Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan martial ruler in 9/11 wars, dies at 79
— Gen. Pervez Islamabad Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup and later led a reluctant Pakistan into aiding the U.S. war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, has died, officials said Sunday. He was 79.
Musharraf, a former special forces commando, became president through the last of a string of military coups that roiled Pakistan since its founding amid the bloody 1947 partition of India. He ruled the nuclear-armed state after his 1999 coup through tensions with India, an atomic proliferation scandal and an Islamic extremist insurgency. He stepped down in 2008 while facing possible impeachment.
Later, Musharraf lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid criminal charges, despite attempting a political comeback in 2012. But poor health plagued his last years. He maintained a soldier’s fatalism after avoiding a violent death that always seemed to be stalking him as Islamic militants twice targeted him for assassination.
“I have confronted death and defied it several times in the past because destiny and fate have always smiled on me,” Musharraf once wrote. “I only pray that I have more than the proverbial nine lives of a cat.”
Musharraf’s family announced in June 2022 that he had been hospitalized for weeks in Dubai while suffering from amyloidosis, an incurable condition in which proteins build up in the organs. They later said he also needed access to the drug daratumumab, which is used to treat multiple myeloma. That bone marrow cancer can cause amyloidosis.
Shazia Siraj, a spokeswoman for the Pakistani Consulate in Dubai, confirmed his death and said diplomats were providing support to his family.
The Pakistani military also offered its condolences as did Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of the prime minister Musharraf overthrew in 1999.
“May God give his family the courage to bear this loss,” Sharif said.
Less than two years after Musharraf seized power, Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan would soon draw the U.S.’s attention and dominate Musharraf’s life.
Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden launched the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks from Afghanistan, sheltered by the country’s Taliban rulers. Musharraf knew what would come next.
“America was sure to react violently, like a wounded bear,” he wrote in his autobiography. “If the perpetrator turned out to be al-Qaida, then that wounded bear would come charging straight toward us.”
By Sept. 12, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Musharraf that Pakistan would either be “with us or against us.” Musharraf said another American official threatened to bomb Pakistan “back into the Stone Age” if it chose the latter.
Musharraf chose the former. A month later, he stood by then-President George W. Bush at the Waldorf Astoria in New York to declare Pakistan’s unwavering support to fight with the United States against “terrorism in all its forms wherever it exists.”
Pakistan became a crucial transit point for NATO supplies headed to landlocked Afghanistan. That was the case even though Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency had backed the Taliban after it swept into power in Afghanistan in 1994. Prior to that, the CIA and others funneled money and arms through the ISI to Islamic fighters battling the 1980s Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan saw Taliban fighters flee over the border back into Pakistan, including bin Laden, whom the U.S. would kill in 2011 at a compound in Abbottabad. They regrouped and the offshoot Pakistani Taliban emerged, beginning a yearslong insurgency in the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The CIA began flying armed Predator drones from Pakistan with Musharraf’s blessing, using an airstrip built by the founding president of the United Arab Emirates for falconing in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. The program helped beat back the militants but saw over 400 strikes in Pakistan alone kill at least 2,366 people — including 245 civilians, according to the Washington-based New America Foundation think tank.
Though Pakistan under Musharraf launched these operations, the militants still thrived as billions of American dollars flowed into the nation. That led to suspicion that still plagues the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.
“After 9/11, then President Musharraf made a strategic shift to abandon the Taliban and support the U.S. in the war on terror, but neither side believes the other has lived up to expectations flowing from that decision,” a 2009 U.S. cable from then-Ambassador Anne Patterson published by WikiLeaks said, describing what had become the diplomatic equivalent of a loveless marriage.
“The relationship is one of co-dependency we grudgingly admit — Pakistan knows the U.S. cannot afford to walk away; the U.S. knows Pakistan cannot survive without our support.”