ISLAMABAD. Pervez Musharraf, the four-star general who ruled Pakistan for nearly a decade after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has overseen rapid economic growth and sought to introduce socially liberal values to the conservative Muslim country. Musharraf, 79, died in hospital after a long illness after spending years in self-imposed exile, Pakistani media reported on Sunday. For many years he enjoyed strong support, his biggest threat was al Qaeda and other Islamic militants who attempted to kill him at least three times. But his heavy use of the military to suppress dissent and his continued support for the United States in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban led to his downfall.
Born in New Delhi in 1943, Musharraf was four when his parents joined the mass exodus of Muslims to the newborn state of Pakistan. His father worked in the foreign ministry, while his mother was a teacher and the family adhered to moderate and tolerant Islam. He joined the army at the age of 18 and became the head of an elite commando. He seized power by ousting then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who had tried to sack him for greenlighting an operation to invade Indian-controlled areas of Kashmir, bringing Pakistan and India to the brink of collapse. war. In the early years of rule, Musharraf won international acclaim for his reform efforts, passing laws to protect women’s rights and allowing private television channels to operate for the first time. His penchant for cigars and imported whiskey and his calls for Muslims to adopt a lifestyle of “enlightened moderation” increased his appeal in the West in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States .
Since the attacks he has become one of Washington’s most important allies, allowing US forces to use armed drones from secret bases inside Pakistan that killed thousands of people and ordering the entry of national troops into lawless tribal areas of the country, along the border with Afghanistan, for the first time in the history of Pakistan. This helped legitimize his rule abroad, but also plunged Pakistan into a bloody war against local extremist groups. In a 2006 memoir, he took credit for saving Pakistan from American wrath, saying the country had been warned it was “ready to be bombed into the stone age” if not agreed. with Washington. Musharraf also successfully lobbied then-President George W. Bush to pay money to the Pakistani military. However, the military’s allegiance has never been unambiguous: Its powerful intelligence services have struck deals with the Taliban and Al Qaeda and supported insurgency fighting US troops in Afghanistan. In other areas of foreign policy, Musharraf has sought to normalize relations between New Delhi and Islamabad. At a regional summit in 2002, less than three years after launching the military operation against India, Musharraf shocked the world when, after finishing a speech, he suddenly approached Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to shake his hand and offer to talk about peace. According to analysts, the Kashmir issue – which remains the most powerful point of contention between India and Pakistan – was all but resolved during the Musharraf era. But the peace process derailed immediately after his government.
Under Musharraf, foreign investment has flourished and Pakistan has recorded annual economic growth of 7.5%, which remains the highest level in nearly three decades, according to World Bank data. However, the final years of his presidency were overshadowed by his increasingly authoritarian rule. In 2006, Musharraf ordered a military action that killed a tribal chief of Balochistan province, setting the stage for an armed insurgency that is still raging today.
The following year, more than 100 students demanding the imposition of sharia law were killed after Musharraf avoided negotiations and ordered troops to storm an Islamabad mosque. This led to the emergence of a new militant group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has since killed tens of thousands in suicide bombings and brazen assaults. Later in 2007, a suicide attack that assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto unleashed waves of violence. His efforts to strengthen the judiciary led to protests and a beleaguered Musharraf postponed elections and declared a state of emergency. In 2008, the country’s first democratic elections after 11 years were held. Musharraf’s party lost and, faced with impeachment by Parliament, he resigned his presidency and fled to London. In 2013 he returned to Pakistan to run for a seat in Parliament, but was immediately disqualified. In 2016 he was allowed to leave for Dubai. In 2019, a court sentenced him to death in absentia for the imposition of the emergency regime in 2007, but the verdict was later overturned.
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