By Murtaza Ali Shah
A shadowy group calling itself the World Congress of Overseas Pakistanis (WCOP) arm-twisted the organizers of Pakistan Future Leaders Conference (PFLC) 2014 at Oxford University to drop known journalist Hamid Mir from the panel of speakers and not invite Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousufzai in what has been described as the “victory of money and influence over truth and justice.”
PFLC, an initiative of the Oxford University Pakistan Society (OUPakSoc) held annually since 2010 for two days, started on Friday evening and concluded on Sunday (2nd October, 2014).
This scribe understands that WCOP is bankrolling this conference in the tune of around £5,000, which includes payments for local expenses and airfares of two persons from Pakistan, including a ‘favoured’ journalist - a former USAID consultant and government-servant-turned TV anchor.
The conference organizers at this prestigious university, which has a rich tradition of providing platforms for expressing all types of views, had earlier distributed leaflets and extended invitations, billing renowned Geo TV host Hamid Mir as a keynote speaker. An organiser had told this correspondent that Malala Yousufzai would also be invited, but this would not be disclosed until the last minute due to security concerns.
Other publicized speakers included former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, veteran Pashtun leader MahmoodKhan Achakzai, analyst Saleem Safi and High Commissioner Syed Ibn Abbas.
WCOP had earlier committed to fund this year’s PFLC, and the choice of speakers, as per tradition, was left to the PFLC organisers. However, recently, the organisers were shocked when WCOP started warning them that all sponsorships in cash and kind will be withdrawn unless Hamid Mir and Malala Yousafzai are dropped and disinvited.
The WCOP also approached other small sponsors of the conference, asking them to withdraw their sponsorships. An organiser of the conference told The News that these sponsors had also told them that the presence of Malala Yousufzai and Hamid Mir will not be liked by two main directors of the WCOP, who are believed to have forced their agenda on the students without taking the rest of WCOP directors into confidence.
An organiser of the PFLC 2014, while requesting anonymity, told this scribe: “We were pressured to go against our two national heroes who are a pride of Pakistan and globally recognized for their contribution topublic causes. The problem is we don’t have money and thus have to rely on sponsors. The WCOP directors also used some officials from Pakistan High Commission to pressure us and we were left with no choice. We are sorry but it’s the victory of money and influence over truth and justice.”
The insider went on to say, “We were also told not to say a word about it or we will face consequences, there were financial threats and threats of dire consequences if we didn’t comply. We were literally put on the mat through heavy-handed tactics by the WCOP.”
When approached for the comment, a spokesman of the WCOP refused to disclose how much it was paying for sponsoring the PFLC 2014 and whether the payment was in cash.
“We are only liable to disclose this information to our members and office holders,” said the spokesperson.
The WCOP spokesperson added: “Hamid Mir firstly agreed but then apologised due to a conflicting appointment at Yale University. Malala's father declined due to her upcoming exams. PFLC has record of these conversations.”
The News is aware that Hamid Mir had cancelled another international engagement on the same days to accept the invitation offered to him by the OUPakSoc whose office-bearers have confirmed that Hamid Mir had agreed to speak at the event after their repeated requests.
A Pakistan High Commission spokesman refused to answer when asked that one of its senior officials had been involved in pressuring the students in association with the WCOP to drop Hamid Mir and MalalaYousufzai. The spokesman said: “We always support academic and cultural activities of Pakistani students studying in the UK. Therefore, the Mission is also supporting this event of the Pakistani students at Oxford.”
A senior director of the WCOP on condition of anonymity accepted that the platform of the group had been abused without the knowledge of those who support it. “We are definitely going to raise this issue and will ensure that the culprits are pinpointed.”
OUPakSoc leader Faraz Janan confirmed to The News that his society “does not have its own funding resources, as typically for any other student society, and we rely on external sources for our large events”.
Janan paid tribute to Hamid Mir and what he has achieved professionally. “We honour the professional calibre of Hamid Mir, keeping in view his esteemed journalism, his fight for democracy and contributions to the field of journalism which has been recognized by international institutions and the Government of Pakistan.”
But he refused to answer any questions about the involvement of the WCOP stating that the OUPakSocwill not “disclose” its budget. “I assure you that we have an audit system in place, which has a set procedure to tally and all finances are dealt with complete transparency.”
Murtaza Ali Shah, GEO and Jang Correspondent from London, tweets at @MurtazaGeoNews
Last modified onTuesday, 04 November 2014 14:40