|Biographical detail : ||Pakistan’s former president who alienated huge sections of his own population in pursuit of Washington’s approval and friendship.
Gen Musharraf who seized power in bloodless coup, in 1999, was head of Pakistan’s armed forces when he forced the country’s elected prime minister, Nawab Sharif, disgraced with mountain of corruptions, into exile in Saudi Arabia.
He followed the coup quickly with promises of overseeing a comprehensive set of reforms, to change Pakistan’s legacy of corruption in high places and breathe new life into its moribund economy. He denounced the democratic era before his rule as a sham.
Emerging out of initial international condemnation when Gen Musharraf dropped his country’s long-time support for the Taliban, in Afghanistan, and took a snap decision to throw his weight behind the not-yet-named US-led “war on terror”, after September 11, 2001. But he sowed the seeds of his eventual defeat by becoming a key ally in America’s hunt for al-Qaida at the cost of his popularity, in Pakistan, that plummeted due to widespread anti-American sentiments. He survived two assassination attempts in two weeks in December 2003.
In his memoir, In The Line of Fire, published in 2006, Pervez Musharraf points out that the Bush White House threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age”, if Pakistan failed to co-operate with America’s policy of “war on terrorism”.
If there is defining feature of Gen Musharraf’s presidency it will be his role in Washington’s “war on terror.” He was a vital ally of America. Playing the role of strongman earned Pakistan billions of dollars in military aid from America since 2001. This shower of largesse, paired with the lifting of sanctions related to its 1998 nuclear tests, helped revive an ailing economy.
The money received from the US helped Pakistan ailing economy – growth was running high and Gen Musharraf won the support of large segments of the business community. Expenditure on education rose from 1.8 per cent of the GDP in 2000 to 2.25 per cent in 2005 and literacy rate climbed nine points during that period. He liberalised the media.
A self-described liberal, Gen Musharraf introduced some social reforms on the back of a feudal, patronage-driven political machine but also allied himself with hard-line religious parties when necessary. Increasing the number of seats in parliament for women and withdrawing election laws that placed non-Muslims at a disadvantage helped to strengthen liberal values. His relationship with democracy was also two-faced. He was reluctant to give away the power he held as a result of his uniform and it took him until the end of 2007 to stand down as head of army. He styled himself a blunt-talking soldier and attempted to legitimise his rule through elections in 2002 that observers described as deeply flawed.
General Pervez Musharraf, born in Delhi, advanced the peace process with India through “cricket diplomacy”, in 2005, with his focus in resolving the long outstanding Kashmir quandary. He shifted his country’s thinking on India, when it went against the grain of Pakistan military establishment.
Gen Musharraf’s downfall dated from his decision to sack the Chief Justice in March 2007. The move resulted in a huge backlash against a position that most Pakistanis believed should be independent. This provoked protests by lawyers, civil society activists and journalists.
His last year in office was a far cry from the instant popularity Musharraf gained in 1999 when as army chief of staff he led a coup against the corrupt civil government. He bowed to massive domestic and international pressure to quit. On 18 August 2008, in an emotional national television broadcast just hours before parliament was due to consider formal impeachment proceedings Pervez Musharraf stepped down after nine years in power. He had decided to resign, in his own words, “in the interest of Pakistan”.
He has settled in London despite the Pakistani government issuing an arrest warrant for him. He regularly tours the US, Europe and the Middle East giving lectures. Pervez Musharraf, however, has returned to Pakistan in 2013. His arrival ended more than four years of self-exile and enabled him to embark on what he hopes will be his political comeback to ‘save’ Pakistan.