The rise and fall of Gen Pervez Musharraf - 1
by K Gajendra Singh on 08 May 2013 0 Comment

In 2003, when in the writer’s opinion, Gen Musharraf had reached the acme of his power and usefulness to Washington, it was expected that another pliable ruler would be selected to rule Pakistan. To Musharraf’s credit, he survived much longer than expected, was perhaps one of the best rulers that country had, and departed only in 2008. He returned in March 2013, after four years of self-imposed exile. But his reception was less than enthusiastic…


Looking back, I was in Bucharest in 1998 when Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif forced Army Chief Gen Karamat Jehangir into retirement and replaced him with Gen Pervez Musharraf, a Mohajir. This seemed irrational; but it later transpired that Gen Karamat, after a lecture at the Pakistan Defense Academy, had in response to a question expressed the need for a National Security Council in view of the introduction of nuclear weapons into Pakistan’s arsenal. The armed forces took serious note of the insult and were prepared next time around.


Many writers and even historians forget that in states practicing revealed religions, ‘The Book’ or Books play a key role. Of the oldest of the three revealed religions, Judaism’s only state since ancient times, Israel, has since morphed into a rule by a Zionist-Military oligarchy. Christians after centuries of warfare in Europe have somewhat managed to create secular polities which are still underpinned or haunted by sectional religious ideologies (witness European Union’s refusal to grant full membership to Muslim but secular Turkey). In the last Book-based polity, Islam, the lines between Mir and Pir, temporal and spiritual ruler, still remain blurred, contested, and changing. Prophet Mohammad was both the religious leader and military commander.


Delhi born Gen Pervez Musharraf, new ruler of Pakistan, had a much harder task of rescuing his country from “rock bottom” than that faced either by Field Marshall Ayub Khan in 1958 or Gen Zia-ul-Haq in 1977. Ayub took over at the peak of the Cold War when the fight against Communism was top priority, with Pakistan neatly fitting into US strategy. Zia was a pariah until the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan fell like manna from heaven, allowing Pakistan to complete its nuclear bomb program. Now Pakistan’s economic position was desperate and US focused on fighting terrorists who had bombed its Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, led by the likes of bin Laden, then ensconced among the Pak-nurtured and backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan.


Gen Musharraf quickly made it clear that the generals would not easily let Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto come back in hurry. Preparing to visit Turkey where he did his schooling, he publicly expressed admiration for Kemal Ataturk, whom he wished to emulate. After the military takeover, the initial broad based choice of his team showed similarities with Turkey after the 1980 coup by Gen Kenan Evren, who shrewdly gave charge of the moribund economy to technocrat Turgut Ozal who turned it around with talented expatriates.


As members of western alliances, Turkey and Pakistan have maintained close relations since the 1950s. Like Turkey in 1980 (and earlier in 1960) Gen Musharraf’s first step was to create a National Security Council. Proposals to create an NSC had been mooted in the past. President Gen. Zia ul Haq tried in the 1980s, but had to drop it. President Farooq Leghari issued a decree on January 6, 1997, patterned on the Turkish model; it lapsed after the massive victory of Nawaz Sharif.

Turkey’s experience of military in politics impacted “real democracy” in Pakistan, as acknowledged by Gen. Musharraf. Article 118 of the 1982 Turkish Constitution provides for a 10-member NSC (5 from the military), chaired by the President and in his absence by the Prime Minister. In Turkish protocol, the Armed Forces Chief of General Staff (CGS) is next to the Prime Minister and the two with the President rule the country. The position of the Army Chief in Pakistan is decisive and more arbitrary.


Unlike the secular Turkish armed forces, the Pakistani military has become politicised and now Islamised, specially at the level of junior officers, with the involvement with Afghan Mujahidin and terrorist groups and nurturing of the Taliban. Many feared that instead of the Turkish model, Pakistan might end up closer to the Sudanese model with a Turaibi-like figure from Jamait-e-Islami as ideologue.


This writer warned that having stoked the fire of Islamic fundamentalism, with its fighters active all over the world, Pakistan may find that the monster at home can no longer be contained. In contrast, Turkey perhaps came closest to Western perceptions of democracy with a long tradition of modernisation and westernisation, first during the last century and half of the Ottoman decline with constant interaction and rivalry with European powers, ideas and non-Muslim millets, and second after the inception of the Republic in 1923 though forced reforms by Ataturk.


A complicating factor for Gen. Musharraf is his Mohajir origin (Pakistanis born in what is now India and their descendants, mostly confined to Karachi and Sindh, persecuted and treated as second class citizens) which was a major reason why Sharif picked him over others. Gen. Musharraf’s two brothers and son have opted for careers in USA and his own father, a former Pakistan diplomat, became a naturalised US citizen.


