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Musharraf: From Powerful Ruler to Prisoner

  • Kokab Farshori

Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf is facing trial for treason for imposing a state of emergency in 2007 and detaining several judges. Prosecutors say Musharraf’s actions violated Pakistan’s constitution and are punishable by death or life in prison. From powerful military ruler to prisoner, Musharraf’s life has changed dramatically in less than a decade.

As chief of the Pakistani army, General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in October 1999. He later became the country’s president. Under his leadership, Pakistan joined international efforts to fight terrorism after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, and Musharraf received accolades in the west for this policy. Thomas Lynch is with Washington’s National Defense University.

“If Pakistan at that time had played hardball [taken a tough position] - decided not to engage with the U.S. and the Western countries that had decided to take action against al-Qaida and against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan - then Musharraf could have perhaps put Pakistan in an unenviable position of being squeezed by the West from one side and by India from the other side," said Lynch.

During Musharraf’s years in office, Pakistan saw some economic growth, but critics say that, despite so much financial backing from the U.S. and other Western countries, Musharraf did not deliver what he had promised. Ayaz Amir is a former lawmaker and a leading political analyst in Pakistan.

"There was no political opposition. The field was absolutely clear. It was a clean slate. He could have written on it what he wanted, but he could not write," said Amir.

But there is one area where Musharraf should get a lot of credit, and that is allowing free media to expand like never before in Pakistan, says opposition Senator Mushahid Hussain.

"I think Musharraf’s lasting contribution, in my view, would be that he spawned a media revolution in Pakistan. The free media that we see today is thanks to him, and I think that is something which is going to be enduring," said Hussain.

Just a day before he was to appear at his treason trial, Musharraf spoke via video link and tried to defend his record.

"When I appeared on the scene in 1999, Pakistan was a failed or a defaulted state from all socio-economic points of view. And in eight years we transformed Pakistan from that state to one of the next 11 countries of the world, a vibrant, progressive country," said Musharraf.

Like many leaders, Musharraf has left behind a mixed legacy, says Lynch.

"The early part of his tenure was a legacy of playing Pakistan into position through the global war on terror. But in the latter half, the overreach perhaps, the personal unwillingness to soul-search and critique the difficulty and the untenable nature of the position, pushed Musharraf into difficulties," he said.

Musharraf resigned in 2008 as president amid strong public anger and political opposition and went into self exile. He returned to Pakistan last year and is now on trial for some of his actions as military ruler.