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: www.ayeshaijazkhan.com