Pro-Western Pakistani ex-president dies at 79

Photo: Spencer Platt/ GettyImages

Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf died on Sunday following a prolonged illness at a hospital in Dubai, after almost seven years in self-imposed exile.

“I can confirm that he passed away this morning,” Shazia Siraj, spokesperson for Pakistan’s consulate in Dubai and embassy in Abu Dhabi, told Reuters. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi, and the chiefs of the country’s army, navy, and air force each expressed condolences on his death.

A special flight will be made to Dubai on Monday to bring Musharraf’s body back to Pakistan for burial, local TV channel Geo News reported.

Musharraf’s achievements

The former four-star general seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. Soon after he oversaw rapid economic growth and attempted to usher in socially liberal values in the extremely conservative Muslim country.

Musharraf enjoyed strong support for many years, despite al Qaeda and other militant Islamists who tried to kill him at least three times.

However, his heavy-handed use of the military to quell dissent as well as his continued backing of the United States in its fight against al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban ultimately led to his downfall.

“He is called a military dictator, but there has never been a stronger democratic system than that under him,” former close Musharraf aide Fawad Chaudhry said.

“He gave Pakistan a free media and he stressed on the diversity of opinion in Pakistan,” he added.

Pakistan and the ‘war on terror’

Musharraf joined what Washington called its “war on terror” after September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Pakistan provided U.S. forces ground and air access to landlocked Afghanistan to chase down the al Qaeda militants identified as being behind the plot.

The support was contrary to Pakistan’s longstanding policy of support for the Taliban, who then and now control neighboring Afghanistan. This made Musharraf a target for militants in Pakistan as well as caused him to lose support among conservative elements in Pakistan and eventually lose power in 2008.

Later on, he was allowed abroad for medical treatment even as he faced a treason case in Pakistan, Musharraf last flew to Dubai in 2016.