He was narrowly saved from court martial proceedings due to outbreak of war with India in 1965. He sat out the 1971 conflict and was on the verge of becoming Dictator Zia’s military secretary. In 1987, he masterminded a counterattack in the Siachen Glacier area with help of the elite United States Special Operations Group Forces. In 1988, he was instrumental in the introduction of Sipah Sahaba Pakistan(SSP) militants in Gilgit, to put down a Shia riot. He was then promoted to position of Director General Military Operations(DGMO) in 1993. As DGMO, he “wanted to unleash the forces of fundamentalism to ramp up the war” in Kashmir. During his stint as DGMO, Pakistan’s military was spending $7.5 million per month to reinvigorate the proxy war in Kashmir. In 1997, he was promoted to the post of Chief of Army Staff (COAS). In October 1998, Operation Kargil was launched under his watch, taking South Asia to the brink of a nuclear standoff in June,1999.
After a disastrous end to the Kargil adventure, he aligned his forces against the democratically elected Prime Minister of the country. The stage was set by September 1999 and the final blow came in the month of October. In his absence, his lieutenants staged a coup d’état and he took over the reins of power as the ‘Chief Executive’ of Pakistan. One of his first tasks as the head of country was to grant pardon to General Zaheerul Islam Abbasi, accused of plotting against the government in the infamous ‘Operation Khilafat’ of 1995. He posted one of his co-conspirators in the coup against Nawaz Sharif, General Mahmood Ahmad (who was also a relative), as the head of ISI. When 9/11 happened, General Mahmood was in Washington D.C., trying to convince “the State and Defense departments and U.S. lawmakers of the sincerity of Pakistan’s efforts on the bin Laden front”. Afterwards, Mahmood traveled twice to Kandahar to talk personally with Mullah Omar in the weeks after the 9/11attacks.Mahmood, in fact, told Omar to hold on to Bin Laden and resist the American attacks and even informed the Taliban leader what he knew of American attack plans and how best to withstand them.
In October 2001, American forces allied with the Northern Alliance started an offensive to dethrone the Taliban Government. By the month of December, Taliban were holed out in two extremes of the country: In Kandahar (located in the South) and Kunduz, the north-eastern part of Afghanistan. Carlotta Gall mentioned in her book that “During the Kunduz siege, Pakistan began evacuating its own people on secret military flights from the airfield on the edge of town. According to Afghan intelligence officials, there were two to three thousand Pakistanis trapped there, including trained military operatives. Pakistan had long boosted the Taliban’s military campaign with its own troops and advisors but had always kept them hidden from international scrutiny, using retired officers on contract, civilians, and only occasionally active soldiers, never in uniform”. Musharraf approached President Bush to help in getting his men evacuated from Afghanistan.
Early in Musharraf’s rule, an Indian plane was hijacked and release of Masood Azhar was secured from an Indian Jail. In 2002, a Pakistan-based militant group attacked India’s parliament, causing a prolonged military standoff at the Indo-Pak border. A sham referendum was arranged in 2001 by his regime asking people, “For the survival of local government system, establishment of democracy, continuity of reforms, end to sectarianism and extremism, and to fulfil the vision of Quaid-i-Azam, would you like to elect General Pervez Musharraf as President of Pakistan?” Results of the referendum were, as expected, overwhelmingly in favour of the dictator. However, he was unable to complete any of the pledges made in the referendum statement. The person responsible for spreading sectarianism in Gilgit (and Karachi), spearheading the proxies in Kashmir and involved in the Kunduz airlift cannot (and should not) be expected to wipe out sectarianism and extremism in the country, despite his vehement proclamations.
The culture of duplicity regarding extremist elements increased during Musharraf’s rule. He gave the impression of fighting militants while supporting them at the same time. Many organisations were banned and allowed to resurface using different names. The policy to appease the Taliban started with the Shakai agreement in 2004 with Nek Mohammad. He had to take action against Laal Masjid only after the Chinese government put its foot down, he gave a free hand to militant elements in Karachi on 12 May 2007, he threatened Akbar Bugti of getting hit from above, he openly supported the accused in Dr. Shazia rape case and he accused Mukhtaran Mai of getting herself raped to get money and immigration.
His image was cultivated as a liberal, progressive, articulate leader. At the beginning of his reign, he was photographed while playing with his poodles, projecting a liberal image for foreign audiences. He talked about getting inspiration from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his secular ideology, to which he was exposed during his stay in Turkey. His propensity for giving ‘quotes’ made him a darling of international media.
His PR machine has rolled back in action recently with ‘friendly’ interviews being arranged with foreign and local publications. He has been pontificating recently about unsuitability of “Western Democracy” in Pakistan, his support for artists and his love for ‘culture’, a ‘constitutional role’ of Army in politics, role of India in terrorist attacks and lack of trust between Pakistan and the “west” among other things.
More than a few comparisons can be made between the disgraced Pakistani dictator and General Simon Bolivar (as described by Gabriel Garcia Marquez). The ‘saviour’ complex, the sense of vanity, the moral high ground, delusions about returning to power, paranoia and inability to make a graceful exist are a few that come to mind. Malcolm Muggeridge once wrote that ‘Few men of action have been able to make a graceful exit at the appropriate time’. Musharraf is a living example.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Follow him on Twitter