Musharraf leaves behind a tangled political legacy - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Musharraf leaves behind a tangled political legacy

Feb 07, 2023 08:48 AM IST

Musharraf also came to realise that stability in Pakistan would remain precarious if its western and eastern borders were simultaneously active. Egged on by the US, he showed a willingness to engage with India that left many flabbergasted

In December 2019, a special court in Pakistan found General Pervez Musharraf guilty of high treason, awarding him the death penalty. The charge was overthrowing the constitution of Pakistan by imposing an emergency in November 2007, and arresting a number of superior court judges.

For Musharraf, domestic extremists posed the real threat to Pakistan. To critics, he was never able to commit himself to exorcising Pakistan from its dependence on terrorist groups (AFP) PREMIUM
For Musharraf, domestic extremists posed the real threat to Pakistan. To critics, he was never able to commit himself to exorcising Pakistan from its dependence on terrorist groups (AFP)

This verdict was soon overturned but its pronouncement shocked Pakistan, given the near-iconic position the army occupies. The judgment of one of the judges in the three-member bench of the special court attracted the most attention. In case, it said, Musharraf died before the death penalty could be executed “his corpse be dragged to the D Chowk, Islamabad and be hanged for three days”.

These remarks, and the accompanying outrage in the Pakistan Army, sum up Musharraf’s legacy. A coup against Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif in October 1999 led to his assuming office as the man in charge of Pakistan. He was chief executive and then president till August 2008, but his real authority came from being simultaneously chief of army staff. Once he demitted that charge in November 2007, the Musharraf era, in effect, came to an end.

His long stint in power is outflanked by the length of tenures of earlier dictators, Generals Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq. Yet it was immensely significant, nevertheless. In the Western doghouse after his 1999 coup, Musharraf found an opportunity with the 9/11 attack, the global war on terror, and the United States (US) intrusion into Afghanistan, one that he grasped with both hands.

Becoming a critical US ally certainly cemented his domestic legitimacy. Foreign assistance poured in, and Pakistan quickly graduated from a pariah to the cynosure of Western narratives. But to his critics, Pakistan ended up with the short end of the stick. Military action to prevent the regrouping of the Taliban in Pakistan’s northwest sparked the consolidation of a local variant of the Taliban, which soon became a formidable internal security threat. For Musharraf and his acolytes, domestic extremists posed the real threat to Pakistan. To critics, he was never to commit himself to exorcising Pakistan from its dependence on terrorist groups to advance strategic interests in Afghanistan and India.

By the time he finally exited as president, Pakistan was in the midst of an internal security crisis with no one seemingly safe from terrorist attacks. This impacted the image and reputation of the Pakistan Army. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007 raised questions about its competence and complicity that have remained unanswered. In a sense, this was also the last nail in Musharraf’s political legacy.

Relations with India comprise another major aspect of Musharraf’s tangled legacy. He was undoubtedly the architect of the Kargil misadventure of 1999, which torpedoed a major political initiative of PMs Sharif and AB Vajpayee launched in February 1999 to restore sanity in India-Pakistan relations. Military defeat in Kargil also led inexorably to the coup that toppled Sharif. The hijacking of IC 814 to Kandahar, a major terrorist attack on the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) legislative assembly and then on Parliament brought the two countries to the brink of war. Yet Musharraf also came to realise that stability in Pakistan would remain precarious if its western and eastern borders were simultaneously active. Egged on by the US, he showed a willingness to engage with India that left many flabbergasted. During PM Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad in January 2004, he formally committed to not allowing Pakistan’s territory to be used for acts of terrorism against India.

To many in Pakistan, this unilateral commitment was defeatism. But with the army and a large swathe of public opinion behind him, Musharraf was prepared to go further down the path of normalisation of ties with India than any Pakistani leader had previously dared. Perhaps Musharraf was fortunate that PMs Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh were farsighted and understood Pakistan’s insecurities. With Singh, Musharraf moved quickly beyond the staples of peace on the border and the Line of Control (LoC), curbing terrorist groups and expanding trade, to exploring how irreconcilable positions on J&K could be reconciled. A backchannel was established and made substantial progress in softening the LoC and allowing movement and trade across it for the first time since 1947. Further progress on an overarching political agreement seemed possible, to some even likely.

Notwithstanding his reputation as a straight-talking soldier good only at tactical thinking, Musharraf quickly grasped that an overall improvement in relations could enable the construction of a package on Kashmir with enough diplomatic ambiguity to be acceptable to both sides. But the 2007 confrontation with the judiciary brought back domestic instability, and relations with India were the collateral in the civil-military contest that followed.

Musharraf’s death in Dubai occurs when Pakistan is politically deeply polarised, its military elite dented following a bruising civil-military conflict that played out publicly over the second half of 2022, and an economy in the intensive care unit desperate for International Monetary Fund resuscitation. How far was Musharraf’s coup and then long tenure as de-facto dictator responsible for this will long be debated. Whether his ambitions for India-Pakistan relations can be aspired to again in the future remains an equally open question.

TCA Raghavan is a former high commissioner to Pakistan The views expressed are personal

Catch every big hit, every wicket with Crickit, a one stop destination for Live Scores, Match Stats, Infographics & much more. Explore now!

See more

Get Current Updates on India News, Elections 2024, Lok sabha election 2024 voting live , Karnataka election 2024 live in Bengaluru , Election 2024 Date along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Thursday, July 18, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On