Thursday, August 20, 2009

Musharraf in London

By Ayesha Ijaz Khan

As a commando, Musharraf was probably taught to act first and think later. And that is precisely what he has done by choosing to make London his interim home. I use the word "interim" because I am sure that had he thought rationally about permanent relocation, he would have opted for one of the Gulf States. The UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia offer fancier lifestyles with villas, well-priced cooks, drivers and maids. Hobnob with the royalty and other favours may also be granted, such as use of private aircraft, a privilege Musharraf is said to have availed of often. For those so inclined, there is also no dearth of music parties, even in Saudi Arabia, where I spent twelve years as a child. Not to mention, in Musharraf's case, far better protection from the law in Pakistan and immunity from trial in general.

In London, by contrast, flats are generally small, house help is paid by the hour, and although at the moment Musharraf is being provided state security, questions are being raised about it in Parliament and efforts made by the likes of Lord Nazir to contact the lawyers who had helped extradite Chile's Pinochet. By all accounts, Musharraf's future in London is bleak and a significant downgrade from what he was accustomed to in Pakistan. Why, then, would he have chosen London?

The only reason that I can think of is that London is politically active. The Gulf states, on the other hand, are comfortable but politically dead. When he left Pakistan, he must have been certain of his return and, moreover, of his political revival. He must not have seriously considered the Supreme Court asking him to appear and explain the actions of Nov 3, 2007.

As someone who criticised Musharraf harshly and continually ever since he deposed the chief justice in March 2007, I find it odd now that he resides about a twenty-minute walk from me. And although I have neither seen him nor met him in London, in spite of the fact that I regularly run errands in and around Edgware Road and often pass by his building, Indian acquaintances claim that they saw him working on his biceps at the local gym. They could very well be pulling my leg.

I have been informed by a well-connected Pakistani visiting London this summer that Musharraf paid 1.4 million pounds sterling for a three-and-a-half bedroom flat off Edgware Road. For those not familiar with the London property market, a half-bedroom is one where a single bed can fit, but not a double bed. If in fact Musharraf did pay that amount, all I can say is that he has been royally ripped off!

The flat in question should have cost no more than a million pounds, and the price being quoted is a third too much. Edgware Road is a decent locality, but by no means the most expensive in London. Had the property been situated in nearby Mayfair or St John's Wood, it could have easily fetched the price being quoted, but on Edgware Road, unless one is selling to a recent immigrant who needs an urgent foothold in London and is unaware of the going rate, values tend to be lower than several other central-London localities.

London does, of course, have its share of Nigerian generals, Thai politicians and Russian intelligence bosses trying to secure their place in exile, although the Russians have far too much money and often gravitate around the more expensive Belgravia. In fact, London's property market is more reliant on foreign money than perhaps any other in the world. The most expensive property in London was purchased two years ago by the Emir of Qatar for a whopping 110 million sounds. His super-posh One Hyde Park address is reputed to have its own private tunnel linking it to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in prestigious Knightsbridge. Sheikh Hamad's 2007 purchase outdid Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal's 2004 purchase of a Kensington mansion, which he bought for 70 million pounds and allegedly spent another 20 million on refurbishment.

The building identified to me as Musharraf's, on the other hand, is average by London standards, not posh. Far from a palace in Surrey or a mansion in Jeddah, the building in question, along with the one in front of it, are popular with visitors from South Asia and the Arab world. It is also perhaps worth mentioning that several Pakistani politicians and businessmen and/or their children owned flats in those buildings prior to Musharraf's purchase. It may also be noted that the leaders of some of our political parties, including Mian Nawaz Sharif, President Zardari, and Imran Khan's children live in far better localities in London or New York (as the case may be) and in more expensive properties. I am not at all suggesting that owning expensive properties is proof of any wrongdoing, but, if asked, the owner in question should be prepared to explain the source of wealth and present proof of taxes paid commensurate with the value of his\her assets.

The idea of this piece is by no means to present a defence of Musharraf, for I feel strongly that he must face the courts in Pakistan foremost for acting against the judiciary and violating the sanctity of the Constitution. But if we choose to speak of financial corruption, then we must be fair and maintain perspective. That is what justice demands of us. (The News)

The writer is a London-based lawyer-turned-political commentator. Website:

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud is alive, still holding command of Taliban fighters: Hakimullah Mehsud

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a coalition of various Taliban groups, has refuted the reports about killing of Taliban supremo Baitullah Mehsud in a drone strike. Hakimullah Mehsud, an influential Taliban commander while refuting the reports has said the Taliban will release a video of Baitullah Mehsud. He said Baitullah Mehsud was alive and still holding the command of Taliban fighters. He promised to release a recorded video of Mehsud within two to three days.

