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A Man for all Decisions

A reluctant general, who was to be sacked while on a flight back home from Sri Lanka, took charge of Pakistan on October, 12, 1999.

By SIRAJUDDIN AZIZ | August 2022

General Pervez Musharraf exuded an amazing sense of command, without losing the apron strings of extreme gracefulness whilst he was at the helm. He was firm and resolute. He was also extremely gracious in his demeanour.

It is undeniable and well-established that in Pakistan’s short history, the decade of the 1990s was most disastrous, as it faced domestic turmoil and international sanctions both on the political and economic front.

Riaz Muhammad Khan

Pervez Musharraf’s era was a departure from President Zia ul Haq’s promotion of religious conservatism against the backdrop of the Afghan Jihad and the tentative but nominally democratic politics of the 1990s. But if I may, I will focus on the man to provide a flavour of his time at the helm of affairs in Pakistan.

My interaction with President Musharraf largely related to foreign affairs, especially when I was foreign secretary from February 2005 to April 2008. I found Musharraf to be a fair person who appreciated merit and professionalism. He was receptive to discussion and difference of opinion in examining an issue, and combined both flexibility and fairness in reaching decisions. Generally he was quick on the uptake and grasp of issues. On a number of occasions, he acted with an open mind and changed his views both on administrative as well as policy matters relevant to the Foreign Office when presented with strong arguments.

President Musharraf had his weaknesses; he lent his ear to an inner coterie of advisors to the extent of being credulous. He was overly sensitive to military’s institutional perceptions and interests. At times he betrayed impatience and stubbornness, a trait which contributed to the triggering of the 2007 Judicial Crisis and his downfall. Generally, he espoused moderate liberal views and intellectually a rational bent of mind. He saw a serious threat in the rising religious fanaticism and radicalisation, but failed to arrest the phenomenon which so shockingly displayed itself in the capital in mid-2007.

The decision was correct in the main, even though questionable in certain details. He did try to diffuse the situation with efforts to persuade the Afghan Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden to Saudi Arabia.

He was always a man of initiative. He declared unilateral ceasefire along the LoC in 2003 to start a meaningful peace process with India. Had the Judicial Crisis been delayed by a couple of years, President Musharraf may well have steered Pakistan success with out-of-the-box approach on Kashmir to the benefit of Pakistan and the region and the Kashmiris.

Weak macroeconomic management, lack of commitment and courage to undertake difficult structural reforms, a personalised and politicised state of decision-making and alarming levels of corruption were typical of the quality of governance then. Appalling economic conditions hyped on popular slogans were symbolic of the free-wheeling decision-making that led to the incurring of huge debt through corruption-ridden unproductive public expenditure. The freezing of foreign currency accounts had shattered the confidence of investors and expatriate Pakistanis in the financial management of the country.

Such a deplorable state of affairs evoked responses that led many to say then that Pakistan might be a case of a ‘Failed State’. A state enshrouded in utter despondency witnessed retarded economic growth, decelerating investment rates and a debt burden that reached alarming proportions.

It was against the backdrop of this state of affairs that a reluctant general, who was to be sacked while on a flight back home from Sri Lanka, took charge of the country on 12th October 1999. General Musharraf took the title of ‘Chief Executive’ and set out in his first address to the nation accomplishment of an agenda that would bring Pakistan out of a time of economic crisis and also restore Pakistan’s image internationally. This was his primary goal.

Democracy in a country like ours where despite 75 years of independence we have not been able to rid ourselves of the feudal structures in our society is more a temptation and invites unalloyed corruption. The forms and formats of corruption are again varied in such circumstances. It could relate and range from financial corruption to corruption of mindset ------- otherwise, how can anyone of sane mind provide a rationale for a head of government to order denial of landing rights to a commercial flight of its own national airline, that was not only carrying innocent men, women and children but also the country’s highest ranking military officer, who in true tradition of his vocation, never missed a salute to the insane civilian leaders.

As if trying to climb out of the political and economic mire at home was not a sticky proposition for the new Chief Executive/ President, the September 11 incident set the entire global community into a tailspin. An attack on the sovereignty of the undisputed superpower of all superpowers was an incomprehensible notion. Clearly the rules of the game had changed forever. There was calm before the storm while the wounded bald eagle flexed its muscles, hurt and vengeful, while the rest waited, watchfully, insecure and uneasy, was the lull. As was expected, it unleashed its fury sweeping the entire planet in its mission to avenge the insult. The ‘war on terror’ demanded absolute and unconditional commitment from whoever it called upon to become its ‘ally’. The stance was simple: ‘either with us or our sworn enemy ‘. There were no grey areas. The principle was to choose between right or wrong.

It requires no more than basic intelligence to understand that Pakistan was thrust smack in the middle of it all, while President Musharraf was still busy trying to establish his credentials for putting the country back on rails. The politicians were angry because their corruption-ridden democracy had been wrested away from them and the fundamentalists were scared of his demand of enlightened moderation. In such a situation, what other choice could a Muslim state struggling for its place in the comity of nations have against a wrathful superpower? So, while Pakistan joined the bandwagon of allies, tempers at home surged a notch further.

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