Extremes characterized the political career of Pervez Musharraf, the most recent military dictator of Pakistan who passed away at the age of 79.
Musharraf, who took control of the country in a coup in 1999, overcame multiple assassination attempts and eventually found himself in the middle of the conflict between fundamentalist Islam and the West.
Notably, he established a partnership with the United States, stating that it assisted him in modernizing Pakistan and boosting the country’s economy.
However, by 2008, the career soldier had lost the election and was ejected from the government. His political career ultimately ended in embarrassment and arrest: in 2019, he was found guilty of treason and given a death sentence in absentia.
The punishment was unlikely to ever be carried out because he had been permitted to leave Pakistan in 2016 for medical treatment. But for the military, which has frequently dominated the nation, it was a humiliating first.
After false claims that Musharraf had passed away in Dubai surfaced in June 2022, his family declared that there was a slim possibility he would survive multiple organ failures caused by the rare disease amyloidosis, from which he had suffered.
On August 11, 1943, Pervez Musharraf was born in Delhi, but as British authority ended and India was divided, his family moved to Pakistan like millions of other Muslims.
Before enrolling in the Pakistan Military Academy in 1961, he attended schools in Karachi and Lahore.
He participated in the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War and the second war between the two nations five years later, by which time he had attained the rank of company commander.
When Pakistan’s army leader, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, resigned two days after advocating for the army to play a significant part in the nation’s decision-making process, Musharraf was propelled to the top position.
Many observers interpreted the resignation as evidence that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political influence had grown sufficient to guarantee the long-term viability of civilian governments.
Senior army officials rejected Prime Minister Sharif’s attempt to remove Musharraf from his position in October 1999.
Musharraf, who was abroad in the country at the time, promptly returned to Pakistan and quickly assumed the position of chief executive after staging a bloodless coup.
Rafiq Tarar, the then-president of Pakistan, held the position until Musharraf formally named himself as his successor in June 2001.
Early in his leadership, he dispelled any hopes that his coup may signal a stabilization in relations with India, or perhaps a fresh start.
When he traveled to India for a historic summit in July 2001, there was excitement. He met with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and visited the Musharraf family’s ancestral home in Delhi for a photo op.
The protracted Kashmir dispute was cited as the primary cause of the impasse, but optimism eventually faded and the negotiations came to a halt without resolution. India believed Musharraf to be the mastermind behind the Kargil crisis in 1999 and believed the Pakistani army was involved in the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight bound for Afghanistan the same year.
Musharraf, as the president of Pakistan, had to cope with the consequences of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on American targets for his nation.
You are either with us or against us, was the administration of former US President George W. Bush. Therefore, Musharraf reversed Pakistani policy in a contentious manner by backing the American-led military effort to topple the Taliban government in neighboring Afghanistan, which had harbored the Muslim radicals responsible for the attacks.
He strongly denounced extremism in a statement from January 2002 and vowed to combat Islamist terrorism in Pakistan. Additionally, he restricted the number of foreign students who could come to Pakistan to study Islam and outlawed any foreign sponsorship of mosques and Islamic educational institutions.
Additionally, the newly elected president was under mounting pressure to conduct free and fair elections and reinstate civilian authority.
A pro-Musharraf coalition obtained the majority of seats in parliament in October 2002, but the opposition virtually prevented any National Assembly activity for more than a year.
He negotiated a deal with a coalition of Islamic groups two years later, which resulted in the passage of a law validating his 1999 coup and allowing him to continue serving in the army and keep his presidential title.
President Musharraf promised to reverse the slowing of economic growth when he came into power, and international organizations have largely praised his changes.
In October 2005, a devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan-administered Kashmir killed more than 73,000 people and left more than three million homeless. Musharraf had to deal with this humanitarian catastrophe.
Following his choice to suspend Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on charges of corruption in 2007, pressure on his rule grew.
The Supreme Court subsequently reinstated the chief justice and rejected all claims of wrongdoing after a significant outcry from the nation’s lawyers.
The Red Mosque in Islamabad, whose religious leaders and students frequently denounced Musharraf’s pro-Western agenda, was besieged by the army in July 2007.
Before the facility was attacked in a military operation that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people, armed students fought with soldiers for days.
Musharraf made what would prove to be a catastrophic choice in November of that year when he declared a state of emergency.
A month after a contentious election in which he was re-elected president, he attempted to suspend the constitution and remove Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry. But by instituting emergency rule, he also alienated the opposition and some of his important allies abroad, which hurt his popularity.
Drop out of power
But more than anything else, the horrific suicide bombing death of another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, in December 2007, undermined Musharraf’s assertions that he held Pakistan’s destiny in his hands.
Following elections in early 2008, Bhutto’s resurgent Pakistan People’s Party, along with the party of Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf had overthrown in 1999, stormed to power at the head of a governing coalition. They started making attempts to get the president to step down and start the impeachment process.
In a lengthy speech on August 18, 2008, Musharraf announced his resignation and defended the choices he had made.
He retired and lived what appeared to be a tranquil life in London and Dubai, but he was open about wanting to go back.
When the elections were finally held in Pakistan in March 2013, the former general went there to participate, but his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) was not allowed to run because of Nawaz Sharif’s administration, which was then back in power.
Musharraf subsequently found himself swiftly involved in several inquiries, including one for treason in connection with his declaration of a state of emergency in 2007.
Years of legal fighting in the nation’s highest courts were prompted by the charges.
Musharraf fled the nation once more in 2016 after a travel ban had been lifted for medical grounds.
The justices in the treason case took more than three years to deliver their shocking decision: Musharraf was convicted and received the death penalty.
The likelihood of such a punishment being carried out, however, was slim because Musharraf was living in self-imposed exile in Dubai.
He declared on camera that he was too ill to leave for Pakistan. He was speaking from a hospital bed.
Then, in a shocking turn of events, the Lahore high court ruled that the entire procedure was unlawful a month after the sentence was handed down.
It raised questions about the validity of the decision, but it wasn’t clear if it automatically overturned the death penalty.
When Musharraf’s family revealed that his organs were failing in June 2022, there were requests for him to be permitted to return home to Pakistan where he may pass away in peace. The army made it clear that if the family desired it, it would provide for them.
However, a large number of people demanded that the former military commander be detained upon his return and held accountable for his actions.