General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup and later led an unwilling Pakistan to aid the US war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, has died, an official said Sunday. He turned 79.
Musharraf, a former special forces commando, became president in the latest of a string of military coups that rocked Pakistan since its creation amid the bloody partition of India in 1947. He ruled the nuclear-armed state after his 1999 coup through tensions with India, a nuclear proliferation scandal and an Islamic extremist insurgency. He resigned in 2008 while facing possible impeachment.
Later in life, Musharraf lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid criminal charges, despite attempting a political comeback in 2012. But it was not to be, as ill health plagued his final years.
Musharraf’s family announced in June 2022 that he had been hospitalized for weeks while suffering from amyloidosis, an incurable condition in which proteins build up in the body’s organs.
Shazia Siraj, a spokeswoman for Pakistan’s consulate in Dubai, confirmed his death and said diplomats supported his family.
Pakistan, a nation nearly twice the size of California along the Arabian Sea, now has a population of 220 million. But it would be the border with Afghanistan that would soon catch US attention and dominate Musharraf’s life just under two years after he seized power.
During the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Taliban fighters fled across the border back to Pakistan, including Osama bin Laden, whom the US would assassinate in 2011 at a compound in Abbottabad. They regrouped and the Pakistani Taliban offshoot emerged, beginning a years-long insurgency in the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
Militants attempted to assassinate Musharraf twice in 2003 by targeting his convoy, first with a bomb on a bridge and then with car bombs. In that second attack, Musharraf’s vehicle went airborne due to the explosion. Speeding to safety alone on his rims, Musharraf drew a Glock pistol in case he had to fight his way out.
Born on August 11, 1943 in New Delhi, India, Musharraf was the middle son of a diplomat. His family fled west along with millions of other Muslims when predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan split during independence from Britain in 1947.
Musharraf entered the Pakistan Army at the age of 18 and made his career there as Islamabad fought three wars against India. He would make his own attempt to seize territory in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir in 1999, just before taking power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
According to US diplomats at the time, Musharraf as ruler almost reached a deal with India over Kashmir. He also worked on rapprochement with Pakistan’s old rival.
Musharraf’s domestic support was eventually eroded. He held flawed elections in late 2002 – only after amending the constitution to give himself sweeping powers to dismiss the prime minister and parliament. He then reneged on his promise to step down as army chief at the end of 2004.
Militants and civilians’ anger towards Musharraf intensified in 2007 when he ordered a raid on the Red Mosque in central Islamabad. It had become a haven for militants opposed to Pakistan’s support for the Afghan war. More than 100 people died in the week-long operation.
Fearing that the judiciary would block his rule, Musharraf dismissed the chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. That led to mass demonstrations.
Under pressure at home and abroad to restore civilian rule, Musharraf resigned as army chief. Although he won another five-year presidential term, Musharraf faced a major crisis following the December 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at a campaign rally as she sought to become prime minister for a third time.
The public suspected Musharraf’s hand in the murder, which he denied. A later United Nations report acknowledged that the Pakistani Taliban was a prime suspect in her assassination, but warned that elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services may have been involved.
Musharraf resigned as president in August 2008 after ruling coalition officials threatened to oust him for imposing a state of emergency and firing judges.
Then he lived abroad in Dubai and London. Pakistan instead arrested the former general over treason charges over the Supreme Court debacle and other allegations stemming from the Red Mosque raid and Bhutto’s assassination.
Pakistan allowed him to leave the country on bail for medical treatment in Dubai in 2016 and he remained there after receiving a later overturned death sentence.