While the sun shone…

February 12, 2023

In search of legitimacy, Gen Musharraf cobbled a network of political leaders who welcomed his unconstitutional rule

While the sun shone…


ormer military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf breathed his last in Dubai and was laid to rest in Karachi last week. Some of the political actors and groups that lent him outright support, remain on the political scene. These include the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Imran Khan had abandoned Musharraf after the 2002 elections. Other parties that supported his rule have vanished from the political scene.

After deposing the elected government of Nawaz Sharif in October 1999, Gen Musharraf had wanted to secure political legitimacy. For this, he followed the footsteps of Gen Ziaul Haq and cobbled a network of political leaders who welcomed his unconstitutional rule and extended support to him.

In April 2002, Musharraf held a referendum to seek the masses’ approval to continue as president for the next five years. Former president (late) Farooq Leghari’s Millat Party, Pir Pagaro’s Muslim League (Functional), the PTI, Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek and the MQM were major supporters of Gen Musharraf and his referendum. During those days, roads and streets in Lahore and Islamabad would be flooded with banners, carrying photos of Musharraf and Qadri or Musharraf and Imran Khan to give the impression that either Khan or Qadri would be the next prime minister. Though Musharraf failed to secure the required support in the referendum, its results were engineered to make the outcome look like a success.

After Nawaz Sharif was jailed and then exiled to Saudi Arabia in 2000, most of his closest aides, including Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, Gen Abdul Majid Malik, Gohar Ayub Khan, Humayun Akhtar Khan, Ejazul Haq and Sheikh Rashid Ahmad disassociated themselves from the PML-N.

While the sun shone…

Eventually, under immense international pressure, Musharraf announced that he would hold general elections in October 2002. There were fears in Musharraf’s close quarters that in the absence of the top PML-N leaders, the Pakistan Peoples Party would sweep the polls. This could hurt Musharraf’s position. To counter the PPP, the then ISI director general, Ehsanul Haq, developed a formula to create a ‘king’s party’ comprising a large number of heavy weights and electable from all four provinces. The king’s party was later named the Pakistan Muslim League. Former Punjab governor, Mian Azhar, was its first president. Azhar had left the PML-N before the military coup after developing differences with Nawaz Sharif. Gen Musharraf and Gen Ehsan had wanted to install Shaukat Aziz as the prime minister but could not do so right away as Aziz had no constituency to run from. Ultimately, Mir Zafarullah Jamali was elected prime minister as a PML-Q candidate against Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Pakistan Peoples Party’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The PML-N had then supported Fazlur Rehman. 10 MNAs from the PPP had defected and voted for Jamali. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, expecting a majority through engineered results in the elections, got one seat each. Interestingly, Khan voted for Fazl, now his avowed foe. Qadri supported Jamali.

Later, Musharraf asked Jamali to resign and tasked Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain with providing a safe constituency for Shaukat Aziz. Shujaat’s niece Eman Waseem vacated her Attock’s seat for Shaukat Aziz. Shujaat became the prime minister until Aziz was elected and became eligible for the prime minister’s office.

On the other hand, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi became the most powerful chief minister of the Punjab and kept serving Gen Musharraf’s interests. When Musharraf sought his re-election as president despite being the army chief, Shujaat and Parvez managed this. Elahi’s famous statement, “We will elect Musharraf with his uniform as president 100 times” still haunts him when he talks about democracy.

Later, former president Farooq Leghari merged his party into the PML; the PML-Zia and the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians-Patriots followed suit.

The MQM kept its identity intact and was one of the biggest beneficiaries of Musharraf’s rule. It won 13 National Assembly seats in 2002 and also got the mayorship of Karachi in 2005.

While the sun shone…

After Musharraf’s departure, the king’s party, the PML-Q became a regional party. However, it has remained relevant in mainstream politics. Farooq Leghari passed away and his sons joined the PML-N. Qadri’s PAT, which became a political cousin to the PTI during the 2013 sit-in, has quit politics. Khan, who boycotted the 2008 elections, is now leading one of the largest political parties. The MQM, which disintegrated into splinter groups after Musharraf’s departure from the power corridors, is again trying to regain lost ground, and is part of the federal government.

The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, a six-party ‘religious’ alliance, led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F, Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the Jamaat-i-Islami, late Maulana Samiul Haq of the JUI-S, Maulana Sajid Naqvi and Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani of Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, was another beneficiary of Musharraf’s rule. For the first time in Pakistan’s electoral history, the religious forces claimed a mammoth victory and emerged as the third largest political party with 63 seats in the National Assembly. It also secured the office of the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and a coalition government in Balochistan. Jamaat-i-Islami, an MMA component, had earlier won Karachi’s mayorship in 2001.

Today, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his party are on the centre stage; the JI too has a strong presence. However, the rest of the MMA components have withered away.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

While the sun shone…