Baitullah Mehsud is dead

* Foreign minister says govt pursuing ground verification
* Interior minister says operation will continue until Mehsud’s group is eliminated
* TTP deputy chief says he can neither confirm, nor deny Baitullah’s death * Hakeemullah Mehsud, Waliur Rehman Mehsud, Azmatullah in close race to emerge as new TTP chief

ISLAMABAD: Quoting intelligence reports on Friday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi confirmed that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack in South Waziristan.

“Based on information gleaned from intelligence reports, the news of Baitullah’s death is correct. But we are going for ground verification, and when the information has been confirmed, then we will be 100 percent sure,” he told reporters at a local hotel after addressing the Youth Parliament. He also told BBC Radio that it was “pretty certain” that the Taliban chief was dead, Reuters reported. A Taliban commander and aide to Baitullah Mehsud, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that the TTP chief was killed in the US strike. “I confirm that Baitullah Mehsud and his wife died in the American missile attack in South Waziristan,” Taliban commander Kafayatullah said by telephone. He would not give any further details.

No end in sight: Mehsud was allegedly killed in a drone attack on Wednesday while visiting his father-in-law Maulana Ikramuddin’s house. The attack also resulted in the deaths of one of his wives, Ikramuddin’s daughter, and over half-a-dozen guards. “Information is coming from that area that he is dead,” said Interior Minister Rehman Malik. “I am unable to confirm unless I have solid evidence,” he said. He said the military was determined to finish off the Taliban in Pakistan. “It is a targeted law enforcement action against Baitullah Mehsud’s group and it will continue until Baitullah Mehsud’s group is eliminated forever,” he said.

He urged the Taliban to lay down their arms and urged them to come into the mainstream, saying the new TTP chief would face the same fate as Baitullah. He said the TTP is a banned outfit and there was no possibility of talks with them, the Online news agency reported.

No confirmation: TTP deputy chief Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, meanwhile, told Daily Times he could neither confirm nor deny Baitullah’s killing in the drone attack. “Baitullah Mehsud was killed in the drone attack,” Ikramuddin’s neighbours told Daily Times. Military and intelligence sources told Daily Times the best confirmation would be from the Taliban. “To be frank, the Taliban themselves can confirm their leader’s death. Otherwise, the lack of a proper government in the area prevents us from taking definitive action,” the intelligence officials added.

However, an intelligence officer in South Waziristan told Reuters that Mehsud’s funeral had already taken place. “He was killed with his wife and he was buried in Nargosey,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Online news agency quoted a private TV channel as reporting that the government could make the official announcement with regard to Baitullah’s death within the coming week. It said the Interior Ministry had received a fax from South Waziristan Political Agent Syed Shahab Ali Shah confirming Baitullah’s death.

New TTP chief: Meanwhile, intelligence officials and Taliban sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said that Taliban commanders were meeting in the Tribal Areas on Friday to choose a successor. It was unclear when they might reach a decision.

Three Pakistani intelligence officials said the likeliest successor was Mehsud’s deputy, Hakeemullah, a commander known for recruiting and training suicide bombers. Two other prominent possibilities, the officials said, were Azmatullah and Waliur Rehman, also close associates of Mehsud.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

SC orders warrants for Hamesh Khan

The Supreme Court has ordered to issue warrants for the arrest of former president Punjab Bank Hamesh Khan and owner of the Haris Steel Mill Sheikh Afzal.
The three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary while hearing the Haris Steel Mill case also asked the government to use diplomatic channels for bringing these defaulters back home from abroad.
The Supreme Court directed the FIA to issue arrest warrant for Hamesh Khan, in Rs 9 billion Bank of Punjab loan scam. The bench which was also comprised Justice Ch Ijaz Ahmed and Justice Jawwad S Khawaja adjourned the hearing of the case till August 10.
The apex court again directed the three main accused in the case Hamesh Khan, Shaikh Afzal, owner of Haris Steel and his son Haris Afzal to appear before the court and also directed that appearance of the accused was a must as their non-appearance was creating a wrong message.
The Chief Justice directed Director General FIA, Tariq Khosa to use diplomatic channels for the arrest of Hamesh Khan, former President Bank of Punjab.