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The Death of a Former Head of State received no state funeral in Pakistan. What is Musharraf’s legacy?

An authoritarian dictator, or beloved hero? For some, Pervaiz Musharraf’s represents the tyranny of military rule in Pakistan. For others, a beam of progression for the country into the 21st century.

On Feb. 5, General Pervez Musharraf took his final breath in Dubai after battling amyloidosis for a prolonged period of time. The only ex-President to have died in exile, self-imposed as it may have been, Musharraf divided Pakistan since he first entered the government, and his death only furthered the divide.
In 1998, Musharraf was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff by then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. While relations between the two officials were always strained, it can be argued that it was when the PM was forced to withdraw troops — led by Musharraf — from the Kargil War against India, that their animosity reached an unprecedented peak.
For two of the most powerful men in the country, in any country, holding grudges can never end well.
In October of 1999, as Musharraf returned to Pakistan from an event in Colombo, Sharif’s government refused to let his plane land in Karachi. In his memoir, he writes, “The whole thing seemed diabolical. Since India was the country closest to us, we would have no option but to go there, given our dangerously low fuel level. This would put us in the hands of our most dangerous enemy, against whom we had fought three full-blown wars. It was unbelievable –an order of this kind coming from the Pakistan authorities to an aircraft of Pakistan’s own national airline with Pakistan’s army chief and Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee on board.”
Considering his options, Musharraf contacted those on-ground in Karachi, when he found out that Sharif had announced the General’s resignation and appointed a new Chief of Army. Loyal to their previous commander, the army took over Jinnah International Airport and subsequently the entire country in a bloodless coup, to declare Musharraf as not only the head of a new military government but also, controversially, the President of Pakistan. For context, the constitution of Pakistan does not allow one individual to hold both those offices.
Full of controversial decisions, Musharraf’s near decade in power polarized the country. While some lauded him for his economic reforms, others criticized his anti-democratic laws. While a portion of the country was enraged over his pro-Western agendas, the other simply felt represented by the first Mohajir (immigrant) President. Mohajirs, consisting of less than 7 percent of the country, are those who migrated from (North) India after the partition in 1947. The fact that an Urdu-speaking individual from Karachi, which is arguably known as the step-child of the country, held the highest office in the country was enough to ignore any flaws he may have.
In 2001, after the September 11 attacks in New York, the United States launched a ‘war on terror.’ With an ideal geopolitical location, Pakistan, under the leadership of Musharraf cooperated with the States to be hailed as a [“strong defender of freedom,”] ( by George W. Bush, who then authorized 18 billion USD in military and non-military support for the country between 2002 and 2011. Most of this aid was spent on the military, and the rest on the country’s economy. However, unsurprisingly, his alliance with the US antagonized the Islamic militants, who repeatedly attempted to assassinate him, as well as take over the capital, Islamabad. Although all in vain, Musharraf’s greater problem was the unification of his critics over the political spectrum.
After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, “forced disappearances” started happening in the country. Pakistan was targeted by numerous terrorist agencies and subsequent attacks, and it is said that a large number of ‘suspects’ were taken away by government agencies. While none of this could ever be tied to the General directly, he was charged with various human rights violations after his resignation.
Liberals, who once favored him as their best bet against the growing Taliban population in Pakistan, began abandoning him over decisions like dismissing the Chief Justice. As protests against him grew in 2007, he resigned from his position as Chief of Army Staff to become the President. Later that year, he declared a state of emergency in the country to suppress rising protests against him.
In December, one of his main critics and political rivals, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, pointing all fingers at the President. While he denied it, in a matter of months, Bhutto’s political party emerged victorious in the general elections. Many, regardless of their support for the President, believe Bhutto’s assassination had more to do with people within her own party and even family, than Musharraf who self-exiled in Dubai after threats of impeachment grew.
In 2010, Musharraf returned to Pakistan to form his own party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, which suffered a humiliating defeat by none other than Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League. The new government initiated a treason trial against Musharraf for suspending the country’s constitution twice during his rule. A few years later, in 2019, a special court found him guilty in absentia of high treason and subverting the constitution and sentenced him to death. While the decision was later revoked, Musharraf never returned to Pakistan. Soon after, he was diagnosed with amyloidosis and died earlier this week.
The dark shadow of his reign haunts Pakistan — not only in the aftermath and consequences of his foreign and domestic policies, but also in dividing an already divided country. While his funeral in Karachi was attended by bureaucrats and current and ex-government officials, the nature of his reign meant there would be no state funeral.
For countries like Pakistan that have gone through multiple military governments, some objectively worse than others, how far is too far for someone working in the best interest of the country? While he objectively committed constitutional crimes, what would have happened had Musharraf not taken over from Sharif? While many argue Pakistan’s economy, particularly in the often-neglected Karachi, bloomed in his time, what would the country have looked like today had it not been for his coup?
These are all questions that Pakistanis still debate over. Only time will tell if the negative consequences of Musharraf’s actions outweigh the positive.
Shanzae Ashar Siddiqi is Senior Features Editor. Email her at
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