Who is General Musharraf?

December 22, 2019

Looking back at his 9 years in power

“Shahbaz and I recommended Musharraf to the prime minister [Nawaz Sharif] as the new army chief after meeting him in Murree,” former interior minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan told me in a TV interview.

“I admit we made a mistake,” he added.

He also indicated that in hindsight he would have preferred to see General (retired) Ali Quli Khan instead of Pervez Musharraf as the COAS.

For his part, in private conversations, Nawaz Sharif, too, blamed his younger brother Shahbaz and Nisar Ali Khan for misguiding him. A year later, Sharif sacked Musharraf and appointed General Ziauddin as the new chief without consulting them.

The events of the past few days have opened a new debate in Pakistan. For the first time in history, a special court has sentenced former army chief for high treason under Article 6. The army has indicated it still stands behind its former chief, and has rejected the judgment. In an informal talk with mediapersons, the chief justice of Pakistan has described the Musharraf case as an “open and shut matter”.

In a statement issued by ISPR Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor has described General Musharraf as a decorated soldier, who served the army for 40 years — endorsing his 10 years in power assumed through a coup on October 12, 1999, and later validated by the PCO judges of the Supreme Court in the Zafar Ali Shah case and the parliament in 2002.

The fact of the matter is that when the PML-N government filed the reference against Musharraf in November 2013, the former chief had been confident that his ‘institution’ would protect him.

Before leaving for Colombo in October 1999, Musharraf had told Nisar Ali Khan and Shahbaz Sharif (whom he met frequently) to convey to the PM that he was no Jehangir Karamat. He anticipated action against him and had taken senior colleagues in confidence about such a contingency.

On October 12, 1999, they followed the plan, and removed the elected prime minister. On landing in Karachi on his return from Colombo, Musharraf had his seven-point agenda ready to be televised.

Even before he assumed the position of chief executive (on the advice of late Sharifuddin Pirzada), it was clear that he would follow the same path as Generals Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq.

In 2013, when Nawaz Sharif became prime minister for the third time, Nisar Ali Khan and Shahbaz Sharif advised him not to invoke Article 6 against Musharraf — telling him the army would not like it. When the reference was filed, the then army chief General Raheel Sharif had a similar advice.

Musharraf’s first team included Lt Gen Mahmood, Lt Gen Aziz, Lt Gen Usmani, Lt Gen Shahid Aziz, Lt Gen Tanveer Naqvi, Lt Gen Moinuddin Haider, Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool, Lt Gen Amjad, and Javed Jabbar. Their first task was to ‘fix Sharif’.

A case was registered against Nawaz Sharif charging him with the hijacking a passenger plane carrying Musharraf, and for putting the life of passengers and that of the army chief at risk.

He was tried in Karachi by an the anti-terrorism court. Judge Rehmat Hussain Jaffery acquitted all other accused but sentenced Nawaz Sharif to life imprisonment.

Shortly afterwards, in 2000, on the intervention of a Saudi prince, a deal was signed, whereby Sharifs were allowed to leave Pakistan for Saudi Arabia on the condition that they would neither take part in politics for 10 years nor return to the country.

The next task before Musharraf and his team was to get a legal cover for their actions. Sharifuddin Pirzada was considered the best legal mind for the needful. The then chief justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui told me in an interview that when the Musharraf government decided to introduce the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO), he decided to resist it. “It was shocking for me when in the morning as I was about to leave for the Supreme Court, I was told by an army officer outside my house to not leave the house.“

Some judges did not take oath under the PCO, including Justice Siddiqui. The rest of the judges took oath in 2001 and in the Zafar Ali Shah case declared the Musharraf takeover legal. The court also granted him the authority to amend the constitution.

A referendum was called in 2001 to validate Musharraf’s rule. An ambitious Imran Khan voted in his favour.

The same year, Musharraf, the Kargil general and a darling of the Mujahideen, banned several militant outfits. This was just a month before 9/11. With the rising US pressure, he sensed trouble and sent his closest aide, Gen Mahmood, to persuade Mullah Mohammad Umer to either handover Osama Bin Laden to the US or ask him to leave Afghanistan. It is not know known whether the message was delivered.

In October 2001, Afghanistan was attacked. The rest is history…

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Musharraf’s lust for prolonged power led him to hold elections in the country but insist on continuing to rule as president and army chief.

This is when a third task was assigned to his team — to ensure a government of like-minded parties and individuals.

When elections were held in 2002, a religious parties alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) surprised many. It was clear that the US attack on Afghanistan and its fallout had impacted Pakistan. Musharraf then turned to the MQM. He agreed to disband the MQM (Haqiqi); share power in Sindh and at Centre and grant special administrative powers to the governor; and sanction massive development funds. His team succeeded in dividing the PPP — the PPP (Patriot) was created – and the PML-N — Chaudhrys of Gujrat formed PML-Q.

Musharraf also engaged with the MMA who decided to support him on the condition that he would shed his uniform in December 2004. In return, the MMA gave his rule a cover of legitimacy under 17th Constitutional Amendment through the Legal Framework Order (LFO).

Imran Khan was left out. He had won a seat in the parliament for the first time and hoped Musharraf to back him. Instead, Musharraf asked Khan to support the Chaudrys.

Imran Khan was disillusioned by Musharraf. In 2007 Lawyer’s Movement, he accused him for forcing Pakistan into a difficult position by supporting the US in the War on Terror. He also opposed the army operations in Swat, South and North Waziristan till the attack on APS.

Musharraf could claim credit for the new local government system, allowing licences to private TV channels, raising the number seats reserved for women in the parliament, he was blamned for the killing Nawab Akbar Bugti, handing over Dr Aafia Siddiqui to the US, Lal Masjid operation, the May 12 incident in Karachi, sacking of the chief justice and the November 3 emergency. During his tenure, two chief justices — the late Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui and Iftikhar Chaudhary were detained.

Musharraf’s long innings as the army chief and president of Pakistan ended on a sorry note. With tears in his eyes and a chocked voice, he announced on television in 2008, “I have decided to step down as president of Pakistan.”

He will go down in the annuls of history as a usurper, a military dictator. 

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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