Remembering a crisis as Pak sinks into another

BY SAEED NAQVI

President Bill Clinton’s five day visit to India in 2000 followed by a five-hour stopover in Islamabad convinced New Delhi that the world order had changed. Relationships were to be shaped by the new post cold war realities, not old loyalties.

But quite as abruptly, this order was once again re-fashioned by President George W. Bush, post 9/11. Pakistan became a frontline state all over again.

Oh, the praise that was lavished on President Musharraf, mornings and evenings, by President Bush as “our most reliable ally”. This “most reliable of allies” kept a plausible manner in fighting the American war on terror as its very own. This entailed a shrewd selection of enemy targets: which target to hit so as to minimize the blowback. That this was an impossible circus act, soon caught up with Musharraf. There were those deep differences with President Hamid Karzai who repeatedly pointed out Pakistani fingerprints on Taliban activity in Afghanistan

A regular pattern emerged in which Musharraf and Karzai accused each other of being “soft” on Taliban on the other side. This mutual recrimination implied an absence of concerted action against the Taliban. This suited Pakistan to the extent that it kept Pushtun nationalism on both sides of the Durand line from flaring up uncontrollably. In Kabul this has never been much of a concern. It does not recognize the Durand line.

Contemporary international politics these days is sometimes not determined so much by ground realities as by the manner of their projection on Washington’s late night serious talk shows. These shows began to focus excessively on Musharraf’s “double dealing” in the war on terror. This at a time when the war in Iraq was by now an unmitigated disaster.

Republicans were proceeding towards the 2009 elections in a daze, with reversals in Iraq being compounded by the mess in Afghanistan. Noises in the US became more shrill by the day that Musharraf was either unwilling or unable to wage effective war on terror.

To still some of these noises, large scale US and Pak military action in Swat and Waziristan were launched  with predictable consequences. The blow back shifted from Afghanistan to the Pak side of the border. The entire Pushtun belt along the border was in a state of rebellion.

Lal Masjid in Islamabad had flared up occasionally since 2001 but in 2007, Ghazi Rashid and Maulana Aziz raised their decibel levels against Musharraf “fighting America’s war” against terrorism. Followed assassination attempts on him. Military action on Lal Masjid coincided with the lawyer’s agitation. Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry began to press for he missing persons cases, something that would have brought the Army’s participation in the nasty “renditions” under the arc lamps at a time when the Army’s reputation was the lowest in living memory.

Removing Musharraf at this juncture would have meant going soft on the “war on terror”. Also, President Bush could not be seen to be dumping his “most reliable ally”, particularly when the “ally’s” neck was on the line.

It was then that a formula was devised to have a troika consisting of a President, Prime Minister and Army Chief replace the lonesome figure of Musharraf. The troika, not just Musharraf, would be exposed to the ever stronger blowback from the war on terror.

Such was the wave of anti Americanism that when Benazir Bhutto landed in Karachi, after having recklessly promised a fight to the finish on terror and allowing nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan to be interrogated, that she became easy prey for determined assassins. Asif Zardari is, therefore, an unintended consequence of a deal that was struck between the Americans, Benazir and the Army.

As Pakistan proceeds towards a new scenario which includes fresh elections, a few facts from 2008 elections: Nawaz Sharif untainted by American and Army affiliations, came up trumps in the Punjab. And, something I will never forget about that campaign: neither India nor Kashmir were mentioned even once. A common refrain in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi was: an enmity and a friendship have cost us dear. But that was many moons ago even though optimists may like to keep their fingers crossed as preparations are under way for the Commerce and External affairs Minister to visit Islamabad.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Turkey and Syria press the pause button

BY SAEED NAQVI

Just as Europe is beginning to look economically desperate, Turkey next door looks like the very picture of economic, political and strategic stability. The ultimate irony, ofcourse, is that after having prepared itself on every possible count for eligibility to enter Europe, Turkey is no longer interested in Europe.

Paradoxically, having to fulfill the criteria for European entry, Turkey has had to improve all its institutions. These many improvements will have stood Turkey in good stead whether or not it ever enters Europe. For the foreseeable future that project appears to be on the abandoned list.

