Pervez Musharraf had established Pakistan as a key ally of the United States in its “war on terror” following the September 11 attacks.
He died after a long illness in Dubai, where he was hospitalised. The former elite commando, born in Delhi on 11 August 1943, four years before the partition of Pakistan, was chief of staff of the army when he overthrew the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif in October 1999 without bloodshed.
Pervez Musharraf proclaimed himself President of Pakistan in June 2001, before winning a controversial referendum in April 2002.
After the US invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, he aligned his country with Washington’s positions.
Pervez Musharraf then presented himself as a regional bulwark against al-Qaeda, whose leaders, allied with the Taliban, had found refuge in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. He escaped at least three assassination attempts by al-Qaeda.
During his nine years in power, Pakistan saw its economic growth take off, its middle class expand, the media liberalise and the army play the appeasement card against rival India.
But his opponents have repeatedly denounced his grip on power, the “illegal” dismissal of Supreme Court judges, the imposition of a state of emergency and the bloody assault on heavily armed Islamists who took refuge in the Red Mosque in Islamabad in the summer of 2007. In December 2019, a special court had sentenced Pervez Musharraf to death in absentia for “high treason”, for having instituted the state of emergency in 2007. But his conviction was overturned shortly afterwards.
In this Muslim country, this cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking man was initially perceived as a moderate, before taking exceptional measures to seek to remain in power.
His declaration that “the constitution is just a piece of paper to be thrown away” and his legacy have continued to divide opinion in a nation that has seen several military coups since its founding in 1947.
In his memoir “In the Line of Fire”, he cited Napoleon Bonaparte and Richard Nixon as role models for leaders, both of whom were known for their tenacity but whose hubris caused their downfall.
General Musharraf had met little opposition until he tried to remove the chief justice in March 2007, triggering nationwide protests and months of unrest that led to the imposition of a state of emergency.
After the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, he suffered an election rout the following year and found himself isolated.
At the height of his unpopularity, under pressure from the judiciary and the victorious coalition in the polls, ready to launch impeachment proceedings against him, he was forced to resign in August 2008.
He then began a luxurious self-imposed exile between London and Dubai, financed in part by generous fees for his lectures around the world.
Nostalgic, he had announced his return several times, before changing his mind for fear of being imprisoned upon arrival.
In August 2017, the Pakistani judiciary declared him a “fugitive” in the murder trial of Benazir Bhutto, the first woman in the modern era to lead a Muslim country. He is suspected of having taken part in a vast conspiracy to kill his rival before an election, which he has always denied.