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The Musharraf Interlude

For once Pakistan had a military ruler who was urbane and sophisticated and devoid of avarice as well as feudal and rural mores.

By JUSTICE (RETD.) M. SHAIQ USMANI | August 2022


General Musharraf was the first military ruler in Pakistan’s history whose incursion was not preceded by any political upheaval or general breakdown of government machinery. Prior to this, Gen. Ayub Khan was brought in because of Prime Ministers changing virtually every month due to wheeling and dealing by the political parties in the aftermath of Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination. Later, Yahya Khan came in the wake of widespread demonstrations against Ayub in the aftermath of the presidential elections when Ayub faced Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah as a candidate. Zia-ul-Haque then came in when the government machinery came to a standstill because of massive demonstrations that followed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s attempt to rig General Elections in 1977, which was then transformed into a more virulent movement for Nizam-e-Mustafa.

Nisar Memon

The Musharraf era commenced with the hope that a clean, urban, educated, middle class shall guide the destiny of the country based on Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan. But the opportunist powerful elite found its way back into power to serve their vested interests. During his days, the electronic media opened up to the private sector and the strategic Diamer-Basha Dam commenced, based on a 3-year technical feasibility study of 2003 with unanimous recommendations of the Parliamentary Water Committee representing all four provinces. The nuclear program initiated by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 70s, put to test in the 90s by Mian Nawaz Sharif, was secured and further developed during Pervez Musharraf’s rule with a home-grown command and control system.

In complete contrast to the previous takeovers, Musharraf took over when Nawaz Sharif was firmly ensconced in the Prime Minister’s House and generally peace prevailed in the country and Pakistan was by and large stable politically and economically. It was a mere quirk of fortune that Musharraf came into power due to Nawaz Sharif developing a dislike for him because of Musharraf’s insubordinate attitude. This led to Nawaz Sharif’s attempt to prevent the landing of Musharraf’s plane in Karachi; it was bringing COAS Gen. Musharraf back from Colombo. The coup that took place in the aftermath of this incident was a classic example of the army trying to preserve its institution in the face of assault by political forces. Nawaz Sharif could have easily replaced Musharraf with another general as the army chief as many senior generals subordinate to Musharraf would have jumped at the offer for the top job. But Nawaz Sharif in his desire to have a completely loyal army chief, who would owe personal loyalty to him, in his naivety, chose a relative of his for the job. This too could have worked but for the fact that the army general that he chose for the post belonged to the Engineering Corps. He did not realise that the Army top brass could not possibly accept a virtual non-combatant as their chief. What followed was a textbook style army operation to preserve the army’s honour, aided and abetted by the generals in the next line of seniority, who owed personal loyalty to Musharraf. However, at the time of Musharraf’s takeover, the world situation was not conducive to such takeovers and, as such, his takeover was condemned all round. Musharraf thus became a pariah on the world stage and in all probability in due course he would have been forced to give up power by the world leaders. It was for this reason that when taking over, Musharraf opted not to call himself the President but chose to be called by a less offensive designation, that of Chief Executive. But then 9/11(euphemism for 11 September, 2001) happened and the world changed overnight because this was the first ever attack on the main land of America, which the only super power in the world could not possibly accept. Since the origin of the 9/11 attack seemed to have a direct link with Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden had launched his Al Qaeda movement, it became necessary for America to have complete support of a country in the immediate neighbourhood of Afghanistan to enable it to launch its counterattack.

So desperate was America for a base close to Afghanistan that at this time Musharraf could have got just about anything from America for the asking in return for support for a counterattack on Afghanistan. If Pakistan had played its cards right at this time, perhaps it could have got its entire foreign loans written off and thus provide enduring relief to the people of Pakistan. But in his naivety, Musharraf merely asked for material benefits in terms of additional soft loans and grants and of course military aid, which could be used to undermine India.

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