For years German, French and various central European leaders have held that Europe was basically Christian in its religious and cultural orientation. And, now the sheer economic decline of Europe may trigger a rethink at a time when enthusiasm for Europe is at its minimal in Turkey.

A region where the Americans have been leaning on Turkish help has been the Balkans. The warmth in US-Turkish equation climaxed with the creation of a Muslim state of Kosovo.

It is therefore not surprising that whenever US-Russian relations dip, the Russians locate a place in the Balkans from where to exert pressure on the Americans.

Recently, at the time when tensions were being ratcheted up around Syria, the Russian sent their fleet into the eastern Mediterranean in support of the Bashar al Assad regime.

Since Kosovo has been carved out of Serbia, the northern enclave called Mitrovica, contiguous with Serbia, is often restive against Muslim Kosovar domination. The minority Serbs, who reject Kosovo’s statehood, have been blocking roads and border crossings dislocating supplies into Kosovo.

This year, in the process of poking their finger into the US and Turkish eyes, thousands of citizens of Mitrovica made a public demonstration of their application for Russian citizenship. The move was designed to underscore pan Slavic nationalism, as well as to expose the fragility of American hold on Kosovo. It is generally not recognized that despite all their joint exertions, the US and Turkey have not been able to mobilize recognition for Kosovo beyond a dismal figure of about 45 states which includes countries like Nauro.

To balance the US creation of Kosovo, Russians too have not been tardy: they have carved out of Georgia, the two pro-Russian enclaves of Abkhazia and Ossetia.

The tight embrace between Russia and the Southern Slavs of Serbia is on account of two factors: the inseparable Slavic bond and an equally durable Orthodox Church linkage.

For Turkey the Balkans are an area of co-ordination with the US and possible contention with the Russians.

In Iraq, one would normally expect the Turkey-Iran rivalry to extend. But this has not been the case so far. In fact the very fact of American presence in Iraq has had the effect of bringing Teheran and Ankara together on the Kurdish issue.

The evolution of the Akhwan ul Muslimeen or Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab world has generated some enthusiasm among the Justice and Development party (or AK party). First, Prime Minister Teyyip Erdogan was welcomed in Cairo and Tripoli with the sort of fanfare which was once reserved for leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The extraordinary charisma of Erdogan became a huge incentive in the rapidly transforming Arab world. He became a model to emulate. Turkey became the democracy to follow.

That Erdogan has Akhwan ul Muslimeen roots, makes him interested in the expansion of the Akhwan turf across Arab lands.

It was this positive response to the Brotherhood that was at the heart of Erdogan’s change of heart towards Syria.

Kemal Ataturk’s secularism was a mirror image of the Ba’ath secularism in vogue in Damascus. But after Erdogan won three elections in succession on a platform of mild, Islamic conservatism, Kemalist secularism became irrelevant to his purposes without his having to do anything about it.

This mild variety of Islamism which is Erdogan’s hallmark, was sought to be promoted in Syria. Bashar al Assad was invited to accommodate this variety of the Brotherhood in the political reforms he was being persuaded to undertake.

But before Assad could get into his stride, Stephen Ford, a 007 like US ambassador, was running around the country creating conditions for civil war. This kind of aggressive diplomacy has had the effect on Assad to press the pause button which has then been played up by the media as his dictatorial obstinacy.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Look who is helping the Maoists

BY RSN SINGH

The recent killing of nun turned activist Sister Valsa John in Jharkhand by a large mob has once again exposed the vitiated social and economic dynamics in India’s mineral heartland wherein the Mafia, Maoists, Corporate or Mining Industry are either principal players or adversaries or collaborators. Whichever the scenario, one thing is common i.e. the extremely debilitated writ of the State. In this case the protagonists are the traditional coal Mafia; the new mineral mafia, Maoists; and Panem Coal Mine Ltd, a private concern. The tenfold increase in coal price in the last five years i.e. from Rs 300 per ton to Rs 3000 has only exacerbated violence and criminality.

