Sunday July 14, 2024

Musharraf’s legacy

By Editorial Board
February 06, 2023

Former chief of army staff and military dictator General Pervez Musharraf died on Sunday at age 79 in Dubai after a prolonged illness. A dictator who had taken over the country with the words “we have hit rock bottom”, he had also left the country pretty much at rock bottom, after a dictatorship that lasted nine years of political, social and foreign policy contradictions. Initially hailed as a man truly committed to turning around the country through his ‘enlightened moderation’, Musharraf was later derided by most democrats and rights activists for actions that spanned a wide spectrum of anti-democracy measures, human rights abuses and suppression of the media.

Once an all-powerful dictator who had subverted the constitution, and ruled the country with an iron-fist, Gen Musharraf’s last few years were in relative obscurity chiefly due to his battle with a rare illness. The late dictator had come to power after overthrowing the Nawaz Sharif government, with whom he had had a longstanding tussle, and later played a part in forcing the Sharifs to be exiled to Saudi Arabia. In the years that followed, Gen Musharraf placed Pakistan firmly in the US camp by supporting the ‘war on terror’ following 9/11, leaving Pakistan at the centre of a new conflict featuring the US in the region as it invaded Afghanistan at the end of 2001. Pakistan’s role in the war on terror has since been critiqued widely, with the Musharraf government allegedly handing over suspected militants to the US and consequently Guantanamo Bay, while also making policies regarding the Afghan Taliban that also led to the rise of the TTP here. The repercussions of the war on terror led to the state’s writ being eroded in the former Fata areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Not only that, the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 led to the rise of an insurgency in Balochistan which continues to this day.

One of the many contradictions that Musharraf presented was his image as a liberal dictator, a man who promoted culture and ‘enlightenment’ and was pro-women and pro-liberalism. But true to the inherent conflicts within his politics, that myth too shattered after the gangrape of Mukhtaran Mai and Musharraf’s statement regarding women ‘getting raped to go abroad”. The late president did indeed however open up the media arena in the country, electronic media in particular starting and flourishing during his rule. However, the autocratic nature of his regime also ended up gagging that very media during the Lawyer’s Movement. In fact, the greatest test of Gen Musharraf’s rule was the Lawyers’ Movement – which had started as a result of his sacking of former CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry – one that ended with him losing power.

Perhaps the most egregious assault the former dictator did though was on democracy. After taking over the country via a coup, he had gone on to famously describe the constitution as a piece of paper which could be thrown away. It took nine years for democracy to return to the country and that too had to face the brunt of Gen Musharraf’s flawed policies – from a rigged election and the formation of NAB laws only to arm-twist political opponents, to the US war on terror to an economic bubble to missing persons – the list goes on. The assassination of the late Benazir Bhutto too happened on his watch, and led to many questions over how the government of the time had dealt with the subsequent investigation as well as the security provided to Bhutto. Gen Musharraf was eventually also added as an accused in the case. When Nawaz Sharif came back to power in 2013 and decided to go after him in a treason trial, his government suffered a setback. Gen Musharraf was finally indicted by the courts in 2014 for suspending the constitution. He was accused of high treason and after an indictment in 2019, left the country on the grounds of ill health never to return to it alive.

There will no doubt be many who will mourn the death of a man they saw as having been a liberal face of the country, while also ruling at a time when the country was said to have grown economically. However, the enduring legacy left behind by General Musharraf remains one of a country that was left ever more divided and militant than it was when he took over – and one that didn’t get to face accountability for this. Historians will no doubt write chapters about him. But for now, the final chapter of his life and of his role in Pakistan is over.