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Gen Pervez Musharraf's party says the event has only been postponed.— File
Gen Pervez Musharraf's party says the event has only been postponed.— File

LONDON: The University of London will not host former president Gen Pervez Musharraf who was due to speak at a recording of a Dunya TV programme tomorrow [Thursday] at one of the university’s leading institutions, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

The event was billed as a question and answer session on topics such as the 1999 takeover, the war on terror, Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification and the army’s tough stance on India.

Opponents of the retired general objected to the university providing a platform to the former military ruler. There were fears that there might be not only protests but also an attempt to disrupt the event.

In a statement, SOAS suggested that technically it had not cancelled the event since it had never been booked properly or cleared in the first place. It said SOAS “...had no involvement in either organising or in standing down this event. We are aware that one student made a room booking request for this date and then subsequently withdrew it of their own volition. Any suggestion that we in some way cancelled or withdrew support for the event is incorrect.”

But a Facebook page in the name of the Pakistan Solidarity Campaign UK suggested the university had come under pressure over the event. The Pakistan Solidarity Campaign said that, together with likeminded organisations, it had approached the university administration and submitted a letter demanding that the event be cancelled. When the cancellation was announced, the Pakistan Solidarity Campaign posted a message saying: “It’s a victory and special credit goes to those progressives in London who dedicatedly pursued this case.”

According to the central information secretary of Gen Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League, Sam Ali Dada, this was not true.

“The event scheduled at SOAS has not been cancelled but postponed for a few days as many people wanted to attend and Gen Musharraf will be in London for more than a week,” she told Dawn.

“It was supposed to take place this week but due to a large number of responses the university and TV channel host decided it would be better to postpone it,” she added.

However, Baloch activists celebrated the cancellation of the event. Abdul Nawaz Bugti who’s verified twitter account describes him as the ‘Baloch Republican Party’s rep at UNHCR’ tweeted: “Thanks to @SOAS for not allowing war criminal #Musharraf use their platform. People like @P_Musharraf belong in jail not in Universities”.

Others regretted not being able to see the retired general perform. The co-founder of the hardline nationalist group the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, tweeted: “University of London cancels Musharraf’s event over protest fears… Gutted I was going to this.”

The university’s decision followed the disruption of an event in Norway in which Gen Musharraf was speaking on August 17. Having given a speech to around 150 people in Oslo, the retired army chief was engaged in a question and answer session which became too rowdy for the hosts, the Nobel Peace Centre.

Supporters of Gen Musharraf reportedly tried to prevent questions too critical of him being asked.

In a statement delivered the next day, the Nobel Peace Centre explained that: “As the floor was opened for questions, the discussion between Musharraf’s followers and opponents escalated. When some participants attempted to silence and remove critical voices, we decided to stop the event.”

The Nobel Peace Centre said that even though Gen Musharraf had been invited to Norway by another organisation — the Dialogue for Peace — it was nonetheless responsible for the event because it was happening on its premises.

“We want different, also critical, voices to be heard. We will not accept open debate to be hindered…” the centre said.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2017