Pervez Musharraf was one in every of Pakistan’s higher dictators

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When Pervez Musharraf was named military chief of Pakistan in 1998, he was a shocking alternative. A hot-headed former artilleryman, recognized for bravery beneath fireplace and occasional indiscipline, he was third on the checklist of generals that Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister, was given to select from. He was additionally an outlier in a prime brass dominated by ethnic Punjabis and Pushtuns. Mr Musharraf hailed from Karachi; his Urdu-speaking household had migrated there in 1947 from Delhi, the place he was born. Mr Sharif, it was clear, noticed him as a weak military chief he may management.

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This was a well-known ploy of Pakistan’s put-up civilian leaders. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto utilized the identical logic when appointing Muhammad Zia ul-Haq military chief in 1976. Zia promptly eliminated Bhutto in a coup, hanged him and dominated Pakistan till he was killed in a aircraft crash in 1988. Mr Sharif had equally underestimated Mr Musharraf. The artilleryman toppled him in a coup in 1999, had Mr Sharif sentenced to life in jail and dominated Pakistan, as “chief government” then president, till his resignation in 2008.

He appeared at first like simply one other bullying fauji. Mr Musharraf revered the military, the establishment that typically presumes to run Pakistan, with a ardour based on comradeship and blood. He fought in two wars in opposition to India, in 1965 and 1971, incomes a gallantry medal and repute for impetuousness. He barely hid his scorn for civilians, particularly politicians, amongst whom he reserved particular contempt for Mr Sharif. He may by no means forgive the previous prime minister for having dared to attempt to sack him on the eve of his coup. But at the same time as Pakistan’s swaggering generalissimo, Mr Musharraf nonetheless appeared a barely oddball alternative.

Zia, an Islamic fundamentalist with a disdain for non-Muslims and Western tradition, had pushed the nation far to the spiritual proper. Mr Musharraf, although passably God-fearing, appeared to not have gotten the message. Educated by Catholic monks, at Karachi’s prestigious St Patrick’s Excessive College, he liked rock music, canines and whisky. He preferred Western fashions a lot his military comrades known as him “Cowboy”. A childhood spell in Turkey, the place his father was stationed as a diplomat, helped type these tastes. He retained a lifelong regard for its nice reformer, Kemal Ataturk. However largely he represented the extra secular, liberal Pakistan its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had as soon as imagined the nation to be.

His moderation made Mr Musharraf well-placed for the nice occasion of his rule. Zia, with America’s blithe assist, had orchestrated a jihadist marketing campaign in opposition to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. However on September eleventh, 2001 veterans of that battle attacked America, arousing its fury. “Both you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists,” thundered George W. Bush. For Mr Musharraf, not like a lot of his comrades, it was not an actual alternative.

He supplied the People entry to Pakistani airspace and roads, permitting them to wage warfare in Afghanistan. He additionally gave them some, a minimum of, of the al-Qaeda fighters who fled that nation into Pakistan. Mr Bush saluted the coupster president as a “robust defender of freedom”. Having reduce off support to Pakistan within the Nineteen Nineties, Congress showered it with cash. It was America’s indispensable ally within the warfare on terror, and Mr Musharraf its admired chief.

His braveness and moderation had been each obvious on this shift. At house, he was denounced as an American poodle and was the goal of a number of assassination makes an attempt. Uncowed, he doubled down on his reform programme. He liberalised the media, inspired popular culture and handed measures to guard girls from the chauvinist Islamist authorized regime that Zia had constructed.

With two Indian prime ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee then Manmohan Singh, he additionally launched a daring peace course of. Mr Musharraf received it shifting with a go to to his birthplace, Delhi, in 2001. And when negotiations received caught, it was usually he who appeared most prepared to unstick them. His advisers regarded on in alarm as the overall riffed, seemingly off-the-cuff, on easy methods to repair this or that territorial dispute.

But his presidency, and with it the peace course of, was on borrowed time. The contradictions in his place, as an enlightened despot and reasonable chief of an Islamicised military, made him, in the long run, an unsure reformer and unreliable ally. The liberal progress he introduced got here at the price of the democratic establishments he suborned. His crackdown on militancy was undercut by the Islamist political events he used to quash his democratic opponents. And in addition by the military. He ultimately got here near admitting what was all alongside suspected—that, whereas combating militants at house, Pakistan’s generals continued supporting their outdated allies, the Afghan Taliban, to stop India gaining affect in Afghanistan.

By 2007 the contradictions had change into unsustainable. Pakistan was being ravaged by terrorism. The restricted democracy that Mr Musharraf permitted had led to mass protests in opposition to him. Calling himself “indispensable”, he briefly suspended the structure. However the military, and America, had bored with the dysfunction. When his opponents gained an election in 2008 he resigned the presidency and fled to London fairly than face impeachment proceedings.

In his labyrinth

It’s partly an indictment of Mr Musharraf’s successors that his dictatorship is remembered fondly by many Pakistanis at present. No chief since has come near repeating the seriousness of his peacemaking with India. He additionally left some constructive marks on Pakistan. His liberalisation of its media is a permanent success. Maybe most of all, nevertheless, he was synonymous with a time when the nation was vital geopolitically, one thing few Pakistanis appreciated till the chance it introduced had handed.

For all his critical failings, the bluff normal did attempt to flip Pakistan’s strategic second to its benefit. However his reactionary opponents, navy and civilian, sponsors of militancy and dysfunction, squandered the prospect. And it could by no means come once more. Regardless of the deserves of Pakistan’s subsequent dictator, he’s unlikely to be feted in Washington, as Mr Musharraf usually was.

This text appeared within the Obituary part of the print version beneath the headline “Whisky and moderation”

20230211 DE US - Pervez Musharraf was one in every of Pakistan’s higher dictators

From the February eleventh 2023 version

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