Pervez Musharraf, former Pakistani president and US ally in the ‘war on terror’, dies at 79
General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup and then led a reluctant Pakistan to help the US war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, has died, an official said on Sunday. He was 79 years old.
Musharraf, a former special forces commando, became president after the latest in a series of military coups that have rocked Pakistan since its founding amid India’s bloody partition in 1947. He led the nuclear-armed state after its 1999 coup through tensions with India, an atomic proliferation scandal and an extremist Islamist insurgency. He resigned in 2008 when he faced impeachment.
Later in life, Musharraf lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid criminal charges, despite attempting a political comeback in 2012. But that was not the case as his poor health plagued his later years.
Musharraf’s family announced in June 2022 that he had been hospitalized for weeks as he suffered from amyloidosis, an incurable condition that sees proteins build up in body organs.
Shazia Siraj, spokeswoman for the Pakistani consulate in Dubai, confirmed his death and said diplomats were providing support to his family.
Pakistan, a country almost twice the size of California along the Arabian Sea, is now home to 220 million people. But it would be his border with Afghanistan that would soon capture US attention and dominate Musharraf’s life just under two years after he took power.
The US-led invasion of Afghanistan saw Taliban fighters flee across the border into Pakistan, including Osama bin Laden, whom the US would kill in 2011 at a compound in Abbottabad. They regrouped and the offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban emerged, beginning a years-long insurgency in the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Militants attempted to assassinate Musharraf twice in 2003 by targeting his convoy, first with a bomb planted on a bridge and then with car bombs. This second attack saw Musharraf’s vehicle lifted into the air by the explosion. He raced to safety on his rims alone, Musharraf pulling a Glock pistol in case he needed to fight his way out.
Born on August 11, 1943 in New Delhi, India, Musharraf was the second son of a diplomat. His family joined millions of other Muslims in fleeing west when Hindu-dominated India and Islamic Pakistan separated upon independence from Britain in 1947.
Musharraf entered the Pakistani army at the age of 18 and served his career there as Islamabad fought three wars against India. He would launch his own attempt to seize territory in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir in 1999 just before seizing power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
As leader, Musharraf nearly struck a deal with India over Kashmir, according to US diplomats at the time. He has also been working towards a rapprochement with longtime rival Pakistan.
Musharraf’s domestic support eventually eroded. He staged flawed elections at the end of 2002 – only after changing the constitution to give himself sweeping powers to sack the prime minister and parliament. He then reneged on his promise to step down as army chief by the end of 2004.
Activists and citizens’ anger towards Musharraf grew in 2007 when he ordered a raid on the Red Mosque in downtown Islamabad. It had become a sanctuary for activists opposed to Pakistan’s support for the Afghan war. The week-long operation killed more than 100 people.
Fearing that the judiciary would block his stay in power, Musharraf sacked the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. This sparked mass protests.
Under internal and external pressure to restore civilian rule, Musharraf resigned as army chief. Although he won another five-year presidential term, Musharraf faced a major crisis following the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 at a campaign rally as she was seeking to become Prime Minister for the third time.
The public suspected Musharraf’s involvement in the murder, which he denied. A subsequent United Nations report acknowledged that the Pakistani Taliban were a prime suspect in his assassination, but warned that elements of Pakistani intelligence may have been involved.
Musharraf resigned as president in August 2008 after ruling coalition officials threatened to have him removed for imposing a state of emergency and sacking judges.
Subsequently, he lived abroad in Dubai and London. Pakistan instead arrested the former general on treason allegations over the Supreme Court debacle and other charges stemming from the Red Mosque raid and Bhutto’s assassination.
Pakistan allowed him to leave the country on bail to Dubai in 2016 for medical treatment and he remained there after facing a later overturned death sentence.