In April this year then former Home Secretary G K Pillai had candidly admitted in a seminar organized by Confederation of Indian Industries (CII): “Industry is looking at quick profits. We have seen this happening…I am frank in saying we have seen some 60 to 70 percent money that Maoists get is coming from industrialists. Mr. Pillai is correct, but not entirely. Indeed it is true that some corporate houses and business enterprises relish the Maoist controlled economic dispensation, but there are others who did resist Maoist terror for long but caved in as the State failed to redeem them. Mr. Pillai’s statement smacked of the diffidence in the government in re-establishing its writ in the areas impacted by Maoist terror to check the growing Maoist-Corporate nexus. For India, this phenomenon has pernicious security implications, both internal and external.

Resisted, then capitulated

The menace has engaged the focus and much concern of the people after an Essar Group official of the rank of General Manager, DVCS Verma, was arrested on 27 September this year at Raipur for allegedly paying Rs. 15 Lacs as ‘protection money’ to a Maoist conduit, one Linga Ram Kodopi. The money was reportedly paid to Maoists to allow the company to operate the 267 km iron ore slurry supply line unhindered.

The Essar-Maoist nexus also figured in the Wikileaks, which quoted a cable dated 11 January 2010 from the US consulate in Mumbai: “A senior representative from Essar, a major industrial company with large mining and steel-related facilities in Chhattisgarh told Congenoff (the Consul General’s Office) that the company pays the Maoists ‘a significant amount’ not to harm or interfere with their operations.”

The plight of the Essar Group should be instructive to the policy-makers. This Group, it appears, after much resistance to Maoist intimidation eventually capitulated. In November 2009, about 100 armed Maoists had triggered a landmine at the guest house of Essar Steel at Chitrakonda of Malkangiri district in Orissa and locked up company engineers and employees. It was a clear demonstration of the helplessness and inability of the State to protect a legitimate economic entity. The government did not consider it imperative to re-impose its writ with all its available means and resolve. The fate of Essar Group is shared by most corporate houses operating in the ‘Red Corridor’. Most of them have capitulated and some of them subsequently learnt ways to illegally thrive and grow under the circumstances.

An important Maoist leader, Narla Ravi Sharma, in-charge of Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee, arrested in 2009, said during his interrogation that mining, manufacturing and metal industries in Maoist dominated areas are heavily levied and these entities have the stark choice of either shutting down or acquiesce to the demands of the Maoists.

Mutually beneficial partnership

There is yet another category in the corporate sector which reconciled and submitted to the writ of the Maoists and then turned it into a mutually beneficial partnership. The physical and economic writ of the government in these Maoist-controlled areas extends only to the extent of giving lease or permission for mining and commercial activities. It is at this stage when politicians essay a critical and overwhelming role. Subsequently, the Maoist-Corporate nexus takes over.

One Raju Mahto, in a PIL filed in Jharkhand High Court in 2008, has alleged that the distinguished corporate concern Usha Martin Limited was granted 158 hectares in 2005 as Iron Ore mining lease without the clearance of Ministry of Environment in Ghatkuri Reserve Forest in district Singhbhum. The concerned ministry, the petitioner contends, was granted approval only for 29 hectares, which was deliberately kept undefined to ‘reach advantage’ to Usha Martin Limited. The Company allegedly extended its mining activities over an area of Reserve Forest, upon which it has no lease.

Apart from castigating some politicians for providing patronage to the illegal route, the petitioner has alleged nexus between Maoists and Usha Martin in illegal mining activities.

A hard core Maoist Raghunath Hembrom @ Birsen @ Nirbhay, who was arrested by the Police in 2007 in his confessional statement to the police, revealed that Usha Martin Limited was illegally giving huge sum of money to the Maoists.

Economic terror

The confessional statement of the Maoist leader also highlights the method and network of economic terror by the Maoists. He confessed of having joined the Maoist Armed Cadre in 1993. To begin with, his main task was to diffuse Maoist propaganda and looting arms from non-sympathizers. He pompously admitted that he did not remember as to how many weapons he snatched or looted.

Between 1993 and 2007, he was once arrested in the year 2000 from a hospital and was released on bail in the year 2005. The legal aid was provided by a lawyer on the regular payroll of the Maoists. The five-year jail term of Hembrom did not smite his conscience, or alter his attitude or dampen his commitment to the Maoist cause. Hembrom studied only till the Class V but had rapid rise in the armed hierarchy of the Maoists. Out of prison he was back to waging economic terror.

