Musharraf’s Ambiguous Legacy

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation brings to an end one of the more interesting curiosities of subcontinental politics: for more than four years, Pakistan had a president who was born in India, while India had a Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) who was born in Pakistan. Since the two countries’ separation is now more than six decades old, that anomaly is unlikely to be repeated. But it is not the only reason Indians are greeting Musharraf’s exit with mixed feelings.

Musharraf was someone who was easy to hate across the border. He had, after all, risen to the top of the military on the back of the Pakistani army’s Islamist elements, who came into their own (in what had previously been a rather Anglophile, British- and American-trained officer corps) during the decade-long reign of a fundamentalist military ruler, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

Indeed, though Musharraf displayed an urbane image, enjoyed his Scotch, and admired Turkey, he was not one of the Pakistani secularists so admired by Indian liberals. Instead, he cultivated a reputation as an anti-Indian hardliner. The fact that his family had fled India upon Partition gave him an additional chip on his shoulder: it was widely said that he saw relations with India as a series of opportunities to wreak vengeance for what his family had suffered in the refugee upheavals of 1947.

As Chief of the Army Staff, Musharraf directed the disastrous Kargil invasion of 1999, when Pakistan sent its soldiers surreptitiously across the cease-fire lines to capture strategically vital heights overlooking a key Indian road. Musharraf was recorded by Indian intelligence boasting about the action on an open telephone line during a visit to Beijing. Because the invasion was manifestly illegal and provocative, Pakistan denied that official soldiers were involved, with the result that when they were repulsed, at great cost to both sides, Musharraf refused to accept his own soldiers’ bodies. It was a low point in Indo-Pakistan relations, and no one in Delhi was prepared to trust Musharraf ever again.