Pervez Musharraf: the colorful legacy of Pakistan’s former president | News obituaries

When asked in a 2014 interview with Al Jazeera if he regretted anything about his time in charge, former Pakistani army chief and President Pervez Musharraf emphatically said “not at all”.

“I have done so much for Pakistan… I have done so much for my country and my people,” the four-star general declared, a sentiment he would continue to express in later years.

But for many Pakistanis, Musharraf, whose death after a prolonged illness was announced on Sunday, leaves behind a grim legacy – defined in large part by human rights abuses and the so-called US-led “war on terror”.

Musharraf, who has died aged 79, ruled the country for almost nine years after taking power in a 1999 military coup.

He died in the United Arab Emirates, where he had been living since he was accused of treason in Pakistan in 2014.

(Al Jazeera)

Rise to power

Born in Delhi in 1943, Musharraf moved to Karachi, Pakistan with his family in 1947 after the partition of India and Pakistan.

He joined the army in 1961 as a student and rose steadily through the ranks, culminating in his selection as army chief in 1998 by former three-time prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif.

Musharraf ousted and arrested Sharif in a coup on October 12, 1999, and became CEO, after Sharif refused to allow a commercial plane carrying the four-star general to land in Karachi.

Tensions between the two have been high for months, most notably over the Kargil conflict against India.

(FILES) In this picture taken on October 12, 1999, Pakistani army soldiers enter the state television building by jumping over a gate in Islamabad
Pakistani army soldiers jump over the gates of the state television building in Islamabad on October 12, 1999. [Saeed Khan/AFP]

Under mounting foreign pressure, Musharraf exiled Sharif to Saudi Arabia, only to return in late 2007.

After becoming president in 2001 following a referendum marked by allegations of widespread rigging, pro-Musharraf parties secured the most seats in the 2002 general election.

Speaking from Lahore, prominent columnist and lawyer Asad Rahim said former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Sharif were in exile, giving Musharraf an “open field” to succeed in the 2002 elections.

“It was a motley coalition of former PMLN politicians, a layer of civil democracy deprived of true political participation,” he added.

‘War on Terror’

After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan under Musharraf decided to ally with the US and supported the overthrow of al-Qaeda’s allies, the Afghan Taliban.

These included opening land routes for NATO forces to enter landlocked Afghanistan, allowing the presence of US air bases and sending Pakistani troops to the tribal areas in the north to fight al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

Arif Rafiq, chairman of political risk advisory firm Vizier Consulting, told Al Jazeera that 9/11 helped Musharraf “legitimize” his rule internationally.

“In terms of the fight against al-Qaeda, he was a very reliable ally, to the point where he compromised the security of his own country, as well as his own personal security,” he said from New York.

“His cooperation with the West also precipitated what was essentially a civil war in the country,” he added, referring to the rise in violent attacks, and noted that Musharraf was under “tremendous pressure” from the US to take action.

US President George W. Bush (right) and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, left, and US President George W. Bush [File: Tim Sloan/AFP]

The “war on terror” has also led to an increase in enforced disappearances in Pakistan, a long-standing problem in the country, most notably in the western province of Balochistan and the former tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Hundreds of political activists, students and suspected armed fighters were forcibly disappeared.

In his autobiography, Line of Fire, Musharraf admitted to arresting suspected al-Qaeda members and extraditing them to the US, some of whom ended up in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while earning “bounties totaling millions of dollars”.

Rafiq says enforced disappearances remain a “permanent part of Musharraf’s legacy”.

“Counterterrorism efforts with the US have also created perverse incentives for the Pakistani state to effectively detain and abduct people suspected of terrorism,” he said.

Rabia Akhtar, director of the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research at the University of Lahore, told Al Jazeera that, “while it is important to realize that hindsight is 20/20”, the results of Musharraf joining the war [on terror] they were ‘devastating’ for Pakistan.

“Pakistan under [Musharraf] could negotiate and draw red lines in a way that maximized his strategic interests,” Akhtar said via email.


In March 2007, Musharraf fired former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, leading to a massive public backlash and the birth of a lawyers’ movement protesting Musharraf’s rule after he fired several high-profile lawyers..

Four months later, the general was embroiled in another controversy – a week-long siege of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) by religious hardliners that ended with Musharraf ordering a military operation that killed around 100 people.

The incident was the catalyst for the rise of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has claimed responsibility for dozens, if not hundreds of deadly attacks to date.

A Pakistani army armored personnel carrier takes up position around the Lal Masjid
A Pakistani army armored personnel carrier takes up position around the Lal Masjid in Islamabad on July 10, 2007. [Reuters]

In November 2007, he imposed a state of emergency and suspended the constitution, sparking protests again.

He resigned as army chief later that month, but this did not help his political fortunes as the assassination of Bhutto in December led to increasingly widespread protests and violence. He is accused of willfully failing to ensure her safety.

In February 2008, his PML-Q party performed poorly in the polls, causing him to resign from his office a few months later.

Although analysts say Musharraf’s legacy is largely negative, he has won praise for some of his domestic policies – including women’s rights and local government reforms – and some foreign affairs.

Akhtar said improved relations with India during his time as president was one of his “greatest” foreign policy achievements.

“[He was] could make progress on the Kashmir issue and that was the last time there was any hope on the Kashmir front with the four-point formula he proposed that was at least seriously considered for what it’s worth,” she told Al Jazeera.

The four-point formula envisioned by Musharraf included demilitarization, self-rule and a joint mechanism agreed by India and Pakistan to oversee Kashmir.

Musharraf is also credited with opening up Pakistan’s media landscape.

“Ago [his rule] there was one state-owned channel [Pakistan Television], [after] there were dozens of private news channels that thrived under him,” Vizier Rafiq added.

However, he said the freedoms given to the media had become a “double-edged sword” and played a strong role in Musharraf’s downfall, citing negative coverage that followed his removal of Chief Justice Chaudhry and “non-stop coverage of the lawyers’ movement”.

During the imposition of the 42-day state of emergency, many news channels were forced to stop broadcasting.

Lawyer Rahim said that while Musharraf had passed women’s rights legislation and was more tolerant of dissent and criticism in the press than previous rulers, “in the end, when his authority was first fundamentally challenged in 2007… then all the promises liberalism, moderation, media freedoms have disappeared”.


After leaving office, Musharraf spent several years living between London and Dubai, giving lectures and keynote speeches.

In 2010, he announced the formation of his own party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, and returned in 2013 to lead his group in that year’s general elections.

His party won one seat in parliament, while his former rival Sharif became prime minister for the third time.

A few months later, Sharif opened criminal proceedings against Musharraf, charging him with treason for imposing martial law in 2007.

Musharraf suffered from amyloidosis – a condition that leads to the abnormal build-up of amyloid protein in major organs – and the trial, which began in 2014, could not continue due to the former president’s health problems and other legal difficulties.

Critics say the military obstructed the legal process because it did not want its former chief to be convicted.

He eventually moved to Dubai in 2016.

However, a special court sentenced him to death in absentia in 2019, and that verdict was later overturned.

Musharraf is survived by his wife and two children.

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