BOON OR BANE?
It is too early to close the balance sheet on the Musharraf era. More time is needed before a definitive judgment can be made.
Gen. Musharraf seized political power in October 1999 in a bloodless coup by overthrowing democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and became the Chief Executive of the country. Later Musharraf declared himself president and went on to rule Pakistan till 2008 when his political allies lost the general elections, forcing him to step down to avoid impeachment by the new parliament. He was tried for treason and given the death penalty. However, in 2020, the High Court overturned the death sentence, dismissing the legal process against him as unconstitutional and cancelled the death penalty.
Despite the turmoil that engulfed our region post 9/11, General Musharraf’s strong leadership steered the country through difficult times. The hallmarks of his era were women empowerment, freedom of the media and economic development of Pakistan. He was a poor judge of character and surrounded himself with opportunists who eventually brought his downfall.
I met Lt. Col. Pervez Musharraf for the first time in 1980 when he was an Instructor at the Command & Staff College, Quetta and I, a student as Major.
On one occasion, I disagreed with the Cabinet’s decision to raise the tariff for agriculture tube wells in Balochistan. After some 50 minutes’ arguments, he gave in and reversed the Federal Cabinet’s decision. He gave unprecedented freedom to the media in Pakistan. At a SAARC meeting (in Khatmandu), he unexpectedly walked up and shook hands with a rather startled Vajpayee, and put in sincere efforts to peacefully settle the lingering conflicts with India.
General Pervez Musharraf’s strengths are many. He is honest, upright, untiring, understanding, open to reasoning, trusting, generous, fearless, bordering on audaciousness, optimistic and a patriot par excellence who gave the slogan, ‘Pakistan First’. The greatest appreciation for him I find in some of our tribal, simple, poor old people who to this day remember his rule as a golden period. They get a shine in their old eyes, start smiling and I notice them admiring his rule and persona with enthusiasm. I feel the dustbin of history will catch his weaknesses but memories of his accomplishments will live on.
It is far too early to make a definite judgment on the Musharraf era. The jury of history is still out and it would take decades to fully comprehend the damaging effects of his internal and external policies and weigh the positives, if any, of his hybrid form of governance.
Pakistan is no stranger to military dictatorships, with the army chiefs seizing political power and directly ruling the country for years. The indirect intervention of the military even in democratic governments is an open secret and by now an established practice in Pakistan. What is interesting is the tacit acceptance of this interference even by the fiercely democratic political parties in the country as fait accompli.
There is no contradicting the fact that it was the imminent threat to the newly created Pakistan which obliged the early political leaders to invest heavily in defence to strengthen Pakistan’s military capabilities at the cost of other institutions. The military therefore, assumed immense importance right from inception and became a very strong institution playing a huge part in governance.
Encouraged by this acceptability of the military in governance, General Ayub Khan grabbed power by imposing Martial Law in 1958. Since then Pakistan has seen this tendency of the military repeat itself at regular intervals in 1969, 1977 and 1999. Most of these military interventions were treated with cautious acceptability by the international community. However, the Musharraf coup was greeted by sharp negative international reaction in an era when a huge premium was being put on promotion of democratic dispensations by the West.
The Commonwealth of Nations suspended Pakistan’s membership. General Musharraf was regarded by most as a ‘power usurper’ with the U.S.A making the sanctions, which had already been imposed in May 1998 after the nuclear explosions, stricter. Washington was quick to criticize the coup leaders, and Clinton signalled his disapproval by altering his March 2000 South Asian itinerary so as to spend only a few hours in Pakistan while stopping in India and Bangladesh for longer visits.Read More
The writer served as Ambassador of Pakistan to China, European Union, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland, from 1993 to 2020. She is Vice Chairperson of Board of Governors of Council on Global Policy (CGP) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org