Obituary | Pervez Musharraf, a Pakistani President with a mixed legacy

The former Pakistan President and Army Chief, who died on Sunday, is remembered in India as the architect of both the Kargil war, and of the “Musharraf Formula” to resolve the Kashmir dispute

Updated - February 05, 2023 08:47 pm IST

Published - February 05, 2023 02:22 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Pakistan’s ex-President and Army chief General (Retd.) Pervez Musharraf, 79, passed away in Dubai on February 5, 2023.

Pakistan’s ex-President and Army chief General (Retd.) Pervez Musharraf, 79, passed away in Dubai on February 5, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Former Pakistan President and Army Chief General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, who proposed what he entitled the “Musharraf formula” to resolve the Jammu-Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, passed away in Dubai on February 5, five years after he was diagnosed with a rare condition called amyloidosis, former spokesperson and close aide Raza Bokhari told The Hindu.

Musharraf had been living in the UAE for more than six years, in virtual exile after a Pakistani court framed charges of treason against him for his imposition of emergency in 2007 during his tenure as leader of Pakistan; a tenure that lasted from 1999, when he came to power in a military coup, only to resign in disgrace in 2008. His family plans to take him back home for his final journey, and his funeral will be held in Karachi on February 7.

Born in Delhi in 1943, Musharraf moved to Pakistan as a child with his parents during Partition. He was educated in Karachi, and then in Turkey, where his father was a diplomat posted to Ankara. Musharraf often spoke of his admiration for Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the military leader who modernised and secularised Turkey. As a result, when he first took power in Pakistan in 1999, he set up a cabinet of technocrats, attempted modernising the education system, and brought an ordinance meant to bring about media reform.

After graduating from the Pakistan military academy in Quetta in 1964, Musharraf was commissioned into the Artillery Regiment of the Pakistan Army. He saw several conflicts with India, including the wars in 1965 and 1971, the Siachen conflict in 1984 and the Kargil conflict in 1998 when he was chief of the Army. Many analysts pointed out that Musharraf’s antagonism to India came from those wars, but also from a desire to outrun his origins as a Mohajir (refugee from India). His mother Begum Zarine, who was educated at the Aligarh Women’s College and at Delhi University’s Indraprastha College, revisited India when Musharraf was president, returning to an emotional welcome here.

Widespread allegations

General Musharraf was handpicked to become Pakistan Army Chief by PM Nawaz Sharif, who promoted him over his seniors in 1998, believing that he would be less ambitious than former Pakistani military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. However, within a year, their relations had soured, and after his flight from Sri Lanka was dramatically re-routed on Mr. Sharif’s orders, General Musharraf landed in Rawalpindi and proceeded to wrest power from the Prime Minister in a military coup.

Apart from the suspension of democracy, Musharraf faced many other controversies during his tenure. He was alleged to have brought false cases against the entire Pakistani political leadership, including Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, and to have unconstitutionally dismissed the Chief Justice of Pakistan Ifthikar Chaudhury and about 100 other judges. Other allegations were that Musharraf orchestrated the “disappearance” of hundreds of activists and fighters; killed Baloch leader Akbar Bugti using a drone, as part of a brutal crackdown on the insurgent movement in Balochistan; allowed the U.S. to use Pakistani bases to bomb thousands in Pushtun areas during the ‘War against Terror’; and conspired to destroy evidence in the Benazir Bhutto assassination trial, where he was declared a fugitive by the court.

General Musharraf had defended his actions, claiming that he had fought corruption, “restored” grassroots democracy, and eventually held general elections in 2008, months before he was forced to step down.

Mixed legacy

In India, the General’s legacy is particularly mixed. He is remembered as the architect of the Kargil war, who sent Pakistan Army-trained militants to capture Indian posts along the Line of Control (LoC) in 1998. But he is also remembered for the “Musharraf Formula” that he claimed to have proposed in talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Which was taken forward during back-channel talks between 2002 and 2007. The plan involved working towards a non-territorial resolution to the dispute, which would allow greater movement across the LoC, but it was not carried forward by subsequent governments.

“Musharraf’s legacy vis-a-vis India is that he stands doubly condemned in Pakistan: for his disastrous adventurism on Kargil and then for his defeatism by unilaterally accepting that the onus for restraining terrorism lay with Pakistan,“ said former High Commissioner to Pakistan T.C.A. Raghavan.

Complicit in terror

But Musharraf was also seen as the man in charge of Pakistan who was complicit or turned a blind eye through a series of major terror attacks in India carried out by the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). They include the hijacking of IC-814 in 1999, and the Parliament attack and bombing of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislature, both in 2000 bombing. General Musharraf had resigned and left his country in August 2008, a few months before the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, but it was during his tenure that the conspiracy behind those attacks would have been made in Pakistan, where the LeT operated training camps.

In 2010, Musharraf tried his hand at politics, launching the All Pakistan Muslim League, but his plans crashed after he was handed a lifetime ban on contesting elections by a court. “At a personal level, he was never comfortable to live in self-imposed exile, but he [saw it] as another way to serve the people of Pakistan,” Mr. Bokhari said, explaining his decision to live abroad, ostensibly to avoid arrest.

After he moved to Dubai in 2016, the former leader was admitted to hospital after a collapse. In 2018, he was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare protein-linked disease, at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. By June 2022, his family said in a statement that “recovery is not possible” and that his organs were malfunctioning. He passed away in Dubai on Sunday at the age of 79.

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