RIP Musharraf: one who couldn’t live up to his surnametext_fields
But a few days ago, the quondam President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was summoned to zhanat. Pervez Musharaff will be remembered as a man who shepherded Pakistan through some of the most difficult times in its history and cracked down on kleptocracy. Yet to others, he was a military dictator and a traitor to Islam. The controversy around his legacy is likely to rage for decades. He ruled the country for 8 years making him one of Pakistan’s longest-serving heads of state. He held what he claimed was the world’s most dangerous leadership position. His surname means ‘honoured one’ which might be a case of nominative determinism. Did he believe that he was honourable or ought to be exalted? Did he comport himself in a manner befitting his surname? But to his foes – who were legion – he was busharaff meaning dishonourable one.
Governing Pakistan was no easy task. It has a population of close to 200 million and it is growing rapidly. 40% of the population was illiterate. There was widespread and severe poverty. There was also internecine sectarian violence. Corruption was endemic and the infrastructure was in a parlous condition. The country’s reputation was warrantably appalling. The military was the only thing that functioned in a deeply dysfunctional country. The country was bedevilled by a lawless Afghanistan to its west and a hostile India to its east. Enmity towards Hindustan was the only thing holding the country together. Pakistan, therefore, got itself into a low-intensity conflict over Jammu and Kashmir. With nuclear weapons in the mix, there was always the chance that Pak’s provocations would go too far and result in a nuclear exchange.
Pervez Musharaff was born in Delhi into an upper-middle-class Urdu-speaking family. He will surely be the last President of Pakistan to have been born in British India. At the Partition of the Subcontinent, the family shifted to the infant state of Pakistan. The families were Sunni Muslims and relatively liberal ones. His mother had attended university which was almost unheard of for Muslim women in 1930s India.
The autobiography of Musharaff ‘In the Line of Fire’ recalls how his pater carried hundreds of thousands of rupees on the train to Pakistan. These funds were most of the funds to establish the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Musharaff family settled in Karachi. The port was then the capital of the fledgling nation of Pakistan. Within a few years, Pervez’s father was posted to Ankara to set up Pakistan’s embassy there. A few happy years enabled Pervez to ‘converse fluently in the Turkish language’ as he later bragged. It was there in a kindergarten run by a German female that he acquired the English language.
After a few years, the family returned to Pakistan. In Karachi, he attended St Patrick’s School. This was run by Christian priests. Notwithstanding that, over 90% of the pupils were Muslims. They all had to study the Bible though. This perhaps made him more sympathetic to Christians than most Pakistani Muslims are. He had a few run-ins with authority there. He recalled how the headmaster Father Todd occasionally caned his backside. Later Pervez went to Foreman Christian College.
Upon reaching the man’s estate, Pervez enrolled in a Pakistani military academy. He cunningly saved his strength by exerting himself in tasks only just enough to achieve them. He passed out from the academy successfully and was commissioned into the army as an artillery officer. Even his most implacable enemies grudgingly conceded that he was at least a competent military man.
The Second Indo-Pakistan War saw Pervez Musharaff fighting. He also fought in the Third Indo-Pakistan War. He held various commands.
In his 20s Pervez wed and sired two children. This was a very modest brood in comparison to the time and place.
Pervez was an observant Muslim but not as zealous as many. He eschewed the full beard that is said to be indicative of piety. He was no Koranic scholar. He enjoyed music and dancing.
In the 1977 military coup, Musharaff followed orders. He did not exhibit any enthusiasm for the military regime of Mohammad Zia ul-Haq. He recalled with distaste being brought to a prison in his capacity as an army officer to witness a flogging. To his horror, the prison governor had a plate of cakes for him to enjoy whilst he witnessed an unfortunate man being whipped. Musharaff did not find watching someone in pain was inducive to a hearty appetite and ordered that the goodies be taken away.
On another occasion, Musharaff remembered having to stop a train of entertainers going to Quetta where they were due to perform. Musharaff scorned the ‘fundoes’ as he called them who believed in ‘no singing, no dancing.’ They were against all forms of entertainment. He said that this puritanism was done ‘to create a constituency for Zia ul-Haq among the religious right.’ Until 1977 Pakistan had legally functioning nightclubs.
Musharaff was promoted up the ranks. There were no disasters on his watch. He was clubbable and known for his conventionality. He was assumed to be politically unambitious. He was also incorruptible.
