Revisiting Legacy of General Pervez Musharraf and Pakistani Community’s Reaction

By Jay Rover
Musharraf was Pakistan’s second longest serving chief of the army staff after Zia. (photo via video screenshot)

Pakistan’s former military ruler General (retd) Pervez Musharraf passed away in Dubai on Sunday (February 5). Musharraf had been living in the Emirates since 2016.

Musharraf, 79, was suffering from amyloidosis, a rare disease caused by a build-up of an abnormal protein called amyloid in organs and tissues throughout the body, according to his family. The build-up of amyloid proteins (deposits) can make it difficult for the organs and tissues to work properly and causes organ failure.

Musharraf’s illness came to light in 2018 when the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), the party he founded in 2010, announced that he was suffering from the rare disease. He leaves behind his widow, a son, and a daughter to mourn his death. He was laid to rest in a low-profile ceremony in Karachi, which was attended by former army chiefs General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General MMirza Aslam Beg, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, MQM leaders Khalid Maqbool Siddqui, PTI leader and former Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Sahir Shamshad Mirza. Pakistani media largely ignored Musharraf’s burial story.

Musharraf was Pakisdtan’s fourth military ruler and the second longest-serving chief of army staff after General Ziaul Haq. He remained army chief for nine years against Zia’s 12 years. He was also the only military leader in Pakistan’s history to have been handed a death sentence for abrogating the constitution. In December 2019, a Pakistani court sentenced Musharaff to death in absentia in the high treason case, for imposing an emergency in 2007.

A Divisive Legacy

History remembers judges by their decisions, politicians by their ability to lead a nation in the right or wrong direction, generals by their ability to defend the geographical borders of a country, and journalists by their ability to produce high-impact journalism because they often write the first draft of history. Musharraf’s death brings to an end a chapter in Pakistan’s history. His legacy is unique in many ways.

He served as the military chief of a nuclear-armed nation, a dictator who came into power by staging a bloodless coup, a self-imposed president who manipulated Pakistan’s rotten electoral process, and an unsuccessful politician because, his lust for power aside, he remained a relatively clean man who displayed considerable personal integrity. Soft-spoken and very social, Musharraf did create a space for himself within Pakistan’s highly polarized society, especially in Karachi, his hometown. Like General Ziaul Haq, General Musharraf tried to politically empower the Mohajirs of Karachi in an unprecedented way with MQM being his biggest beneficiary.

It was Musharraf’s policy that reinforced Pakistan military’s political proxies in the shape of MQM in Karachi, the Chaudharies of Gujarat in Punjab, a section of religious parties, especially the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam’s faction led by late Maulana Samiul Haq, Pashtun nationalists briefly led by Ajmal Khattak and the traditional power players in Balochistan.

Musharraf’s final place in Pakistan’s history will be determined by historians but he will be remembered as one of the military rulers who ruled the nuclear-armed nation unchallenged.

During his rule, which initially was largely welcomed by Pakistanis, Musharraf promoted themes such as “Pakistan first” and “enlightened moderation”. He was accused of using his position to prolong his rule through the National Reconciliation Ordinance which absolved Benazir Bhutto and a large number of politicians of corruption charges. Musharraf, despite being a military ruler, ran a robust foreign policy that made serious efforts to resolve Kashmir, Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek issues with India, gave Pakistan’s economy a big boost, pushed Pakistan’s interests in the US legislature which lead to the creation of Congresswoman Shiela Jackson Lee-led 68-member Pakistan caucus in the House of Representatives, and opening up Pakistan’s airwaves for largely independent media. the country’s ever-expanding media landscape owes its existence to Musharraf’s policies.

A controversial figure, as he was from day one in office, the Musharraf era’s imprints on Pakistan’s history are indelible. May it be the Lal Masjid Operation in Islamabad or the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti and the rise of terrorism, Musharraf’s policies were at the center, front or right of all these events. He was sweet to his supporters, divisive and autocratic to his opponents, and a necessity for the international establishment during a difficult era of this century.

