12th Feb, 2023. 09:05 am
A reluctant coup-maker
With the demise of former president General Pervez Musharraf on February 5, 2023 an eventful era in Pakistan’s history has ended. Musharraf will be remembered as a reluctant coup-maker. He landed in the country’s top slot after a chain of events triggered by the miscalculation of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who, on October 12, 1999, tried to stop the incoming PIA aircraft carrying Musharraf and 197 other passengers from landing at any of the country’s airports. Musharraf, then COAS, was returning from Sri Lanka, after an official visit. As Sharif tried to appoint “his man” as the new army chief in a palace-intrigue style move, the Pakistan Army reacted as an institution, and dislodged the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government. By the time Musharraf’s plane landed in Karachi with barely seven minutes of fuel remaining, the army had secured the airport as well as the country and arrested Sharif in Islamabad.
The bloodless military coup was overwhelmingly hailed across the country as people, fed up with the years of corruption and misrule of the two mainstream political parties, welcomed the new military ruler, who promised sweeping economic and political reforms and accountability of the corrupt.
Under extremely difficult economic conditions, Musharraf and his team set to work, establishing new modern institutions, including the National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Under Musharraf’s watch, financial and administrative powers were devolved to the grassroots level through an efficient and empowered local government system, which sadly, was destroyed after so-called “pure” democracy was restored in the country in 2008. The Musharraf government will also be remembered because of the increase in the reserved seats for women and religious minorities during his tenure, as well as for ensuring media freedom, especially for allowing the private sector electronic media to blossom.
Musharraf also took the difficult but correct decision of joining hands with the world powers in the war against terrorism — at no small cost to himself. As a result of his decision to ally with the West, he had to face a number of assassination attempts. On the domestic front, he tried to rein in militant groups and to an extent succeeded in re-steering the ship’s course – a task which was later carried forward by his successors in the Pakistan Army, especially General Raheel Sharif. However, Musharraf kept the distinction between al Qaeda and its affiliate terrorist groups, and the Afghan Taliban. He advocated the need for engaging with the Afghan Taliban for a peaceful solution to the conflict, while dealing with the terrorist groups with an iron hand – a policy which he pursued in Pakistan. Ironically, Washington eventually did what Musharraf had been reiterating through the years, but only after fighting the longest war in US history.
On the Kashmir issue, Musharraf tried to come up with out-of-the-box solutions, as he engaged India in a series of talks after extreme tensions in 2001 when the Pakistani and Indian forces came eyeball-to-eyeball in one of the biggest military build-ups in South Asia. In doing this, he brought the Kashmir issue back to the global centre stage. Wherever he went, Musharraf advocated the Kashmir cause forcefully, albeit in his usual lucid, rational and convincing style.
The Musharraf government capitalised on its partnership with the US-led NATO forces on the economic front, and from an economy which was on its knees in 1999, it became the fourth fastest growing economy in Asia by fiscal 2004/05. On average, the growth rate during the Musharraf era remained well above 6.0 per cent as he managed to bring down the debt-to-GDP ratio from 92 per cent to 52 per cent. The Musharraf era was marked with low-inflation, growing incomes on the back of the country’s high growth, record foreign direct investments, and a stable currency.
However, for political reasons in 2002, and later, US pressure in 2007, Musharraf had to compromise on his much-propagated accountability drive, which allowed all the corruption-tainted politicians, who had effectively been side-lined from mainstream politics, to bounce back. In a number of interviews, Musharraf admitted this as his biggest mistake.
Those who worked with him, called him more democratic, modern and progressive in approach than many of the self-proclaimed, but corrupt democrats. The ethos of his personality was that of an educated middle-class person, who was a Pakistani nationalist to his core. As a military leader, he was known for his courage, resolve and boldness. He won gallantry awards in the 1965 and 1971 wars and was with his troops in the front during the Kargil conflict. His slogan “Pakistan First” defines his personal character, military life and politics. It was an innings well-played. It was a life worth living. We salute one of the proudest sons of Pakistan. Adieu Mr. President!