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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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR