Pervez Musharraf, the former army general and president of Pakistan who ruled for almost a decade after seizing power in a coup in 1999, has died in Dubai after a long illness.
The Pakistani military confirmed his death in a statement, expressing “heartfelt condolences on the sad demise of Gen Pervez Musharraf, former president, CJCSC and chief of army staff”.
Musharraf, 79, was one of Pakistan’s most divisive leaders. His rule was marked by oppression, human rights abuses and a weakening of democracy, but also a period of economic growth. In 2019, a court found Musharraf guilty of high treason for his actions as president, including suspending the constitution in 2007. He was sentenced to death by a special court but that was later overturned.
Since 2016, he had lived in exile between the UK and the Middle East after being allowed to leave Pakistan for medical treatment.
Musharraf had amyloidosis, a rare disease that occurs when an abnormal protein builds up in organs and interferes with normal functions. He was admitted to hospital in the UAE last year. Last year he had expressed a desire to return to Pakistan to spend the “rest of his life” in his home country, but it had been met with fierce resistance by politicians and the public.
Musharraf’s body will be brought back to Pakistan for burial on Monday.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, whose brother the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was overthrown and imprisoned by Musharraf when he seized power in 1999, tweeted a short message offering his “condolences to the family of Gen (rtd) Pervez Musharraf. May the departed soul rest in peace.”
Musharraf was born in pre-partition Delhi and his family moved to Karachi after 1947. He quickly rose through the ranks of the army and was Pakistan’s top military general when he led a bloodless coup against the Nawaz Sharif government. After seizing power, he suspended the constitution, declared a state of emergency and designated himself the “chief executive”.
Under the new military rule, Nawaz Sharif was put on trial for treason and forced into exile to Saudi Arabia. In 2001, Musharraf formally appointed himself president and oversaw several changes to Pakistan’s constitution. Over the course of the next seven years, civil and democratic institutions in the country were eroded while the military’s control over politics was even more deeply entrenched.
After the 9/11 attacks, Musharraf became known for allying closely with the US on its War on Terror and was once described by President George W Bush as a “courageous leader and friend of the United States”. However, his decision to support the US invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and fight extremism from Pakistani soil would prove deeply unpopular after it led to heavy civilian casualties and left a lasting legacy of anti-western sentiment in the country.
According to Musharraf, the Bush administration had threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the stone age” if the country did not cooperate with America’s war on Afghanistan.
As Musharraf began to lose support around 2007, his rule became even more draconian. He suspended the constitution again, imposed martial law, sacked the chief justice of the supreme court and arrested activists and lawyers, prompting mass protests.
After the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who had returned to Pakistan to fight Musharraf in the election, the national mood soured even more and calls began to grow for him to be impeached. He resigned in 2008 and was forced into exile.
Musharraf had returned to Pakistan in 2013 in a bid to return to power but he was disqualified for life from running and faced an arrest warrant for his alleged involvement in the assassination of Bhutto. He was put on trial for treason but the country’s powerful military establishment allowed him to leave the country in 2016 on medical grounds. In 2019, he was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to death for treason, but a court later nullified the ruling.
The response to his death in Pakistan was muted, with many senior figures refraining from commenting on his complex legacy out of respect.