In 1998 he was appointed Chief of Army Staff by Prime Minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif wanted an attack on India in the Kargil sector. The Pakistanis ordered thousands of pairs of snow boots.
There had been a gentleman’s agreement not to move up to certain positions in winter. Pakistan violated this. In the spring of 1999 Indian troops moved up to positions that they had withdrawn from the previous autumn. They discovered that the Pakistanis had returned in winter and moved forward from their previous positions. The Kargil War ensued.
India Today published a cover in 1999 with Musharaff on it under the title ‘the face of the enemy.’ He was a fairly formidable foe. Nonetheless, the battle was unavailing. Pakistan was bested in the Kargil War.
The Prime Minister wanted to scapegoat Musharaff. But the PM had control of a civilian government. In October 1999 Musharaff flew to Sri Lanka for some defence diplomacy. On the way home he was informed by the captain of a Pakistan International Airways plane that they had been refused permission to land in Pakistan. They were running low on fuel. The only alternative was an emergency landing in India. Then Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff would be captured by India. Musharaff contacted forces on the ground and managed to have troops seize control of Muhammad Ali Jinnah Karachi Airport. The plane landed safely. A putsch was launched. Nawaz Sharif was apprehended.
Musharaff then appointed himself to the new post of Chief Executive. The President remained in post and cooperated with him. Musharaff noted that Nawaz Sharif had almost killed 300 civilians on that plane: almost all of whom were Pakistanis.
The reaction to the coup was subdued or even one of relief. It was bloodless.
Nawaz Sharif stood trial for various offences. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, he was accorded clemency and exiled to Saudi Arabia. He had cordial ties with the royal family. Musharaff thought it had been a mistake to execute Bhutto 20 years earlier.
Nawaz Sharif always had some admirers. He had deepened the relationship with China. It was under his premiership that Pak achieved nuclear weapons status making it undefeatable. He had assiduously courted the Islamist vote.
In 2000 George W Bush contested the Presidency of the United States. Infamously he could not name the general who had seized power in Pakistan. But Bush lauded the general who had done so.
Musharaff later had himself elected president. Then 9/11 happened.
Pakistan had helped to midwife the Taliban. The Taliban were mostly drawn from the Pashto-speaking people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Islamabad was one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban as the rightful government of Afghanistan.
The US Government called Musharaff after 9/11. He was told, ‘’you are with us or against us’’. He was threatened with being bombed back to the stone age. The USA was filled with terrible resolve.
Musharaff knew that Pakistan could not stand up to the United States militarily. President Musharaff later wrote that at that time he was obliged to think about Pakistan’s national interest. He reflected that even Prophet Mohammed had sometimes made temporary alliances. Musharaff knew that if he did not give Uncle Sam what he wanted then the United States would attack. The USA was not bluffing and was not about to be fobbed off with excuses and token cooperation. Moreover, India might see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attack Pakistan with American support. Besides the military threat, Pakistan received billions of dollars of US military aid each year. The USA could wreck the economy with sanctions.
President Musharaff caved in. He de-recognised the Taliban and expelled its diplomats. He allowed the US to overfly his territory and to ship supplies through Pakistan to its bases in Afghanistan.
In an election, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) was the faction that supported Musharaff. PML (Q) was little more than a fan club for him. It is not to be confused with the Pakistan Muslim League that backed Nawaz Sharif.
There was large-scale cheating to ensure that Musharaff’s party did well. Jamaat-e-Islami also did well. Musharaff wanted the West to know that an openly pro-Taliban party was the only alternative to his rule.
Pro-Taliban elements could be found in the army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). There was a limit to how much Pakistan could do against the Taliban when it had the fervent support of a large section of Pakistani society.
Musharaff helped the US by arresting Afghani Talibs and handing them over to the CIA. However, Pakistan almost never did this with Pakistani Taliban.
The Taliban were unhappy with Pakistan assisting the USA. Therefore, the Taliban began attacks in Pakistan and not just against Shias and Christians. There were several assassination bids against Musharaff. He had nine lives.
President Musharaff felt a deep loathing for Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif had tried to kill him. As an old soldier, Musharaff was unafraid of death. He detested Nawaz Sharif for being willing to kill dozens of Pakistani children for the sake of settling a personal score. He despised Nawaz Sharif as a liar, a thief and a Pharisee. Nawaz Sharif posed as pious and curried favour with the Taliban whilst living an unIslamic lifestyle. Musharaff regarded the PML leader as lacking a moral backbone and being a coward and a degenerate. Musharaff had a law passed forbidding those who had served as prime minister twice entering political life.
