Gen Pervez Musharraf : Deep but controversial imprint

SALMAN MASOOD       - Former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf has left an undeniably deep but controversial imprint on the country’s polity. His era was eventful, with far-reaching consequences. The controversies of Gen Musharraf's rule will overshadow and define his legacy. Political unrest and the militant backlash spawned by his policies are still present in the country. 

Gen Musharraf had a forceful presence on the global stage and steered the country through a difficult, turbulent time after the Sept 2001 terror attacks in New York. The critics who accuse him of caving to U.S. pressure at that time are unaware of the gravity of the post-9/11 situation. The United States initially hailed him as an indispensable ally in the war against terrorism. He survived several assassination attempts by the Al Qaeda. Liberal policies and the opening of the economy by Gen Musharraf paved the way for a new consumer class in the country. 

Much of the good of his initial years in power was, however, undone by the 2007 political and security turmoil. This led to his ignominious fall from power in 2008. In the twilight years of his rule, Gen Musharraf had become such a global and domestic liability that the ‘deep state’ – led by Gen Kayani – removed him from power, using the façade of a political movement.

Gen Musharraf made a failed attempt at carving out a comeback. But his homecoming in 2013 was unremarkable; he ended up being hauled by the courts, faced a plethora of legal cases, conviction on treason charges and had to return to a life of exile in Dubai. His political foes managed to make a return to power, while Musharraf, devoid of his military fatigues and true source of power, was pushed to the sidelines.

Gen Musharraf was a reluctant coup maker. The 1999 military takeover was an institutional response. It was triggered by brewing resentment within the top brass over the treatment of army chiefs by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif prior to Gen Musharraf. But once Gen Musharraf took over, he found it difficult to let go of power.

Personally, he was charming, with a pleasant disposition. His candor was often persuasive and even delightful. He liked the attractive, social company and knew how to enjoy life. Some people look back on his initial years in office with a certain nostalgia. Senior army officers and civilian officials who worked with him talk fondly about his leadership style. Gen Musharraf made bold decisions. Some turned out well, others went awry. ‘Decisiveness’ in his personality was a defining trait and a big part of his legacy.

But the Kargil debacle, the increasing Taliban militancy in the country, the assassinations of Benazir Bhutto and Nawab Akbar Bugti under his watch, and the civil-military imbalance that has only been exacerbated since his rule hang like a dark cloud on the public memory. Though he wanted to be remembered as a benevolent military ruler, the sharp changes in Pakistani society over the past few years will deny him that place.

The news of Gen Musharraf’s death comes at a time of heightened political unrest and societal fissures. The military's popularity has dipped since the last army chief Gen Bajwa's controversial political role and stand-off with Imran Khan's party raised questions about the military's role in politics, even among those who used to support it ardently. 

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