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

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle