Musharraf: Nemesis finally catches up with the tightrope veteran

August 18th, 2008 - 7:02 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS) Pervez Musharraf, who resigned Monday after nine years as president of Pakistan, was finally trapped by the momentum of forces he unleashed following a series of questionable actions primarily aimed at ensuring a long-term stranglehold on power. His strategy was to disguise dictatorial methods under a veneer of bogus democratic process. In the end, the patience of the people of Pakistan and its Western backers ran out. His principle backer, the all-powerful Pakistan Army, advised him to see the writing on the wall.

In retrospect, it has to be conceded that Musharraf managed to keep his country going despite being dealt an extremely weak hand. For many years there was stability, and in recent years the economy had picked up.

But unfortunately for him, Pakistani military regimes have a certain shelf life. General Ayub Khan, one of the pillars of early Pakistan, found that out 40 years ago.

It is difficult to identify the straw that broke the camel’s back. There were the continuing human rights abuses that emboldened the Pakistani judiciary to demand habeas corpus, snowballing into nationwide protests by an army of lawyers.

There was the desire for a periodic revival of democracy - catalysed by a pliable Benazir Bhutto backed by the United States.

Finally there was the inability to control the Islamic fundamentalist forces the army had unleashed, especially in the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan, but increasingly in the rest of the country.

Pervez Musharraf was born into a liberal, Westernised Muslim family in Delhi Aug 11, 1943. His family home, Neharwali Haveli, in Old Delhi’s Daryaganj still stands, though in considerably altered form.

Father Syed Musharraf Uddin was a graduate of Aligarh University. In Delhi he worked in the civil supplies department. His mother graduated from Lucknow University, and after migrating worked for a UN organisation.

Musharraf and wife Sehba have two children Ayla and Bilal. Both married, they have a granddaughter, Mariam, from Ayla.

Musharraf’s family migrated to Pakistan at partition. His father got employed by the foreign ministry. As a result, the young Musharraf and his two brothers spent considerable time abroad. Between the ages of six and 13, Musharraf lived in Turkey.

Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s secular moderniser, was his self-proclaimed hero. Given Musharraf’s parents were excellent ballroom dancers, he grew up in a far from conservative home. He spoke Turkish and remained attached to Turkey.

However, his early years showed no indication of later rise to military prominence. He was plump and an indifferent student at Lahore’s Foreman Christian College, with little sense of purpose. He seemed to have joined the army almost by default.

He joined the Pakistan Military Academy in 1961 and was commissioned in an elite Artillery Regiment in 1964. He saw action in 1965 against India as a young officer in the Khem Karan, Lahore and Sialkot sectors with a self propelled Artillery Regiment. He was awarded the Imtiazi Sanad for gallantry.

He later volunteered and served for seven years in the Special Service Group “Commandos”. He also fought in the 1971 war that led to Bangladesh’s birth.

He was appointed head of the armed forces in 1998 by Nawaz Sharif, superseding several senior corps commanders. Sharif believed Musharraf would be unable to build a power base because he did not hail from the Punjabi officer class.

But it didn’t take Sharif long to learn he had made the same mistake that then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made by appointing General Zia ul Haq.

In 1999 Musharraf engineered the Kargil conflict with India. Pakistani troops surreptitiously crossed the Line of Control into Indian Jammu and Kashmir.

It was unclear whether Prime Sharif authorised the incursion or knew too much about it. But the disaster led to adverse military and political consequences. Sharif eventually ordered a withdrawal of Pakistani troops.

In October 1999 Sharif tried to fire Musharraf. He tried preventing his aircraft returning from Colombo from landing in Pakistan. The Pakistani Army promptly staged a coup. Musharraf seized power, promising to bring ‘true’ democracy in place of Sharif’s ’sham’ one.

On June 20, Musharraf formally assumed the job of president declaring: “I have a job to do here and cannot and will not let the nation down.”

The most astute phase of Musharraf’s leadership came after 9/11. Pakistan publicly somersaulted from being the major supporter of Afghanistan’s Taliban to its enemy. Pakistan ostensibly became the West’s major ally against Islamist terrorism.

Musharraf managed to walk a tight rope, presenting himself as the West’s only hope to keep Islamic fundamentalism at bay. He managed to extract billions of dollars for his country from the West, ostensibly to fight Islamic terror. In reality Pakistan’s footprint continued to be found on virtually every major international terrorist act in the years thereafter.

However, Musharraf clandestinely continued to encourage and fund militants in his country and Afghanistan while claiming to fight them. He projected himself as the only obstacle to Islamic fundamentalism.

India caught on to this tactic early, being at the receiving end in Jammu and Kashmir. The West only recently began to acknowledge the duplicity - and grew tired of it publicly. They would have known of his double game for years, just as they knew of Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation.

Many Islamic radicals denounced him as a traitor for pledging support to the US. But Musharraf argued: “The future of 140 million people cannot be jeopardised. Even Islamic law provides that if we are faced with two difficulties and we have to select one of them, it is always better to choose the lesser trouble.”

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