Pervez Musharraf

views updated May 17 2018

Pervez Musharraf

In October 1999 General Pervez Musharraf (born 1943) came to power in Pakistan when he seized control of the government in a bloodless military coup. His pretext was that he sought to stabilize the nation, but Musharraf not only heightened the level of distrust from Pakistan's long-time antagonist, India, he also succeeded in alienating the Islamic fundamentalists within his own country. Much of the latter was due to the unforeseen actions by terrorists against the United States, and the subsequent response which involved Musharraf's aligning Pakistan with the international coalition against the Al-Qaida terrorist organization and Afghanistan's ruling Taliban.

Education and Early Career

Musharraf was born on August 11, 1943, in Delhi, India, when it was still under British sovereignty. Following independence from Great Britain and the creation of the state of Pakistan, the Musharraf family moved to Karachi. Musharraf's father was a diplomat and the family spent seven years, from 1949 to 1956, in Turkey. Musharraf became fluent in Turkish, but his education also included attending Saint Patrick's High School in Karachi and Lahore's Forman Christian College. Musharraf entered the Pakistan Military Academy in 1961 and in 1964 received a commission to an artillery regiment in which he served during a 1965 conflict. During that conflict Musharraf was awarded the Imtiazi Sanad for gallantry. Afterward Musharraf volunteered for a commando outfit and also saw action in the 1971 conflict as a company commander.

Musharraf was promoted to major general in 1991 and lieutenant general in 1995. He also attended the Command and Staff College at Quetta, the National Defense College, and the Royal College of Defense Studies in Great Britain. Musharraf later held appointments at both the Command and Staff College and the National Defense College. He was eventually named director of general military operations at general headquarters.

The real turning point in Musharraf's career came in October 1998 when he was promoted to general and named the army's chief of staff by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This placed him near the center of power in Pakistan. Musharraf replaced General Jehangir Karmat, who had advocated civilian power-sharing with the military in the form of a joint national security council, which upset the prime minister. As if to reassure Sharif, Musharraf a few weeks after his appointment reiterated that the army would "remain apolitical." Six months later he was named chairman of Pakistan's joint chiefs of staff; in another six months he would lead the coup that toppled Sharif from power. All of this came amid one of Pakistan's most serious difficulties with India—the contention of the border region of Kashmir. In July 1999 Musharraf admitted that India's allegations that Pakistani soldiers had crossed into the Indian section of Kashmir to fight alongside Islamic rebels were true. Crime and corruption also plagued Pakistan. Just a week before the coup Musharraf was quoted in The Hindu as declaring, "The law and order situation is bad. It should improve. It will improve."

The Coup

Musharraf's career took a dramatic turn when, on a visit to Sri Lanka on October 12, 1999, he was abruptly fired by Prime Minister Sharif. However the move backfired and the army, in support of General Musharraf, arrested Sharif and other government officials in what was essentially a bloodless coup. Musharraf became Chief Executive of Pakistan and quickly consolidated his power—an action he would repeat more than once. Within days of the coup he subverted Pakistan's constitution by dismissing parliament and imposing martial law. Musharraf also claimed the airliner carrying him and more than 200 others from Colombo (the capital of Sri Lanka) to Karachi had been denied permission to land on orders from Sharif. The landing was eventually made with only seven minutes' worth of fuel left. The deposed prime minister was charged with hijacking, kidnapping, attempted murder, and treason and became the center of a highly publicized trial.

Meanwhile the conflict with India loomed large, and to cool it down Musharraf ordered troop withdrawal from the border. However in late December 1999 he decided that Kashmir would be given top priority in diplomatic discussions with India. On a visit to the region he declared: "Pakistan is Kashmir and Kashmir is Pakistan." By the end of the month he had also revived the idea of a National Security Council and named four civilians to the seven-member body, as well as three civilians to his cabinet. He also set up the National Accountability Bureau to investigate corruption. Under its auspices former Prime Minister Sharif's father, son, and brothers were all charged with corruption and arrested.

In December Musharraf revealed a new plan for reviving Pakistan's weak economy. The economic plan included a sales tax similar to a value added tax as well as a farm tax. He also moved to close loopholes regarding foreign currency accounts that were seen as money-laundering schemes. Still, the issue of Kashmir remained of primary concern. In January 2000, in a rare interview with an Indian newspaper, The Hindu, Musharraf declared that the Indian government "(has) to trust me and that whatever I am saying, I mean, and they have to come along." But he also admitted: "(W)e need to accept Kashmir as a problem and start a dialogue and simultaneously let us discuss everything else. I am open to discussion on every other thing." Musharraf, however, would make a complete turnaround on this position in a May 2000 press conference.

