Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Ex-Pakistani ruler emerged as divisive US ally after 9/11
ISLAMABAD — Pervez Musharraf, the onetime military ruler of a nuclear-armed Pakistan who promised crucial support for Washington’s campaign against al-Qaida after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but faced growing resistance at home in a land seething with anti-Western passions, died Sunday in a hospital in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was being treated for a long illness. He was 79.
Musharraf, who was Pakistan’s fourth military leader, was a polarizing and divisive figure. He ruled through the turbulent period after 9/11 and attempted to appease U.S. demands during the war on terrorism. Yet in interviews after stepping down, he confirmed that Pakistan supported proxy forces, including the Taliban in Afghanistan, to counter fears of being circumscribed by a hostile India.
“India has a strategy of strangulating Pakistan economically, isolating it internationally and weakening its army — we have to counter that,” he said in a 2018 interview in Dubai, where he lived in self-exile for most of his life after being forced to resign the presidency in 2008.
Some in Pakistan praised the former army chief and president for ushering in a level of economic stability, helped by U.S. debt waivers and aid in return for military support. Many, however, saw him as a puppet of the United States.
Musharraf also drew criticism for constitutional and human rights violations and was blamed for failing to tackle widespread violence in the later years of his rule.
Born on Aug. 11, 1943, in Delhi, Musharraf emigrated to Pakistan with his family to the port city of Karachi after the British partition of the subcontinent in 1947. From 1949 to 1956, he lived in Turkey, where his father was a diplomat.
After joining Pakistan’s army at age 18, he was commissioned in the artillery regiment in 1964 and later became a commando. Decorated for actions during two wars with India, and despite his rambunctious and hot-headed style, which led to multiple disciplinary actions, he became a general in 1991.
In 1998, then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif surprised the top brass by elevating Musharraf to chief of army staff after forcing Gen. Jehangir Karamat to step down over a disagreement about security policy.
Musharraf became president during a bloodless coup in late 1999.
In contrast to Pakistan’s previous military dictator, Gen. Zia ul-Haq — who elevated strict conservative Islamic laws in the country — Musharraf was a relatively secular figure, fond of whiskey and cigars in a nation where alcohol is banned for the country’s Muslim majority.
Economically, the military-led government sought to reduce overseas debt. In the last Asian default before Sri Lanka’s delinquency in 2022, it froze repayments, forcing a downgrade of Pakistan’s credit rating to D.
Musharraf also used his newfound U.S. support to get loans and grants from Western countries and international lenders.
Under intense pressure from Washington, Musharraf’s regime arrested and killed numerous al-Qaida operatives following the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and it cracked down on some other militant groups that operated on Pakistani soil. That made Musharraf a target of extremists, and he survived multiple assassination attempts.
At the same time, the U.S. accused Pakistan’s military of harboring and supporting insurgents that launched cross-border attacks in Afghanistan and India — complaints that continued after Musharraf left office.
In the later years of his rule, Pakistan’s economy and security deteriorated, and Musharraf faced increasing calls to step down and allow democratic elections to take place. Facing impeachment, Musharraf stepped down in August 2008.
After U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in a 2011 raid on his hideout in a Pakistani city, Musharraf faced allegations that he’d been complicit years earlier in allowing the al-Qaida leader safe haven in the country.
The former general tried multiple times to re-enter politics. When he last returned to Pakistan in 2013 he was eventually placed under house arrest. The government allowed him to leave in 2016 to seek medical treatment abroad.
Musharraf was diagnosed in February 2018 with multiple myeloma, a type of cancer, and a multi-organ progressive disease called amyloidosis.
Musharraf married his wife, Sehba, in 1968. They had a daughter, Ayla, and a son, Bilal.