In pursuance of that terror Hembrom became adept in use of explosives and targeted schools, police personnel or anything which could enhance or compound terror. In one instance he confessed to have killed 12 CRPF personnel. He also confessed to have carried out indiscriminate firing on a railway station and later on a police station. This tactics, he said, is adopted by the Maoists to re-impose their writ whenever they were rendered weak following reverses at the hands of the security forces.

Terror, therefore, is the key to the extortion industry of the Maoists. The extortion ambit of the Maoists includes mine-owners, corporate houses, crushers, contractors, builders, etc. The local Maoist organization, Hembrom said, get only a small portion of the levy, the major chunk goes to the leaders in higher committee based in cities like Ranchi and Kolkata.

In his confession, Hembrom also listed the amount of money received allegedly as levy from various corporate houses and business concerns. They are: Thakurani Mines – 15 lakh, Shivani Steel – 8 lakh, Shyam Minerals – 3 lakh, Ore India – 12 lakh, Swati International – 6 lakh, Sai Enterprises – 5 lakh, Triveni Minerals – 4 lakh, Shivshakti Minerals – 3 lakh, Torian Iron Steel – 25 lakh, Jaidurga Minerals – 6 lakh, Balaji Minerals – 5 lakh, Sharda Crushing – 20 lakh, Sharda Periworks – 15 lakh, Lohars Exporters & Services – 15 lakh, Ranguta Mines – 25 lakh, Usha Martin Ghatkuri – 25 lakh, Isco Contractor Vinay Parsi – 35 lakh, Ranguta Company Ghatkuri – 25 lakh, Padam Kumar Jain Mines Thakurani Rajabera – 30 lakh, Anil Kumar Nirmal Kumar Ghatkuri – 25 lakh, Shah Brothers Krampada – 25 lakh, Chandrapraksh Uttrabaljori – 5 lakh.

Information given during interrogation cannot be treated as completely authentic and could be insinuation but the growing Corporate-Maoist nexus can no longer be denied and be left unaddressed.

Incase the level of terror fails to humble corporate and business houses; Maoists have no remorse then in resorting to murder of innocents. Four security guards of Abhijit Group were killed by Maoists in their formidable bastion of Latehar in Jharkhand because the Company refused to give-in to extortion threats. The Company is engaged in setting up a power plant in the area. Given the vital public benefit of the project, the Company had counted on the on the passive if not active support of the Maoists.

The economic terror of the Maoists and their extortion industry is therefore not for succor and progress of the deprived people but to gain financial muscle to incrementally capture the State.

Indian State under threat

The Corporate-Maoist nexus has imparted huge impetus to the extortion industry and financial and political muscle of the Maoists. Increasingly, this nexus is influencing elections. The social and developmental obligations, enjoined upon the Corporate Houses in their respective areas of operations, are being diverted to the coffers of the Maoists. The nexus is generating a staggering parallel economy, which in turn is boosting the armed might, and internal and external clout of the Maoists. It is undermining the Indian State as such.

The vulnerability of the Indian State to the Corporate-Maoist nexus acquires acute strategic proportions in the backdrop of the fact that it is a phenomenon obtaining in the mineral heartland of India. The increasing control of the Maoists on supply of strategic raw materials is now palpably impacting the country. Many thermal power plants in the country are being starved of coal due to disruptions and economic diktats by the Maoists. The Planning Commission had recently admitted that “Coal movement from mine to railway loading point stopped during night time in CCL area.” As a result the loading of coal reduced from 90,000 tonne to 50,000 tonne.

The Maoists have acquired huge financial and political stake in illegal mining by the Corporate or the mining industry. The illegal mining is under the protection of the Maoists, and the writ of the State is absent. Illegally mined iron ore is reportedly being shipped to China from the Haldia port. A large part of this money earned through illegal export is being used to buy weapons from China and in expansion of the Red Corridor.

Consequently, the arsenal of the Maoists is getting lethal and sophisticated by the day, and so are their training facilities. The full circle of journey of strategic minerals between India and China, i.e. Indian Iron Ore to Chinese weapons, facilitated by the Maoists, is a threat in being.

The emerging linkages between the Maoists, Northeast insurgents, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and China are attributable to the growing financial muscle of the Maoists.

