Why Musharraf’s torture remarks matter

Jeremy Croft, Head of Policy and Government Affairs at Amnesty International UK, on the importance of former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's remarks on torture, and the UK's "tacit approval".

Jeremy Croft is the Head of Policy and Government Affairs at Amnesty International UK

It is standard operating procedure for a TV company to trail a programme with some eye-catching remarks from a high-profile figure. Even so, what Pakistan’s former president Pervez Musharraf is quoted as saying in this evening’s “The Secret War on Terror”, BBC2, 9pm, matters.

Mr Musharraf contradicts the long-held position of senior UK officials that this country was clear and unequivocal in its opposition to any use of torture in its dealings with Pakistan. Musharraf says that the UK government “Never. Never once” made such a stipulation that he knows of.

According to the BBC, he goes on to say:

“Maybe they wanted us to continue to do whatever we were doing; it was a tacit approval of what we were doing.”

It is pretty clear he’s referring to torture. He reportedly explains it in this way:

“We are dealing with vicious people and you have to get information… Now if you are extremely decent, we then don’t get any information.. We need to allow leeway to the intelligence services, the people who interrogate.”

This will be chillingly familiar to anyone who’s read Amnesty’s reports on Pakistan during Musharraf’s nine-year presidency (1999-2008). During these years, and particularly from late 2001 when Pakistan became an active participant in the USA’s “war on terror”, hundreds of people in Pakistan were “disappeared” into secret detention centres.

These included opponents of the Islamabad government from the restive Balochistan region, as well as numerous supposed “Islamists” or those considered “security threats”.

One case highlighted by Amnesty is that of Masood Janjua, a businessman from Rawalpindi, and his friend Faisal Faraz, an engineer from Lahore. They were apprehended on July 30th 2005 while travelling on a bus. Security forces denied holding the men but evidence later emerged showing that Janjua was held at various places of detention, including an army building called “501 Workshop” in Rawalpindi run by the notorious Inter Services Intelligence agency.

However, nearly six years later, both men are still missing in what is sadly an all-too-typical case.

When confronted with these claims Musharraf has been dismissive. He’s admitted that some 700 detainees were originally held but insists they were all later released and that any missing people were “in the control of militant organisations” or “jihadi groups”.

Mr Musharraf’s comments – new and old – are likely to be of interest to the forthcoming Gibson torture inquiry. This is charged with the responsibility to thoroughly investigate allegations of UK complicity in torture and ill-treatment of detainees held overseas. This will almost certainly include Pakistan. It’s set to start work in the next few weeks. I suspect that its chairman Sir Peter Gibson will be watching tonight’s “The Secret War on Terror” with great interest.

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