Pakistan did not even pretend to control the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani Army entered some of these areas in the 2000s
Musharaff had improved the economy. He forced the super-rich to pay taxes. Pakistan remains one of the most corrupt and grossly inegalitarian societies in the world.
A diplomatic demarche was made towards India. Musharaff wanted to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue once and for all. As a military man, he had no need to prove he was brave. It is civilian governments in Pak that tend to up the ante towards India. They have something to prove. Musharaff visited India. Dr Shashi Tharoor – India’s most famous diplomat – lauded Musharaff for his genuine attempts to establish peace. But hopes were dashed. The last thing the Pak Army and the ISI wanted was peace. Then they would lose their raison d’etre. Some profit from war. If there were peace the poor would say now they should get a decent standard of living. The oligarchy could not tolerate that.
Under Musharaff, Pak improved ties with Iran. This had been impossible whilst Pakistan backed the Taliban which was viciously anti-Shia.
India beseeched the USA to lean on Pak to close down terrorist training camps. The Pakistanis did this but let the terrorists establish their training camps a few miles away from their original location.
Pakistan was playing a double game with the USA. They cooperated as much as they had to so that money kept flowing. But they also helped the Taliban. If Musharraf was too helpful to the USA, he might be overthrown. There was a possibility that a Taliban-aligned regime would have nukes at its fingertips!
There were US drone strikes into Pakistan towards the end of Musharaff’s presidency. He denied allowing these. But it emerged that Pakistan deconflicted areas. They said they were happy with the drone strikes so long as only the Taliban were killed. But civilians were often killed.
When Musharaff went to the West he always wore a Western suit. In Pak, he wore an army uniform or a shalwar kameez.
Musharaff bravely freed a Briton who had been sentenced to death for murder years before. A secular court had acquitted him, but a Sharia court convicted him. The court system was underfunded and in chaos. Cases took decades. A judge once freed a man on appeal only to find he had been executed the year before due to a clerical error!
Relations with China led to the investment. Infrastructure was upgraded after decades of neglect. Poverty was reduced and education spread a little. But grave and insoluble problems remained.
Karachi is the largest city in the world without an underground railway. Traffic is horrendous and pollution is deadly. So much public money is stolen or squandered on the military that problems are not solved.
Musharaff grew unpopular. He had been in office for some years. Cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan was disliked. He was perceived as a dictator. Furthermore, his anti-corruption drive had not gone far enough.
The Supreme Court rendered a verdict that the president found uncongenial. He had the judges put him under house arrest. This was inexpedient.
In 2007 Musharaff said he would no longer serve as Chief of Army Staff and President simultaneously. He chose to retire from the army after 46 years of meritorious service. He handed over his baton to Afshaq Kiyani who was thought to be apolitical. But this was not enough to stem the demonstrations. At length, Musharaff announced that he would step down as president the following year.
In 2007 Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after years in the United Arab Emirates. Miss Bhutto was campaigning for an upcoming election. The Taliban was sworn to slay her. The leader of the Pakistan People’s Party survived a bomb attack that slew scores of her supporters. But after a few days, the Taliban struck luckily. Miss Bhutto was killed by them.
Some said that Musharaff needed to stay in office beyond mid-2008 or there would be a civil war. Some conspiracy theorists said he was behind the murder of Miss Bhutto. She had been killed by the army just like her father they said. But Miss Bhutto was one of the politicians whom Musharaff found more acceptable. She did not castigate him over much. But he did not depart from his intended course of action. He adhered to his schedule and retired as president.
Whilst he was president, Musharaff presided over a brutal legal code. He publicly advocated for the law against apostasy and blasphemy. Women who reported that they were raped but did not have four men of unimpeachable probity as witnesses were found guilty of fornication or adultery. They were incarcerated. In fairness, to advocate reform of the criminal law is to invite assassination in Pakistan.
In retirement, he was arrested and charged with various crimes. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, he was allowed to go to the UAE for medical care. In The meantime, a court overturned his convictions. He lived out the rest of his life in Dubai.
The author is a political analyst from the UK. He can be watched on YouTube: George from Ireland