Mohajirs in power must appear more loyal than the King. An anti-Indian stance, inborn with the creation of Pakistan, cultivated and encouraged during the Cold War, is to be expected. A silver lining was Musharraf’s greater acceptability by other nationalities of Pakistan, which have felt the heavy hand of Pathan leavened Punjabis. But Musharraf was no Ataturk, the Gallipoli hero of the First World War and leader of the War of Independence, who after expelling the Ottoman Sultan and abolishing the Caliphate, concentrated on building a modern nation, totally eschewing foreign adventures.




Pervez Musharraf was born on August 11, 1943, in an old haveli in Neharvali Gali behind Delhi’s Golcha cinema. When he was four years old, the family (mother, father and two brothers, with a box stuffed with a few lakhs of rupees) migrated to Karachi soon after the new Pakistan was created in August 1947. These non-Punjabi speaking immigrants from India (Urdu speakers) are mostly concentrated in the ghettos of Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh and known as Mohajirs (refugees); they form over 8 percent of the population. They have been openly discriminated against by the ruling Punjabi-Pathan elite and have therefore established a political organization of Urdu-speaking migrants, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, whose leader Altaf Hussain lives in London.


Ironically, it was the Mohajirs, led by MA Jinnah, who were primarily responsible for the creation of Pakistan. Being generally better educated, they formed the ruling group in Pakistan’s then capital city of Karachi before the new capital was built and the power center moved north to Islamabad in the heartland of the Punjabis who form around 60 percent of the population.  


After six years in Ankara, where he learned to speak and write Turkish fluently, Musharraf completed his education in English-medium schools in Karachi and Lahore. He joined the Pakistan Military Academy in 1962 and finished second in class, after Quli Khan. The military has always been a coveted profession in Pakistan, but its officer class has been dominated by Punjabis, with the Mohajirs actively discriminated against. Still, Musharraf proved himself loyal and diligent, especially with regard to Pakistan’s anti-India policy.  


Two things catapulted Musharraf to the top of the heap. A thoughtless and erratic prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who twice came to power in musical chairs with Benazir Bhutto, started to go haywire after his 1997 election victory. After getting a two-thirds majority, with an abysmal turnout of less than 30 percent, an arrogant Sharif amended the constitution, stripping the President of the power to dismiss the government and making his power to appoint military service chiefs and provincial governors contingent on the “advice” of the prime minister. Worse, in a rush of blood, he forced Jahangir Karamat, an able and apolitical general, into early retirement.  


Sharif, whose family is of Indian Punjab origin and settled in Lahore, was a small-time businessman. He was groomed (with many other middle class Punjabis) by General Zia (also from Indian Punjab) as a reliable rival to the Sindhi Benazir Bhutto, and other feudal political leaders. Sharif promoted Musharraf in October 1998 to chief of Army staff, ahead of many others including Gen Quli Khan. He thought that as a Mohajir without a Punjabi support base, Musharraf would not have any Bonapartist ambitions. Indeed Musharraf might have faded away after completing his term. 


But, at a time when the domestic economic situation was dismal, in another rush of blood and hoping to gain absolute power and popularity, Sharif dismissed Musharraf and attempted to replace him on October 12, 1999, with a family loyalist and Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Lieutenant-General Ziauddin. Though Musharraf was then in Sri Lanka, the army moved quickly to depose Sharif in a bloodless coup. After Musharraf took over, Sharif was charged with attempted murder and other crimes.  


One reason why Sharif wanted to get rid of Musharraf was that the latter had led the Pakistani forces in the debacle at Kargil in the summer of 1999. Infiltrators from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir had clandestinely occupied the remote mountainous area of Kargil in Kashmir, threatening the ability of India to supply its forces on the Siachen Glacier. Serious fighting flared up; the infiltrators had to withdraw after a Washington meeting between Sharif and then US president Bill Clinton in July. He was severely embarrassed by the incident, although he appeared to be in the loop and would have happily reaped the benefit of popularity if the misadventure had succeeded.  


Two days before the coup, the Washington Post noted, “analysts said (that) Sharif has little idea how to restore confidence in a government that has lost credibility at home and abroad - this deeply unpopular government is facing its worst crisis since early 1997”. 


A Pakistani editorial welcomed the coup, “This is perfectly understandable. The political record of the last decade of ‘democracy’ is dismal. Benazir Bhutto blundered from pillar to post during 1988-90. Nawaz Sharif plundered Pakistan (1990-93) as if there were no tomorrow. Then Benazir was caught, along with her husband, with her hands in the till instead of on the steering wheel. So Sharif returned to lord it over a bankrupt country. Then, obsessed with power, and emboldened by an illusion of invincibility, he went for the army’s jugular and paid the price for his recklessness.”  




At his very first press conference after taking over as Pakistan’s chief executive, Musharraf spotted some journalists from Turkey. In fluent Turkish he told them that he was a great admirer of Kemal Ataturk. “As a model, Kemal Ataturk did a great deal for Turkey. I have his biography. We will see what I can do for Pakistan”.


