Leaving a mark

Developments during the Musharraf regime widened the chasm between civil and military institutions

Leaving a mark


en Pervez Musharraf idolised Napoleon Bonaparte as well as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In the end, he came close to none of them. However, he left an indelible imprint on the Pakistani state and society. There was a bit of reformism and a lot of authoritarianism and civil-military imbalance. Many of the predicaments of present-day Pakistan can be traced back to the Musharraf regime. He will go down in history as the military dictator who took the country to the abyss of the US war in Afghanistan in support of an international coalition yet also supported certain factions of the Taliban. He was accused of having a hand in the murder of Akbar Bugti and Benazir Bhutto and pushed Balochistan further into a militant insurgency. Unlawful disappearances of citizens became a trend under his watch. He will also be remembered for trampling the constitution twice; for detention of superior courts judges and for strict media censorship.

Musharraf’s family had migrated from Delhi to Karachi in August 1947 as part of a mass migration resulting from the Partition of India. He was second of three sons and his father served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His mother was a rarity: an educated middle-class woman serving in the International Labour Organisation. His ethnic and class consciousness, some said, made him a nationalist Pakistani partial to Urdu speaking Karachiites. Some say it glued him to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

He received commission in the Pakistan Army in 1964 but twice faced the risk of being thrown out. Once, he was close to being court martialled as a second lieutenant on account of a disciplinary infringement. Luckily for him, the proceedings against him had to be stopped because of the 1965 war against India and the gallantry award that he received for taking part in it. He later received yet another gallantry award in the 1971 war. As if that were not enough, his indiscipline once again brought him close to ruining his career when he was a lieutenant colonel, later making him recall his rise to the post of the army chief as a “miracle”.

Nawaz Sharif appointed Gen Musharraf as the army chief when the latter was serving as the Mangla corps commander. Mercurial and a maverick, he launched the notorious military operation in Kargil that had long lasting consequences for not only Musharraf and Sharif but also for Pakistan and its institutional legacy of civil-military relations. Internationally, it caused much hue and cry due to the terrifying escalation between the nuclear armed neighbours, India and Pakistan. The Kargil episode ruined the ongoing normalisation process that had been given an impetus by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Friendship Bus service between Delhi and Lahore in early 1999. Nasim Zehra’s book From Kargil to the Coup: Events that Shook Pakistan (2018) provides an excellent account of the events that irreparably damaged relations between the civil and military leadership that led to the sacking of Musharraf by the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif while the army chief was on his way back from his Sri Lankan visit.

The military leadership struck back with a coup on October 12, 1999. It overthrew an elected government, adding yet another episode to the sea-saw between elected civilian governments and self-appointed military rulers. But Musharraf took up the title of chief executive and presented himself as a reformer inspired by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — the father of modern Turkey. Being flamboyant and bearing a secular bent of mind, he promised to take Pakistan on a modern path envisioned by the founders of the country. This raised hopes among many in the liberal sections of the society. He promised to undo Zia’s legacy of radical Islamism and turn Pakistan into a modern Muslim state.

The famous seven point agenda presented by Musharraf included cherished dreams of eradication of religious extremism and sectarianism from the country, bringing about educational and economic reforms and devolving power to the lower tiers. He re-introduced local self-government and created elected positions of nazim and naib-nazim at district, tehsil and union council levels following the Napoleonic French model of prefects and sub-prefects.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US provided Musharraf the much needed acceptance in the Western world. This brought Pakistan out of an international isolation, bringing the country and its authoritarian ruler into international limelight. But it also brought Pakistan into what Musharraf called the “line of fire.” The resultant U-turn taken by the Musharraf regime in Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy brought about colossal human and economic losses. The country’s social fabric was further ravaged, adding to Zia’s legacy of societal and economic cost.

Following in the footsteps of his military predecessors, Musharraf established a hybrid regime with the support of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid and the MQM. This proved a fragile arrangement that collapsed along with the king’s party as soon as he was out of power. It also corrupted politicians and the political system was further dented. The political engineering damaged the civil-military relations and increased the element of distrust among various state institutions. Like Zia before him, Musharraf held a referendum to legitimise his rule. However, it proved a stigma on the electoral landscape of the country.

The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti and the resultant rise in the militant insurgency in Balochistan caused estrangement of the civilian population in the restive province. The sacking of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, then chief justice of Pakistan, galvanised the political and popular opposition against Musharraf in the form of a lawyers’ movement. The alleged abetment in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto further isolated him. These events widened the chasm between civil and military institutions of the state. He retaliated by suspending the constitution and declared a state of emergency on November 3, 2007. This was a second coup for which he was tried on treason charges in 2014. The trial proved explosive and resulted in greater friction between the military and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government after 2014, adding to the civil-military distrust. This civil-military estrangement led to the notorious ‘hybrid regime’ that further exacerbated Pakistan’s social, political and economic woes and took the country to the verge of external default and heightened political instability.

The writer has a PhD in History from the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, and heads the History Department at the University of Sargodha. He has worked as a research fellow at the Royal Holloway College University of London. He can be reached at abrar.zahoor@hotmail.com and tweets @AbrarZahoor1

Leaving a mark