General Musharraf: Politics, diplomacy and his complex legacy
General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s tenth president, who breathed his last in a UAE hospital on Sunday, will be remembered in varying and complicated terms by the people of Pakistan.
Interestingly, it was in 1998 that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, ignoring the seniority principle, had appointed him the country’s army chief because he believed Musharraf would have little support in the institution and would never be in a position to pose any threat to the political government. How wrong he proved to be. Instead, Musharraf belied all such assessments and overthrew the Sharif government just a year later in October 1999, taking the reins of the country barely two years before 9/11 changed the world.
At the time, not only was Sharif ousted, but also convicted and imprisoned on various charges, including hijacking the plane that brought Musharraf to Pakistan from Sri Lanka.
The ouster of the PML-N government changed the entire situation and nobody had the vaguest idea what was in the offing for the Islamic republic. Brought up in a family of great privilege, Sharif did not have the capacity to bear the hardships of the Musharraf rule, and Saudi Arabia’s mediation helped the Sharifs negotiate a 10-year exile in Saroor Palace in Jeddah.
It is no secret that Musharraf changed Pakistan’s policies at home and at the international level. Although his critics allege that he destroyed the country, nobody can disagree that he saved Pakistan when dealing with an angry and vengeful US after the 9/11 tragedy. He did what he had to do.
It was in impossible circumstances that he made a decision that continues to define Pakistan’s foreign policy and national security situations even now. His policy to stand by the US as it spearheaded the ‘war on terror,’ is perhaps his most enduring legacy, and left no justification for the superpower to target its old ally.
While President Clinton treated Musharraf like a pariah, the situation was totally different during President Bush’s era.
When Clinton visited the subcontinent, he spent some days in India and had a stopover of only a few hours in Islamabad. Even during this stopover, he did not like to be photographed with Musharraf – a mark of resentment against military intervention. On the other hand, Bush branded Musharraf a tight ally.
Musharraf’s disappearance from the political scene was as unexpected as was his appearance in the first place.
Musharraf also did his best to improve ties with neighboring India. He even visited Agra in 2001, when hopes were high that a breakthrough would take place as a result of this visit and the nuclear rivals would make a new beginning. However, the Indian bureaucracy‘s negative role at the eleventh hour failed the visit and Musharraf had to return empty-handed.
Interestingly, the General had also tried to improve ties with Israel. It was for this reason that his foreign minister (Kasuri) had a meeting with his Jewish counterpart in Turkey.
At home, he created the Pakistan Muslim League, mainly to get political support for his rule, and soon after, Chaudhry Shujaat was given the coveted position of party president. He remains the chief although the party has withered over the years and remains only a family concern of the Chaudhrys.
It was because of the Chaudhrys’ services and loyalty to Musharraf that Parvez Elahi remained chief minister of Punjab for a full five years (2002-2007) and Chaudhry Shujaat became prime minister for about two months. Beholden to the military leader, Elahi once said at a public meeting that his party would get Musharraf elected president in uniform ten times over.
Musharraf can be credited for starting an effective accountability process in Pakistan. However, the PDM government now in power, has made all the accountability laws toothless. As a result, those involved in the corruption of billions of rupees are being acquitted by courts one after the other.
Musharraf’s disappearance from the political scene was as unexpected as was his appearance in the first place. Had he not locked horns with then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, he would not have to leave in the unceremonious way that he did. He removed the CJP, a step that was nullified by the apex court. Thereafter, he was convicted by the court – and had to leave the country.
It is an admitted fact that Musharraf gave the country a good system of local government. Although it has been subjected to many changes, it can be argued that the one designed by him was perhaps the best one yet.
The once formidable military man and forgotten politician- in self exile since 2016- was a complex man who navigated the country through some of its most complex moments. His memory and his legacy to the country therefore, are an equally complicated entry in the history of Pakistan.
— The writer is a senior and veteran journalist with a career spanning 40 years with major national and international newspapers.