Pakistan’s largest religious party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, immediately expressed its opposition to the secular ideology of Kemalism. So Musharraf began to highlight the aborted vision for Pakistan of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah! So when Musharraf visited Ankara in November 1999 on a pre-coup invitation from Turkey’s military chief of general staff who was away when he landed in Ankara, he found himself unwelcome. Musharraf had hoped to meet General Kenan Evren who had carried out the 1980 coup.  But President Suleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, now back in power after being imprisoned and debarred from politics after Evren’s coup, advised Musharraf to restore democracy at the earliest!  


The influential Turkish Daily News castigated the visit as “untimely and unnecessary so soon after grabbing power and jailing elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The coup in Pakistan or one in any other country can never be accepted.  Despite the role of the military in public life in Turkey the general failed to realize the sensitivity Turks feel towards coups and authoritarian rule.  He seemed to forget that Turks have now found out that coups have not solved the problems of the country and that, to the contrary, they have further complicated things. The way the general praised former coup leader General Evren was unnecessary.”  


So Musharraf met his old friends in Ankara and lunched with the chief of protocol, an old school mate. He conceded before leaving that all countries must find their own solutions.  




From the outset, Musharraf made no secret of using referendums or amending the constitution to institutionalize the military’s role in decision-making and strengthen his hold on power. General Evren had established a committee of experts to recommend a new constitution, the approval of which by referendum also granted him a seven-year term. Musharraf also chopped and changed the 1973 constitution, but the referendum in April 2002 to grant himself five more years as head of state was not a neat exercise (accusations of rigging) and left some legal loopholes. 


Still, he succeeded in legalizing the military takeover in 1999 - the coup was endorsed by the Supreme Court on condition that elections be held within three years, which he did, and he institutionalized the military’s voice through the NSC. 


Like the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the September 11, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York revived the necessity for Pakistan in US eyes. The US needed Pakistan to protect itself from a backlash of its earlier Afghan policies of creating the mujahedin and supporting the jihad in Afghanistan. Washington also desperately needed to stop Pakistan’s nuclear bombs or material from falling into jihadi hands, so there was no alternative to the Musharraf regime. 


Musharraf, with his elite commando training, is cool and calculating and handles complex situations well. In terms of intelligence, opportunism and dedication, he is far ahead of the bumbling Ayub Khan. Zia ul-Haq, a retrograde mullah in uniform, reversed human rights and irreparably damaged Pakistan’s polity. The befuddled General Yahya Khan presided over the breakaway of Bangladesh in 1971.


Under Musharraf, however, the media enjoyed greater freedom than in recent history. He tried to reform the economy and reduce corruption. Joining the coalition against terror helped prop up the external sector with US support, but fundamental weaknesses in Pakistan’s economy remain. And while he might have gotten rid of or relocated unreliable and Islamist generals, in such situations the toss up is either thakt (throne) or takhta (noose).


Overall, Musharraf can be said to have succeeded in emulating his publicly undeclared model, Gen Evren, and that too, not that well. There are some similarities with Ataturk.  Delhi-born Musharraf’s family comes from east Uttar Pradesh (India). Ataturk was born in Salonika (Greece); the family came from Macedonia. Ataturk was able to rally the World War-weary Turks whose land had been occupied by foreigners. At first he battled the Ottoman Sultan’s forces sent to kill him and then vanquished friend-turned-foe Ethem and his ragtag army which had helped fight off invading Greeks who had almost reached Ankara. This was something like the various jihadi forces and foot-loose groups that Musharraf had to face. Later, Ataturk ruthlessly crushed religious revolts led by feudal Kurdish tribal chiefs and others. And to fulfill his destiny, he even got rid of his earlier nationalist comrades, who were in favor of continuing with the Caliphate. 


Musharraf, too, has succeeded in sidelining many unreliable generals but not completely. Despite his belief in his avowed destiny, his proclaimed good luck in escaping helicopter mishaps, not being in the plane crash that killed Zia and victory in the standoff with Sharif, he has not shown the boldness and ruthlessness of Ataturk. September 11 and December 13, provided him with a golden opportunity to go the whole hog in the fight against fundamentalism and usher a new era in Pakistan on the lines of Ataturk’s reforms. He would have got unstinted support from the US-led West, India and others.


Ataturk had boldly carried out modernizing reforms against religious obscurantism and forged the remnants of the Ottoman Empire with a 99 percent Muslim population into a secular republic in the 1920s. The Ottoman Sultan was also the Caliph; he abolished both offices. But he had kept his external ambitions in check and did not claim former Ottoman provinces lost in World War I and concentrated on building a new Turkey. 


Musharraf did step down, after September 11, from the fundamentalist tiger he was riding and had helped nurture. He was not fully in command on the home front, with suicide bombers killing foreigners and Christians and senior officials being assassinated.  From time to time he made some arrests of ranking Al-Qaeda members and others to please USA, but if he tried too hard, these forces would conspire for his blood and threaten his US allies. So he could not fulfill his childhood Ataturk-inspired dream. Perhaps he was not ruthless enough, determined and single minded like Ataturk, or maybe there were just too many cards stacked against him.

To be continued...

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top