Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup and later led a reluctant Pakistan into aiding the U.S. war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, has died, an official said Sunday. He was 79.
Musharraf, a former special forces commando, became president through the last of a string of military coups that roiled Pakistan since its founding amid the bloody 1947 partition of India. He ruled the nuclear-armed state after his 1999 coup through tensions with India, an atomic proliferation scandal and an Islamic extremist insurgency. He stepped down 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 wasn’t to be as his poor health plagued his last years.
Musharraf’s family announced in June 2022 that he had been hospitalized for weeks while suffering from amyloidosis, an incurable condition that sees proteins build up in the body’s organs.
Shazia Siraj, a spokeswoman for the Pakistani Consulate in Dubai, confirmed his death and said diplomats were providing support to his family.
Pakistan, a nation nearly twice the size of California along the Arabian Sea, is now home to 220 million people. But it would be its border with Afghanistan that would soon draw the U.S. attention and dominate Musharraf’s life a little under two years after he seized power.
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan saw Taliban fighters flee over the border back into Pakistan, including Osama bin Laden, whom the U.S. would kill in 2011 at a compound in Abbottabad. They regrouped and the offshoot Pakistani Taliban emerged, beginning a years long insurgency in the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Militants tried to assassinate Musharraf twice in 2003 by targeting his convoy, first with a bomb planted on a bridge and then with car bombs. That second attack saw Musharraf’s vehicle lifted into the air by the blast. It raced to safety on just its rims, Musharraf pulling a Glock pistol in case he needed to fight his way out.
Born Aug. 11, 1943, in New Delhi, India, Musharraf was the middle son of a diplomat. His family joined millions of other Muslims in fleeing westward when predominantly Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan split during independence from Britain in 1947.
Musharraf entered the Pakistani army at age 18 and made his career there as Islamabad fought three wars against India. He’d launch his own attempt at seizing territory in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir in 1999 just before seizing power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
As a ruler, Musharraf nearly reached a deal with India on Kashmir, according to U.S. diplomats at the time. He also worked toward a rapprochement with Pakistan’s longtime rival.
Musharraf’s domestic support eventually eroded. He held flawed elections in late 2002 — only after changing the constitution to give himself sweeping powers to sack the prime minister and parliament. He then reneged on a promise to stand down as army chief by the end of 2004.
Militant and citizen anger toward Musharraf increased in 2007 when he ordered a raid against the Red Mosque in downtown Islamabad. It had become a sanctuary for militants opposed to Pakistan’s support of the Afghan war. The weeklong operation killed over 100 people.
Fearing the judiciary would block his continued rule, Musharraf fired the chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. That triggered mass demonstrations.
Under pressure at home and abroad to restore civilian rule, Musharraf stepped down as army chief. Though he won another five-year presidential term, Musharraf faced a major crisis following former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007 at a campaign rally as she sought to become prime minister for the third time.
The public suspected Musharraf’s hand in the killing, which he denied. A later United Nations report acknowledged the Pakistani Taliban was a main suspect in her slaying 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 have him impeached for imposing emergency rule and firing judges.
Afterward, he lived abroad in Dubai and London. Pakistan instead arrested the former general on treason allegations over the Supreme Court debacle and other charges stemming from the Red Mosque raid and Bhutto’s assassination.
Pakistan allowed him to leave the country on bail to Dubai in 2016 for medical treatment and he remained there after facing a later-overturned death sentence.