cultures associated with it.

Presented by John McCarthy

River Indus near Skardu (Pakistan)

Photo: River Indus near Skardu (Pakistan)

This week’s guests: 

Christopher Quinton is the Chairman of a company that invests in ideas, from executive toys to email software.  One of their services is the provision of computer programmes for elections.  In April Christopher went on a business trip to tender for the production of ID cards and voting software in Somaliland.  After a flight in an ancient Russian aeroplane he arrived in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. Christopher shares his journey to and experiences of a country with little infrastructure, tourist or otherwise, but where he found the people helpful, happy and uncomplaining.  He finds the FCO advice puzzling as Somaliland is different from Somalia.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises absolutely against going to Somalia: ” …because of the recent conflict between the Transitional Federal Government and the Union of Islamic Courts, the dangerous level of criminal activity and general internal insecurity. Although the Union of Islamic Courts is now largely defeated, tension remains high…” Further travel advice can be found at The Foreign & Commonwealth Office's (FCO)

Alice Albinia read English and South Asian History and moved to Delhi in the late nineties to work as a journalist for a number of Indian magazines and newspapers.  As the Kargil War (the India and Pakistan crisis over Kashmir) finished, Alice who was studying ancient Sanskrit texts was inspired to follow the great river Indus.  She first went to Pakistan in 2003 and then spent four years travelling its length from mouth to its source in Tibet.  She wrote about her trip along with historical and cultural perspectives of the river in her book Empires of the Indus.

Empires of the Indus - The story of a river
Publisher: John Murray
ISBN-10: 0719560047
ISBN-13: 978-0719560040

Barry Downs and his wife Shirley lived in Pakistan in the early sixties.  Barry was an irrigation engineer.  He worked for companies contracted by the Pakistan government who wanted to harness the waters of the Indus for irrigation. Despite the political turmoil the Downs family felt welcomed by the Pakistani people.  Their children were all born there and they made many Pakistani friends in the engineering community.
Shirley met Jean Fairley, who in 1975 published her book The Lion River – the Indus, an account of her journey along the river in the sixties.  Shirley travelled down part of the river from Attock to Kalabagh when Jean was carrying out her field research.  They sailed in a large boat which had been pulled upstream by muscle power over the mud and then flowed with the current downstream.

The Lion River - the Indus
by Jean Fairley
Publisher: John Day Co; 1st American ed edition (1975)
ISBN-10: 0381982726 
ISBN-13: 978-0381982720

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John McCarthy John McCarthy is a widely travelled journalist and presenter with a particular interest in the Middle East.
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