Conclusion

Recently in July 2011, the security forces undertook operations in Saranda forest in West Singhbhum, and Latehar’s Gotag forests to reclaim the so-called ‘Liberated Zones’ from the Maoists, who over the years had gained control over more than 50 villages in the two forested areas.

The government has embarked on a laudable plan with respect to Maoist strongholds, i.e. ‘clear hold and develop’. This strategy is being pursued in the Saranda Forest area in earnest. The Home Minister recently (November 9, 2011) visited the area. In October this year, the security forces claimed to have liberated 56 villages with over 36,000-population from the Maoists.

The ‘Saranda Action Plan’ prepared by the Rural Development Minister envisages supply of solar lanterns, pre-fabricated houses, and construction of bridges with the help of the army. The objective of the government is also to reach directly and deliver to the people government-sponsored welfare and development schemes such as Old Age Pension and Indira Awas Yojna. The Maoist leadership has warned locals of dire consequences from availing benefits from the government. Two villagers assisting the government machinery in delivery of ‘old age pension’ were murdered by the Maoists in the first week of November this year.

The Maoist terror, therefore, continues unabated in these areas. In the Saranda and Gotag forests Maoists continue to act like government officials. In fact, the number of Kangaroo Courts of the Maoists have increased manifold following the operations.

The Maoist-Corporate nexus continues.

The inference is clear, i.e. the Maoist-controlled areas at best has been partially and temporarily reclaimed. Without total reclamation, there can be no reach out to the people and therefore no development. The sincerity and resolve of the government cannot be faulted, but the inadequacy is with the tools that it is using. The Maoist stranglehold in these areas has been obdurate to police and para-military. For complete and enduring reclamation of the ‘Liberated Zones’, the Indian Army needs to be inducted, without which the Corporate-Maoist nexus will continue to grow and consume new areas and new people, and finally the State.

Finally, the state must realize that business does not prosper in a vacuum and business must contemplate about its long term existence without State.

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a guest blogger for Canary Trap)

PR uncovered: Top lobbyists boast of how they influence the PM

BY MELANIE NEWMAN

One of Britain’s largest lobbying companies has been secretly recorded boasting about its access to the heart of Government and how it uses ‘dark arts’ to bury bad coverage and influence public opinion.

An undercover investigation by the Bureau, published in the Independent today, has taped senior executives at Bell Pottinger:

  • Claiming they have used their access to Downing Street to persuade David Cameron to speak to the Chinese premier on behalf of one of their business clients, within 24 hours of asking him to do so.
  • Boasting about Bell Pottinger’s access to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, to Mr Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn and to Mr Cameron’s old friend and closest No 10 adviser Steve Hilton;
  • Suggesting the company could manipulate Google results to ‘drown out’ negative coverage of human rights violations and child labour;
  • Revealing that Bell Pottinger has a team which ‘sorts’ negative Wikipedia coverage of clients;
  • Saying it was possible to use MPs known to be critical of investigative programmes to attack their reporting for minor errors.

Reporters from the Bureau posed as agents for the government of Uzbekistan – a brutal dictatorship responsible for killings, human rights violations and child labour – and representatives of its cotton industry in a bid to discover what promises British lobbying and public relations firms were prepared to make when pitching to clients; what techniques they use; and and how much of their work is open to public scrutiny.

‘The next big scandal waiting to happen’


In Uzbekistan, child labour is allegedly used in cotton fields to fulfil state quotas.  The country also has a terrible human rights record: the think tank Freedom House put it on its 2011 list of the ‘Worst of the Worst’ repressive regimes.

The Bureau contacted ten London firms. Two actively refused to take the business, several others never replied, while five including Bell Pottinger appeared to be keen to work with the fictitious Uzbek representatives. Bell Pottinger quoted ‘£1 million-plus’ as a fee for carrying out the work.

The claims of the representatives – which were secretly recorded and are published in the Independent newspaper this week – will add to mounting concerns that an absence of regulation has made London the global centre for ‘reputation laundering’, where lobbyists work behind the scenes on behalf of the world’s most controversial regimes.

