FILE PHOTO: Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf speaks at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), in central London January 25, 2008. Musharraf was delivering a lecture to RUSI during a visit to the UK.—    Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico/File Photo

Profile: Musharraf — from military strongman to forgotten man of politics

The former army chief who also held the office of the president passed away on Sunday.
Published February 5, 2023

Former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf passed away on Sunday after a protracted battle with a rare health condition called amyloidosis. He was 79.

Musharraf, who served as the army chief for almost nine years (1999-2008), became the 10th president of Pakistan in 2001 and held the position until early 2008.

He was born in pre-Partition Delhi on August 11, 1943. After the partition, his family settled in Karachi where he attended Saint Patrick’s School. Later, he joined the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul and graduated from the institution in 1964. He was subsequently commissioned in the Pakistan Army.

His first battlefield experience came during the 1965 Indo-Pak war and he served in the elite Special Services Group (SSG) from 1966-1972. During the 1971 war with India, Musharraf was a company commander of an SSG commando battalion. After 1971, he continued to excel in several military assignments and gained rapid promotions within the army.

In October 1998, he was appointed the chief of army staff by the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. A year later, he overthrew Sharif’s government in a bloodless coup and later became the country’s president.

The 1999 coup

On October 12, 1999, troops took over the Prime Minister House after Sharif prevented Musharraf from landing at Karachi airport upon his journey back from Sri Lanka.

On finding out, Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended the Constitution and assumed the role of chief executive. There were no organised protests against the coup within Pakistan but the measure was thoroughly criticised by the international community. In June 2001, Musharraf became the president of Pakistan.

The presidency challenge

The 9/11 attacks took place just a few months after Musharraf became the president. He subsequently entered Pakistan into an alliance with the US in the latter’s ‘war on terror’, a decision the former military ruler has defended on several occasions.

Musharraf held general election in October 2002 during which he allied himself with Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Muttahida Qaumi Movement and an alliance of six religious parties called Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal. With this election, Musharraf was able to gather the required two-thirds majority to pass the 17th Amendment which helped in legitimising the 1999 coup as well as several other measures adopted by him.

In January 2004, Musharraf won a confidence vote by both houses of the parliament and the four provincial assemblies by a majority of 56 per cent and was declared elected in a process disputed by his political opponents.

In 2006, Musharraf’s autobiography titled In the Line of Fire was published.

In March 2007, Musharraf suspended then chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry after the latter refused to resign allegedly over abusing his office. The incident unleashed violent protests by lawyers and civil society activists and Musharraf’s handling of the events adversely impacted his position. On June 20, 2007, the Supreme Court reinstated the chief justice and declared Musharraf’s suspension of the former as void.

However, the chief justice was again deposed when Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in the country on November 3, 2007. Within 25 days of the emergency in place, Musharraf resigned from his position of army chief, with General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani taking charge. Musharraf, who was still president at the time, finally lifted the emergency on December 15, 2007.

Resignation before impending impeachment

After giving Musharraf the chance to voluntarily resign, the PPP-led coalition government at the centre — formed after the 2008 general elections — initiated a parliamentary procedure to impeach him. Musharraf initially refused to resign and the coalition began official proceedings for his ouster. He voluntarily left the post before the impeachment could be finalised.

Musharraf was also named in the cases pertaining to Benazir Bhutto’s murder, Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killing and the ‘illegal confinement’ of 62 judges after the November 2007 emergency. However, in March 2013, the Sindh High Court granted him protective bail in all three cases.

In 2010, Musharraf launched his political party — All Pakistan Muslim League (APML).

Self-exile and health issues

Musharraf was barred from travelling abroad after his name was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) on Apr 5, 2013. However, the ex-president’s name was struck off the ECL by the interior ministry and he flew to Dubai on March 17, 2016 to “seek medical treatment” and never returned.

In September 2018, it emerged that he was “growing weaker rapidly” due to an unspecified illness. A month later, it was revealed that he was suffering from amyloidosis, which had affected his mobility. In March 2019, he had a reaction and needed hospitalisation.

On December 17, 2019, a special court handed Musharraf death sentence in the high treason case, six years after the trial started. The case was filed by the PML-N government against Musharraf for suspending the Constitution on November 3, 2007 when he imposed emergency in the country.

A month later, the Lahore High Court declared unconstitutional all actions taken by the previous government against Musharraf, including the filing of a complaint on high treason charge and the formation of a special court as well as its proceedings, leading to the abolition of the death penalty handed down to him by the trial court.