Musharraf to seek refuge in London: report

August 19th, 2008 - 3:37 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 19 (IANS) Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf could seek refuge in London, a British newspaper reported Tuesday. The Daily Telegraph quoted an unnamed senior Western diplomat in Islamabad as saying Musharraf could first head for Saudi Arabia on a Muslim pilgrimage, but that London could be his ultimate destination.

The British government did not comment on the report, but London has long been a favourite destination of exiled Pakistani politicians, alongside Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

They have tended to use London not only to cool their tempers after being deposed by army or civilian hot heads back home, but also to strike deals that are sometimes facilitated by the American and British governments.

Benazir Bhutto lived in London for many years after her father, prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was ousted and then executed by Gen Zia ul Haq.

She used London’s strategic and political importance to mobilise international support for herself and her father’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

After she herself was forced to flee abroad to escape corruption charges, Bhutto again headed for London. She later divided her time between Dubai and London before returning to Pakistan, where she was assassinated in December last year.

Nawaz Sharif, who was exiled to the Saudi capital Riyadh, retains a party office of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in London.

Both the PML-N and PPP have a large number of supporters in Britain.

Altaf Hussain, the leader of the Karachi-based party Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), has been living in London since 1992 when he fled Pakistan following an army operation against him and his followers.

So important is Hussain in Pakistan’s complex ethnically-based politics that leaders of other parties have to fly to London to meet him when deals have to be struck.

Hussain addresses his supporters in Karachi through a videolink.

And many Pakistani leaders continue to retain luxurious homes in Britain.

London is also the favoured negotiating venue for Pakistani politicians. Sharif and Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari recently held several rounds of discussions here in a bid to come to a power-sharing arrangement.

The fate of Musharraf, who resigned from his job Monday, was key to these discussions.

Ironically, if Musharraf chooses to settle down in Britain he will join his sworn rival Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s son and heir apparent to the PPP throne.

Bilawal, an Oxford University student who has been shielded from the public eye, said Monday: “After the martyrdom of my mother I said that democracy was the best revenge - and today it was proved true.”

Bilawal’s father holds Musharraf responsible for Benazir’s assassination.

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