David Cameron pledged to tackle lobbying five years ago and then again last year, saying it was ‘the next big scandal waiting to happen’ and ‘has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money’. He said he wanted to ‘shine the light of transparency’ on lobbying so that politics ‘comes clean about who is buying power and influence’.

Political connections

During two undercover meetings in June and July 2011 at its Chancery Lane offices, senior Bell Pottinger executives showed no signs of being deterred by Uzbekistan’s dire image. They made it clear that the Uzbek government would need to put genuine reforms in place if it was to improve its reputation and then outlined how it could work with the Government, Parliament and the media to do so.

Related article: How the Bureau investigated Bell Pottinger

They talked openly about the work the firm had done with other regimes with questionable human rights records including Sri Lanka and Belarus and about how they could navigate the corridors of power for clients.

Tim Collins, managing director of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, told the undercover reporters he used to be Mr Llewellyn’s boss in Conservative Central Office and had worked with Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne in the Conservative Research Department.

‘I’ve been working with people like Steve Hilton, David Cameron, George Osborne, for 20-years plus,’ he said. ”There is not a problem getting the messages through.’

His colleague David Wilson boasted that the firm was the ‘most powerful public affairs business in the country.’

Asked whether he could help organise a meeting between Mr Cameron and the Uzbek president – despite protocol dictating that such meetings are organised by ambassadors – he said: ‘We can facilitate that.’

Mr Collins later clarified that such a meeting might be an ‘end point’ to aim for, once the country was seen to be genuinely improving its human rights record.

Fast turnaround

During the undercover meeting, Bell Pottinger – whose chairman is Margaret Thatcher’s former media adviser Lord (Tim) Bell – claimed to have used its influence on behalf of the engineering firm Dyson to ask Mr Cameron to complain about copyright infringement to the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao during a state visit in June 2011.

‘We were rung up at 2.30 on a Friday afternoon, by one of our clients, Dyson,’ Mr Collins explained. ‘He said “We’ve got a huge issue and that is that a lot of our products are being ripped off in China” … On the Saturday David Cameron raised it with the Chinese prime minister.’

He added that, ‘He [Cameron] was doing it because we asked him to do it,’ and because the issue was in the wider national interest.

Related article: Bell Pottinger’s links to government

‘In terms of very fast turnaround and getting things done right at the top of government if you’ve got the right message yes we can do it,’ he said.

Mr Collins also recommended a meeting with Daniel Finkelstein, the Times’ chief leader writer – who he said was very close to Mr Cameron.

‘He will sit down and have lunch with just about anybody,’ he said. ‘That doesn’t mean he’s going to agree with them… but occasionally something out of that lunch or dinner will get dropped into a future column.’

Joint events could be held with influential think-tanks close to government, such as Policy Exchange, the firm suggested. Another strategy would include passing information to key academics ‘so that they are then blogging the right messages out there, so it’s actually coming from an independent,’ said Mr Wilson.

Mr Finkelstein said: ‘I am flattered if anyone thinks I am interesting enough to have lunch with. But anyone promoting either undemocratic or anti-social policies would find me a pretty closed door and hasn’t to my knowledge come knocking.’

Discussing techniques for managing reputations on-line, Mr Wilson mentioned a team that could ‘sort’ Wikipedia.

‘We’ve got all sorts of dark arts,’ added Mr Collins. ‘I told [David Wilson] he couldn’t put them in the written presentation because it’s embarrassing if it gets out, because he’s so good at it.’

Online reputation management

A presentation shown during the meeting said the firm could ‘create and maintain third party blogs’ – blogs that appeared to be independent. These would contain positive content and popular key words that would rank highly in Google searches.

The pair also explained how the firm enables government videos and articles to move to the top of internet searches, while less favourable stories can move down the rankings.

‘The ambition obviously is to drown out that negative content and make sure that you have positive content out there online,’ Mr Wilson said.

The firm cited past examples of its work, including manipulating Google rankings for East African money transfer company Dahabshiil. Bell Pottinger executives said they had ensured references to a former Dahabshiil employee subsequently detained in Guantanamo Bay because of alleged links to al-Qaeda, disappeared from the first ten pages of a Google search for Dahabshiil.

Another defensive method cited in the meeting was the use of politicians to attack a broadcaster.

