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:

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for human rights the UK and worldwide: His personal biography can be viewed here:

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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn ally Diane Abbott argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.