SOAS hosts Musharraf, despite arrest warrant for Bhutto’s murder

The University of London’s collusion with the ex-dictator and alleged war criminal is shameful.

The former Pakistani military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, yesterday admitted:

We (Pakistan) launched a jihad -- holy war -- in Afghanistan (against the Soviets)...We drew Mujahideen from the entire Muslim world...We armed and trained the Taliban...I supported the recognition of the Taliban government in Afghanistan...I was of the view that the whole world should have recognised and had relations with the Taliban government.

Musharraf justified his stand on the grounds that Pakistan was threatened by the Soviet Union and that working with the Taliban was the best way to moderate their fundamentalism.

He made these admissions during a talk at London's prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) -- an institution that is in the forefront of promoting the human, cultural and civil rights of people around the world.

Many students and human rights defenders are appalled that SOAS gave Musharraf a platform with no alternative speaker to challenge his record, especially since the former military strongman faces serious allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and collusion with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

In February, an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi issued a warrant for Musharraf's arrest in connection with her murder.

This warrant was reconfirmed and made permanent last weekend.

The hosting of Musharraf comes on top of revelations this week by the campaign group Student Rights that SOAS has on the editorial board of its Journal of Qur'anic Studies Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a cleric who is banned from the UK and US for endorsing suicide bombings and the killing of innocent civilians.

He also advocates female genital mutilation, male violence against disobedient wives and the execution of gay people and Muslims who abandon their faith. His anti-humanitarian views have condemned by over 2,500 Muslim scholars worldwide.

Student Rights has additionally exposed that SOAS has accepted £755,000 in donations from the Saudi dictatorship in the last four years.

SOAS's association with unsavoury regimes, former tyrants and preachers of hate is typical of the way a significant number of UK universities have for many years hosted hate mongers and human rights abusers while maintaining a hardline refusal to give a platform to racists and neo-Nazis.

Professor Paul Webley, Director of SOAS, defended inviting Musharraf on free speech grounds. This is all very well, except that I doubt that SOAS would give a platform to Nick Griffin, David Duke or an advocate of apartheid or slavery. In the name of free speech, did SOAS similarly fete General Pinochet, Pol Pot or Ratko Mladic? Why the double standards?

Musharrf overthrew a democratically elected government and seized power in a military coup in 1999. During his nine years in power, his regime was repeatedly condemned for gross human rights violations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

These human rights abuses included:

War crimes and crimes against humanity in Balochistan including the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilian areas, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, torture and detention without trial, leading to the displacement of tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

The assassination of veteran Baloch national leaders Nawab Akbar Bugti and Mir Balach Marri.

The abduction, torture and detention without trial of Dr Safdar Sarki, the former chairman of World Sindhi Congress.

The illegal deposing of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the arrest of dozens of judges and lawyers and the murder of the Additional Registrar of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Hamad Raza.

The protection and promotion of jihadist groups and the Taliban in Balochistan, Sindh and the Pashtun tribal areas, giving them free rein to suppress nationalist, democratic and secular movements.

Despite compelling evidence that his regime waged a brutal war against the people of Balochistan and systematically violated the human rights of all Pakistani citizens, Musharaff is shielded from prosecution by the UK government. He is allowed to live in the UK and is given police protection at taxpayer's expense. What other alleged war criminal gets this privileged treatment?

Perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, the UK and the US have long trained Pakistani military officers. They sold the Musharraf regime the weapons and military equipment that were used (and are still being used) to suppress the people of Pakistan; including the F-16 strike aircraft and Cobra attack helicopters that have bombed and strafed villages in Balochistan

Instead of hosting General Musharraf, SOAS should have cooperated with human rights groups to have him arrested and put on trial in The Hague.

For more information about Peter Tatchell's human rights campaigns and to make a donation: www.petertatchell.net

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for human rights the UK and worldwide: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org His personal biography can be viewed here: www.petertatchell.net/biography.htm

A protest in 2016. Getty
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Fewer teachers, more pupils and no more money. Schools are struggling

With grammars and universal school meals, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking.

If you ask people in Britain what the ­biggest political issues are, schools don’t make the top five. Yet last week Labour set its first party political broadcast in a fictional classroom where a teacher described Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for schools’ future. Without a Labour government, the teacher opines, there will be no more libraries, or teachers, or school trips. Though the scenario is a flagrant breach of the law – teachers must remain politically impartial – education isn’t a bad place for Labour to start its campaign. Schools really are quite screwed.