Consolidated His Power

In March 2000 Musharraf deflected attention from the opening of former Prime Minister Sharif's trial when he replaced six judges of Pakistan's Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Saeed uz Zaman Siddiqi, for refusing to swear allegiance to his government. The trial itself took many strange twists and turns. Initially, Sharif's lawyers resigned after he was barred from testifying in open court, and when he did testify he claimed he was being framed by the military. Then in March another of his lawyers was murdered by a gunman. Sharif was eventually found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

United States President Bill Clinton also made a quick trip to Pakistan in March 2000, adding the country to his itinerary. Clinton urged a return to democracy and a quick settlement of the Kashmir conflict, which seemed to signal a changing attitude toward one of the U.S.'s staunchest Cold War allies. Musharraf was undaunted by Clinton's remarks. The next day he was off on his own trip to strengthen economic ties with Southeast Asia. In April 2000, as part of a human rights pledge, Musharraf condemned the Pakistani practice of "honor killing" in which a woman is murdered for "shaming" her family by seeking a divorce or otherwise choosing her spouse. Among the other problems he sought to tackle were the effects of drought and frequent sectarian clashes.

Musharraf was not without his critics in the Islamic fundamentalist community as well as the small business community, which protested the general sales tax. Possibly to assuage their fear and anger he announced he would accede to a Supreme Court decision that he step down after three years and allow democratic elections to be held. Still, in June 2000 the two groups joined forces to protest the sales tax. In July he made further concessions to the fundamentalists when he decreed the revival of the Islamic provisions of Pakistan's suspended constitution. In a BBC World Service interview in August 2000 Musharraf declared Pakistan's continued support for Afghanistan's ruling Taliban. "The Taliban administration represents the majority Pashtun population in Afghanistan and it is in our interest to support them," he said.

In September 2000 Musharraf again took steps to strengthen his position when he reshuffled senior Army advisers. The move was made four days before Musharraf flew to New York City to attend the Millenium Conference sponsored by the United Nations Assembly. Then in October 2000, almost a year to the day he took over the government, Musharraf promised that federal and provincial elections would take place before the end of the 2002. The next month while on a trip to Moscow Musharraf admitted not knowing the extent of Pakistan's nuclear force. He also declared neutrality regarding Osama bin Laden, suspected of masterminding attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa. In November Musharraf sought further to legitimize his position by amending the Provisional Constitutional Order to have the Chief Executive assume all acts that were previously the responsibility of the Prime Minister. In December 2000 he surprised everyone by releasing former Prime Minister Sharif, who immediately went into exile.

On January 1, 2001, local elections were held in 18 of Pakistan's 106 administrative areas. The first elections since the coup, they were nonetheless criticized by the voters themselves because of the military's involvement and the banning of political parties. Indeed, in March political leaders from the coalition Alliance for Restoration of Democracy were detained just prior to an anti-military rule rally. Later that month Musharraf announced he planned to extend his three-year term as Army Chief of Staff beyond October 2001. However, under the law Musharraf's term could only be extended by the president. Musharraf solved that problem in June 2001 by appointing himself Pakistan's president and head of state.

Despite Musharraf's machinations, many of Pakistan's problems remained, not least of which was the military tension with India. In July 2001 Musharraf traveled to India to hold talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee over the disputed Kashmir region. The talks failed to produce an agreement, or even a joint declaration. Nonetheless Musharraf invited Vajpayee to Islamabad for a future round of negotiations. Musharraf next turned his attention to two other problems: the U.S. sanctions against Pakistan and terrorism. In August 2001 he began making his case to have the sanctions (imposed against Pakistan and India as a result of their 1998 nuclear weapons tests) lifted. He also vowed to get tough against terrorism—though at the time he was referring to Pakistan's own domestic violence. He again vowed to hold elections before the third anniversary of the coup, in October 2002.

Aligned Pakistan with the International Coalition

Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Musharraf early on gave Pakistan's support to the anti-terrorist cause. He was quoted by Tyler Marshall in a Los Angeles Times article as saying, "Pakistan has been extending cooperation to international efforts to combat terrorism in the past and will continue to do so." Musharraf then had to make his case with his people, and while he was successful in convincing the army of his decision the clerics and other fundamentalists, who were already opposed to him, were a different story, especially after bin Laden was identified as the primary culprit.

In the beginning Musharraf hoped to assuage the clerics and others by brokering a deal with the Taliban to hand over bin Laden, thus avoiding military action. But that ploy was doomed to failure. Nine days after the attack Musharraf appeared on Pakistani television to explain his decision to assist the United States. He quoted the Koran and cited Islamic tradition for political compromise as his argument. The speech was largely ineffective as far as the (minority) fundamentalists were concerned and during the ensuing weeks numerous anti-U.S. and anti-Musharraf demonstrations were held, many peaceful though some ended in violence.