‘There are a lot of people in Parliament who can’t stand Channel 4 and can’t stand Dispatches,’ Mr Collins said.

‘So actually if there are any inaccuracies, even if they’re fairly minor, you can actually work with some people who have a track record of not liking Channel 4, wanting to score points against Channel 4 [who will say] “here is another instance of Channel 4 over-reaching themselves and putting out stuff they haven’t properly checked,”.’

For its investigation, the Bureau chose to approach Bell Pottinger posing as representatives of Uzbekistan’s business and government.

Uzbekistan has recently expelled Human Rights Watch. Including the regime in its ‘Worst of the Worst’ list of repressive regimes in 2011, the US think-tank Freedom House said: ’Uzbekistan’s government continued to suppress all political opposition and restrict independent business activity in 2010. The few remaining civic activists and critical journalists in the country faced prosecution, fines, and lengthy prison terms.’

In addition, Uzbekistan’s cotton is the subject of an international boycott by several clothing manufacturers because the country still allegedly uses forced labour, including child labour, in its harvest.

The ‘Azimov Group’

Bureau journalists posed as members of the ‘Azimov Group’ – a group of British and Eastern European investors concerned with exporting cotton textiles. They claimed they had been tasked by the Uzbek government with improving the country’s image in the UK, and that the government would be committed to reform.

During two undercover meetings none of the Bell Pottinger representatives expressed any serious doubts about taking on a client with such a dire public image.

‘A number of [our client] governments have had serious reputational issues,’ said Mr Collins.

But he also stressed a need for genuine commitment to reform.  ’Everything we are recommending is predicated on the agreement by the government to change,’ he said. ‘[That] justifies why a PR company is representing a country which previously people shouldn’t have been talking to … now it actually wants to change it is fully acceptable.’

Another executive stressed, whilst talking about one of the firm’s clients: ‘I wouldn’t actually represent a client who I didn’t believe.

He added: ‘Just trying to sell the situation as it is or to say that things are changing when in reality they aren’t is not going to work. Once we’re clear that we’ve got the collateral, the proof that things are changing … then obviously we have the connections to get the message through to the right people.’

Bell Pottinger told the reporters that it had previously helped convince the EU that Belarus was committed to reform. But shortly after the EU lifted a travel ban on Belarus’ president, the country went back to its old ways and the ban was eventually re-instated. Last week two Belarus courts sentenced two men to death despite pleas for mercy and an international outcry.

Changes did not need to be fast, Mr Collins added. ‘As long as you can see that each year is a little better than before, that’s fine.’

Reputations do not come cheap, however.  ’A million pounds plus,’ is what Mr Wilson quoted to do the job. ‘This is certainly a £100,000 a month campaign to make it very effective.’

This would buy a media relations campaign, on-line reputation management and the public affairs team ‘working with you on a governmental level’.

The country should stress its position as an emerging market to help sell the message to the UK, he suggested.

‘To the Western world it’s a developing market so you can always have the message that… we are changing with the times, we are emerging, learning as a nation and growing,’ he said.

He added: ‘Britain has this sort of moral ethic it thinks it can impose upon the world still because of our colonial background and the Commonwealth. We forget that 100 years ago we had kids working in cotton mills here.’

‘Nobody knows who paid us’

Asked whether the firm would be prepared to work for the Azimov Group without knowing the identity of the campaign’s ultimate funders, Mr Wilson said: ‘If the media asks us who your client is, there has to be an audit trail.’ But a few seconds later he admitted: ‘In our work for Belarus, nobody knows who paid us.’

Lord Bell was provided with details last Friday morning of what his executives had told the undercover reporters.

He did not provide a direct reply. His lawyers, Carter Ruck, sent a legal letter earlier today, suggesting the Bureau’s journalism was unethical.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said: ‘It is simply not true that Bell Pottinger or indeed any other lobbying company has any influence on government policy.’

A Downing Street source said that Dyson’s concerns had been raised with the Chinese Premier, that it was a legitimate matter to raise and that they were unaware of Bell Pottinger’s involvement.

Mr Dyson did not comment.

(PR uncovered: Top lobbyists boast of how they influence the PM was first published on www.thebureauinvestigates.com and is republished with its permission)