Three things are hitting hard. Schools have less money, fewer people want to be teachers, and an avalanche of under-sevens is hitting the playgrounds and won’t stop for several more years.

How did we get here? In 2015 the Conservatives pledged to keep school funding at the same rate per pupil over the lifetime of the parliament. Yet while the money coming in has remained flat, schools have faced huge hikes in costs, particularly staffing. Big increases in mandatory pension contributions and National Insurance have taken their toll; so has the apprenticeship levy. The
Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that all told, schools will have lost about 8 per cent of their budget by 2020. That’s £3bn of savings that must be found. Or, more bluntly, the starting salaries of 100,000 teachers.

It is worth remembering at this point how huge the schools sector is and how many people are affected. About half a million teachers work in the 20,000-plus state schools. A further 300,000 people work in allied professions. There are eight million children and an estimated 12 million parents. Lump in their grandparents, and it’s fair to say that about 20 million voters are affected by schools in one way or another.

The budget squeeze is leading many of these schools to drastic measures: firing teachers, increasing class sizes, cutting music from the curriculum, charging parents for their child’s place on a sports team, dropping transport provision, and so on. Begging letters to parents for donations have become commonplace; some have asked for contributions of up to £60 a month.

On top of money worries, teachers are abandoning the profession. In 2015, an additional 18,000 went to work in international schools – more than were trained at universities over the same year. They joined the 80,000 teachers already working in British schools abroad, attracted by higher pay and better working conditions.

Graduates are also snubbing teaching. With starting salaries increasing at less than 1 per cent a year since 2010, new teachers are now paid about 20 per cent less than the average graduate trainee. Changes to higher education are also such that trainees must now pay £9,000 in order to gain their teaching qualification through a university. The government has missed its target for teacher trainees for five years now, and there is no coherent plan for hitting it.

No money and no teachers is less of a problem if you are in a demographic dip. We had a bizarrely low birth rate at the turn of the century, so we currently have a historically small proportion of teens. Unfortunately, the generation just behind them, of seven-year-olds and under, is enormous. Why? Because the “baby echoers”, born in the 1970s to the baby boomers, had children a bit later than their parents. Add to that the children recently born to immigrants who arrived in their twenties when the European Union expanded in the early 2000s, and Britain is facing an El Niño of toddlers. By 2025 a million extra children will be in the school system than in 2010.

To keep on top of the boom the government has been creating schools like a Tasmanian devil playing Minecraft. But 175,000 more places will be needed in the next three years. That’s the equivalent of one new secondary school per week from now until 2020.

In fairness, the government and councils have put aside money for additional buildings, and roughly the same number of parents are getting their first-choice school as before. The free schools policy, which delivers new schools, has not always been well managed, but it is now more efficient and targeted. However, many more children combined with squeezed budgets and fewer teachers typically leads to bigger class sizes. Most classrooms were built to house 30 pupils. Exam results may not get worse, but no parent wants their child working on a makeshift desk improvised out of a windowsill.

Instead of addressing these challenges, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking. Theresa May wants more grammar schools, ostensibly because they will give more choice to parents – though these are the only schools that pick pupils, as opposed to the other way around. And she says they will aid social mobility, though all the evidence (and I really do mean all) suggests the opposite.

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is offering free lunches to all seven-to-11-year-olds, which sounds worthy until you realise that children from low-income families already get free lunch, and that feeding every child a hot sit-down meal is virtually impossible, given the limited space and kitchen facilities in most schools. Plus, the evidence this £1bn policy would make any significant difference
to health or attainment is pretty sketchy. Labour has also sensibly talked about cash and promised to “fully fund” schools, but it isn’t clear what that means.

What’s missing so far from the Conservatives and Labour alike is a set of policies about teacher recruitment or place planning. The sector needs to know how schools will be built, and where the teachers will come from for the extra kids. In other words, the message to both sides is – must try harder.

Laura McInerney is the editor of Schools Week and a former teacher

Laura McInerney taught in East London for six years and is now studying on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Missouri. She also works as Policy Partner at LKMCo.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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