In the first, tense week of October 2001 Musharraf admitted defeat in brokering a deal with the Taliban. On the positive side Canadian sanctions against Pakistan were eased. Furthermore, upon reviewing the U.S. evidence against bin Laden the Pakistani government declared there was enough proof to indict him. On October 6, 2001, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Musharraf in Islamabad. Blair promised economic and humanitarian aid to Pakistan. Perceiving that his position was no longer as secure as it had been only that summer, Musharraf removed from the military and the intelligence services those men who had assisted the Taliban militia. As the bombs rained down upon Afghanistan Musharraf turned toward India, hoping to renew talks over the Kashmir. He was rebuffed. To make matters worse for Musharraf Pakistani border troops fought with Taliban forces two days after the bombing began. The fighting and Musharraf's agreeing to let U.S. forces use two airfields near the Afghanistan border led to more widespread protests, which he vowed to crack down on. Indeed Musharraf seemed to dig in against his domestic opponents. In a mid-October meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell he "pledged his indefinite support," as reported by Jack Kelley in USA Today. By the end of October Musharraf took further steps to halt the growing wave of protests, especially the use of mosque loudspeakers to incite antigovernment protests.

At the beginning of November 2001, as Pakistani fundamentalists were urging the army to overthrow Musharraf the call was echoed by none other than Osama bin Laden himself in a statement sent to the al-Jazeera, the BBC, and CNN. To allay Western fears Musharraf responded by arresting an opposition leader; he also declared that Pakistan's nuclear facilities were under secure control. Also in November he closed Pakistan's borders with Afghanistan, thus cutting off approximately 300,000 refugees seeking asylum. At the end of the first month of the bombing Musharraf traveled to Britain to again meet with Blair and then to New York to meet with President George W. Bush. The meeting with the U.S. president fell short of Musharraf's expectations of having the sanctions lifted, though his unswerving support for the coalition brought U.S. aid and debt restructuring that totaled more than $1 billion.

For his part, Musharraf warned that an alternative government must be ready to replace the Taliban in order to prevent anarchy in Afghanistan. He also went on record as doubting that bin Laden possessed nuclear or chemical weapons. In the aftermath of the fall of Kabul Musharraf voiced his dissatisfaction with the Northern Alliance (ethnic minorities in Afghanistan who opposed the Taliban), called for the demilitarization of the Afghan capital, and proposed the creation of a UN peacekeeping force made up of troops from Moslem countries. All three propositions were intended to forestall the setting up of a government hostile to Pakistan, which in the past had been one of three nations to recognize the legitimacy of the Taliban. Musharraf also increased border security to prevent fleeing Taliban and Al-Qaida members from crossing into Pakistan.


Boston Globe, November 14, 1999; November 1, 2001; November 11, 2001.

Financial Times, October 19, 1999; July 17, 2000; March 9, 2001; March 26, 2001; August 15, 2001; September 15, 2001; November 15, 2001.

Gazette (Montreal), February 2, 2000; May 26, 2000; July 13, 2000.

Guardian (London), March 9, 2000; April 7, 2000; November 14, 2001.

Hindu, October 30, 1998; October 6, 1999; December 28, 1999;January 17, 2000; March 28, 2000; May 4, 2000; May 27, 2000; September 3, 2000; November 2, 2000; November 18, 2000; August 3, 2001.

Houston Chronicle, October 26, 1999; October 5, 2001.

Independent (London), October 16, 1999; January 27, 2000; July 17, 2001; November 8, 2001.

Los Angeles Times, October 14, 1999; September 13, 2001; October 6, 2001.

New York Times, October 13, 1999; October 15, 1999; December 9, 1999; March 9, 2000; March 11, 2000; January 1, 2001; March 22, 2001; June 21, 2001; October 9, 2001.

Ottawa Citizen, October 2, 2001; November 2, 2001.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 10, 2001.

San Francisco Chronicle, February 29, 2000.

Seattle Times, September 20, 2001; October 11, 2001.

Statesman, November 23, 1999.

Times (London), June 21, 2000; August 3, 2000.

Toronto Star, July 17, 1999; November 3, 2001.

USA Today, October 11, 2001; October 17, 2001.

Washington Post, October 19, 1999; March 27, 2000; April 22, 2000; December 11, 2000; September 17, 2001.


"Profile: General Pervez Musharraf," (November 7, 2001). □