Mixed Reactions

Mixed reactions were witnessed in Pakistan and among Pakistani Americans over his death. Condolences from across Pakistan’s political spectrum poured in soon after the General’s death was confirmed by Lt. Gen. Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Those condoling the General’s death included both his beneficiaries and critics, including Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhary who served in Musharraf government as well, PTI leader Hammad Azhar, and scores of politicians, civil servants, retired and serving generals

“CJCSC & Services Chiefs express heartfelt condolences on sad demise of General Pervez Musharaf, Former President, CJCSC and Chief of Army Staff. May Allah bless the departed soul and give strength to the bereaved family,” said Inter-Services Relations of Pakistan’s military in a brief statement on the General’s demise.

Former Senator Farhatullah Babar, a close confidant of Benazir Bhutto, posted a photo of BB and Nawab Akbar Bugti in a Tweet, saying: “The poignant memories evoked by this picture could seldom be more poignant than today.” BB was assassinated in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2008, during Musharraf’s reign. Similarly, Bugti was assassinated in a military operation during Musharraf’s reign on August 26, 2006. BB’s son and foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto changed his Twitter handle’s photo to that of BB and Bugti.

In another tweet, Babar tweeted: “Gen Musharraf has died. Now It’s between him and God, so no acrimonious remarks. Burial be simple, private, dignified; no official trappings, no bugles, no draping in the national flag please. No affront to Constitution, to people, to parliament even if they’re weak & helpless today,”

Here in the US, the Pakistani American community’s reaction was no different than what was witnessed elsewhere. “A pro-democracy dictator…” wrote Houston-based journalist Afaq Farooqi, who in a vlog maintained that Musharraf was not alone in subverting Pakistan’s constitution so blaming him alone was not fair. He insisted that the 1999 Kargil war was not just the brainchild of Musharraf but also then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was equally responsible.

The American press, like the rest of the international media, also covered Musharraf’s death prominently. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and scores of other outlets published General Musharraf’s death story prominently and remembered him as a friend of the US.

“From the moment he took power in a bloodless coup in late 1999 to his resignation and self-exile under threat of impeachment in 2008, Mr. Musharraf offered the world the swashbuckling image of a former army commando and ally of the United States who guaranteed a measure of regional stability in the upheaval after 9/11 and the subsequent United States attack on Afghanistan,” wrote New York Times. “But Washington’s demands for firm action against Islamist militancy collided with competing pressures from Pakistani Muslims who were resentful of Mr. Musharraf’s close ties to Washington,” it added.

NYT said: “Indeed, Mr. Musharraf’s efforts to maintain a measure of democracy while ruling as an authoritarian, and to promote secularism in a country where religious radicals wielded broad influence, brought him few friends and a growing roster of enemies.”

In a separate commentary published on February 7, NYT correspondent Declan Walsh wrote: “Since his ouster in 2008, the army had sought to shield Mr. Musharraf from the full wrath of Pakistan’s justice system. As angry Pakistanis pursued him through the courts with accusations of abuses during his time in power, including murder and treason, he never spent a night in jail. That was largely because the military made sure he was allowed to slip into exile several times, most recently in 2016.”

Washington Post wrote: “A career soldier who was a U.S. ally in a society with growing anti-American leanings, Gen. Musharraf succumbed to political ambition and used autocratic methods to prolong his rule, only to relinquish it under mounting public pressure.”

“He came to power on a wave of popularity,” analyst Ahmed Rashid wrote in 2008, “yet Musharraf’s legacy is a tattered and divided civilian government that has been emasculated by the military, a polarized and heavily armed populace, a disastrous economic crisis … and the newly emerged Pakistani Taliban now knocking on Islamabad’s door,” The Post added quoting Ahmed Rashid.

Wall Street Journal in a separate report said: “Mr. Musharraf liked to portray himself as a proponent of what he called “enlightened moderation.” The previous military ruler, Gen. Zia ul Haq in the 1980s, had pushed an intolerant version of Islam in the country. Mr. Musharraf, in first photo opportunity after the coup, came before the cameras with his two little Pekingese pet dogs in his arms—dogs are considered unclean by many strict Muslims. The press was mostly free and, later on in his rule, he allowed private news stations to flourish.”

 

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