Former Pakistan military dictator General Pervez Musharraf passed away in a Dubai hospital on 5 February after a prolonged illness. He was 79.
Musharraf, who served as the Pakistan Army chief and later as the military dictator of the country – calling himself the Chief Executive of Pakistan and the President – is known as the architect of the 1999 Kargil War and for derailing fledgling Pak-India conflict resolution talks.
Born in Delhi in undivided India on 11 August 1943, Musharraf grew up as the son of a career diplomat. His significant growing up years were spent in Turkey – whether it was nurture and the Istanbul years or his very nature and personality make up; but many decades later he started emulating Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when it came to executing his plans for Pakistan.
Long before the Pakistani public's perennial love affair with Turkish content began with the TV series Ertuğrul; Musharraf acolytes would find similarities between his persona and the founding father of the Republic of Turkey.
Back in October 1999 after successfully conducting a coup against the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf introduced himself to the Pakistani public (and the diaspora) fashioning himself as another beloved leader – Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
In this case, being photographed posing with dogs, a cigar, in Western dress, an accomplished family in toe, and taking up a self-created post called the Chief Executive of Pakistan.
However, taking a look at his legacy; it seems that the former head of state had more in common with another long serving Pakistani chief of army staff and military dictator – the late General Zia ul Haq.
Musharraf, Zia ul Haq and Their Love-Hate Relationship With India
Musharraf, Pakistan’s seventh chief of army staff had much in common with General Zia-ul-Haq, the second chief of army staff of the country.
Whether it was being favoured by their prime ministers (subtext, perceived as compliant) in their appointment to the COAS (Zia superseded seven officers, Musharraf fought off a more competent competition) to later turn on their backers.
Zia had Bhutto arrested and hanged while Nawaz Sharif was put on trial for "kidnapping, attempted murder, hijacking and terrorism and corruption,” narrowly escaping a death sentence when his backers in the Saudi royal family brokered a deal for him to be exiled instead.
Both army chiefs held the 1973 Constitution in abeyance and had judges taking a fresh oath of office – Zia so they could sign off his rights to amend the 1973 Constitution and Musharraf so that the judges could swear their commitment to military rule.
While General Zia had Cold War politics and siding with the Americans during Operation Cyclone (CIA programme to fund the Afghan mujahideen) to bolster his international standing and legitimacy; Pervez Musharraf had the US-led war in Afghanistan and backing the American President George Bush’s global war on terrorism to thank.
While Gen Zia is understood as ushering in the religio-military nexus and a virulent form of Islamic fundamentalism and anti-women world vision; Musharraf is credited as introducing his own form of Pakistani political Islam – “enlightened moderation.”
A cocktail of sufism, capitalist thought, and toeing the state discourse, it introduced the conundrum of having the elite telling the bourgeoisie that we are all the sufis.
While in power, both Zia and Musharraf juggled their love-hate relationship with India with a healthy dose of cricket diplomacy and avid fandom for Hindi film stars. If Shatrughan Sinha was Zia’s adopted son, Musharraf made sure Rani Mukherjee made it to a state banquet.
Musharraf's Internal Misogynism
While Musharraf may have thought he was reversing Zia’s archaic worldview about women, often crediting his mother – who had been a working woman – for his enlightened views regarding Pakistani women and their mobility; he will, in fact, always be remembered for his misogynistic views. In an interview with Washington Post talking about a gang-rape survivor, Musharraf once declared:
“You must understand the environment in Pakistan ... This has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”
President Musharraf was referring here to Mukhtaran Mai, a human rights activist who continues to pursue a legal battle against her rapists.
While he was the president, Musharraf’s government had placed her name on the Exit Control List to “protect Pakistan’s image abroad.”
The Exit Control List like most of Pakistan’s banes was instituted as an ordinance by Gen Zia’s government in 1981 to pressurise political opponents. Ironically, decades later, Musharraf struggled with it himself when his name was placed on the ECL.
While Mukhtaran Mai remains in Pakistan working with her community, the former president spent his last years in Dubai – since 2016 when the federal government allowed him to travel for medical reasons.
Other than the Mukhtaran Mai incident, he supervised the exoneration of Captain Hammad, accused of raping a doctor working in Balauchistan’s gas fields.
However, Musharraf signed off the Women Protection Bill that gave Pakistani women a reprieve from producing four male (and good Muslim) witnesses to pursue their rapists.
Escaping Assasinations, Succumbing to Illness
Over the years, Musharraf had a number of lucky escapes – including multiple assassination attempts while he was the head of state. Before that, he had survived a court martial for a disciplinary infringement when the breaking out of the 1965 war with India gave him a reprieve as proceedings were blocked.
In his twilight years, as he battled illness at a hospital bed in Dubai, far from the motherland, he watched the ignominy of his bete noire – the Sharif family – back in the political saddle in Pakistan – Shehbaz Sharif on the prime minister's seat in Islamabad.
He will also never live down the accusation of being behind the assassination of the Muslim world’s first female Prime Minister – the much admired and ideologically liberal Benazir Bhutto.
(Aneela Babar is the author of We are all Revolutionaries Here: Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan ( 2017) and a forthcoming memoir on consuming Hindi cinema in Rawalpindi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)