Pervez Musharaff: A maverick leader who faded into oblivion

 

Venkat Raman
Auckland, February 6, 2023

Former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf passed away in Dubai on Sunday (February 5, 2023) after a prolonged battle with the rare disease amyloidosis. He was 79.

The Dawn (Karachi) quoted Shazia Siraj, spokesperson for Pakistan’s Consulate in Dubai and Embassy in Abu Dhabi as  saying, “I can confirm that he passed away this (Sunday) Morning,”

It is understood that Musharraf’s body will be brought back to Pakistan for burial.

Pakistan’s Consul General in Dubai Hassan Afzal Khan said that his mission is in touch with Mr Musharraf’s family and that the Consulate has issued a ‘No Objection Certificate’ for the repatriation of the body.

A tumultuous career

Born in Delhi before the partition of India in 1947, Mr Musharraf was a military officer who later became a politician and became the tenth President of Pakistan, after overthrowing the federal government led by Nawaz Sharif in a coup in 1999. He suspended the constitution, declared a state of emergency and designated himself the Chief Executive of the country. Mr Sharif was put on trial for treason and forced into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Musharraf became the President of Pakistan in 2001.

 

 

Pervez Musharraf greets Helen Clark in Auckland on June 18, 2005. To her right is then Foreign Minister Phil Goff (INL Photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The return of Benazir Bhutto from exile in 2007 (under a US-sponsored brokerage with Mr Musharraf),  to fight the general election and her assassination in Rawalpindi on December 27 of the same year. The growing dissent forced Mr Musharraf to resign in 2008 and go into exile.

He returned home in 2013 but his attempts to gain power were thwarted as an arrest warrant was issued on the accusation that he was involved in the assassination of Ms Bhutto. He was put on trial for treason but was allowed to leave Pakistan in 2016 on medical grounds.

Three years later (2019), he was sentenced to death in absentia but a Pakistani court dismissed the order. Mr Musharraf stayed in Dubai until his death.

Musharraf in New Zealand

Journalists who covered the visit of the now deceased and then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf will recall the friendly disposition of the man who answered even controversial questions with frankness and clarity.

That visit, from June 17 to June 19, 2005, prepared the ground for better bilateral relations between New Zealand and Pakistan and led to the opening of the country’s High Commission in Wellington. Trade and commerce between the two countries began to grow.

Following an interview with him, I wrote the following editorial in Indian Newslink issue dated July 1, 2005.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is a straight-talking soldier, who, true to the uniform he adorns, shows little patience in waiting for results.

His political compass constantly sways between two opposites- from assisting the US over its war on terrorism to appeasing homegrown radicals.

He was in Auckland last fortnight, pleased to answer any question that journalists cared to pose – “no holds barred,” he said, “It is your call, and I answer.”

Pervez Musharraf with Nevil Gibson (NBR) at the Northern Club, Auckland on June 18, 2005 (INL Photo)

 

Moderate and liberal Islam

If he was an enigma to the West, no less the East, Mr Musharraf came through as an exponent of moderate and liberal Islam, a professed democrat and a leader in a hurry to transform his consumer economy into a wealth creator.

Critics, including ousted Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (now in exile in London), have slammed him as a man who panders to the extremists and as a leader short-selling Pakistan to its archrival India in the name of peace.

But the General seemed nothing of the kind. He came through as a man with charming affability, with forthrightness almost to a fault.

And he seemed to take disparaging remarks in his stride.

He took pains to explain his stand to journalists while launching the National Business Review hosted Foreign Correspondents Club at the Northern Club in Auckland.

Contrary to expectations, the visiting President neither parried questions nor showed aversion to sensitive issues at press conferences.

From terrorism to the highly volatile case of blocking the US visit of Mukhtaran Bibi, a young Pakistani woman gang-raped by order of village elders as retribution for the actions of her brother and the test of democracy in his country, he fielded them all, without reservation.

“I don’t believe in showing left and hitting right,” he said.

It was a characteristically combative metaphor from a man whom today features prominently on the hit list of Al Qaeda, which ironically rose from the bosom of his own motherland not very long ago.

Mr Musharraf would like to get along with the world but would find it hard to market his concept of ‘enlightened moderation’ to Islamic fundamentalists in general and some members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in particular.

“Islam is a religion that stands for peace, tolerance, democracy and secularism but has been subject to misinterpretation. Terrorism has no place in Islam,” he said.

He claimed his government was strategically tackling extremism by promoting moderation and harmony, which were inherent in Islam.

Pakistan risks Islamic Fundamentalism

Just what is enlightened moderation?

“It is a strategic concept, more than a tactical one,” he said.

The strategy is to uproot extremism by banning militant groups and by mainstreaming the ‘Madrassas’ or Islamic schools to teach more than the religious doctrine.

His foreign friends including US President George W Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard may consider him the bastion of neo-Islamism, but many doubt its success in his own country which is at risk of lurching into Islamic fundamentalism.

His bilateral talks with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark appeared more hypothetical than substantial but a Memorandum of Understanding signed during his visit may lead to the export of farming and dairy processing technology, dairy and meat products and the import of some 200 state-sponsored students into our tertiary institutions.

According to the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the bilateral trade between the two countries is paltry. The total value of imports from Pakistan to New Zealand dropped to US$ 51.74 million from US$ 53.3 million in 2017, while exports from New Zealand to Pakistan rose to US$ 99.52 million from US$ 67.83 million during the same period.

The latest statistics released by Trading Economics indicated that those figures remained almost unchanged as of the end of 2022.

 

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