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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What does François Bayrou's endorsement of Emmanuel Macron mean for the French presidential race?

The support of the perennial candidate for President will boost Macron's morale but won't transform his electoral standing. 

François Bayrou, the leader of the centrist Democratic Movement and a candidate for the French presidency in 2007 and 2012, has endorsed Emmanuel Macron’s bid for the presidency.

What does it mean for the presidential race?  Under the rules of the French electoral system, if no candidate secures more than half the vote in the first round, the top two go through to a run-off.

Since 2013, Marine Le Pen has consistently led in the first round before going down to defeat in the second, regardless of the identity of her opponents, according to the polls.

However, national crises – such as terror attacks or the recent riots following the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man, who was sodomised with a police baton – do result in a boost for Le Pen’s standing, as does the ongoing “Penelopegate” scandal about the finances of the centre-right candidate, François Fillon.

Macron performs the most strongly of any candidate in the second round but struggles to make it into the top two in the first. Having eked out a clear lead in second place ahead of Fillon in the wake of Penelopegate, Macron’s lead has fallen back in recent polls after he said that France’s rule in Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

Although polls show that the lion’s share of Bayrou’s supporters flow to Macron without his presence in the race, with the rest going to Fillon and Le Pen, Macron’s standing has remained unchanged regardless of whether or not Bayrou is in the race or not. So as far as the electoral battlefield is concerned, Bayrou’s decision is not a gamechanger.

But the institutional support of the Democratic Movement will add to the ability of Macron’s new party, En Marche, to get its voters to the polls on election day, though the Democratic Movement has never won a vast number of deputies or regional elections. It will further add to the good news for Macron following a successful visit to London this week, and, his supporters will hope, will transform the mood music around his campaign.

But hopes that a similar pact between Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, and Jean-Luc Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left Front’s candidate, look increasingly slim, after Mélenchon said that joining up with the Socialists would be like “hanging himself to a hearse”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.