Musharraf finally gives up "saving" Pakistan

ISLAMABAD Mon Aug 18, 2008 9:23am EDT

1 of 15. A man watches a televised speech of President Pervez Musharraf to the nation in Islamabad August 18, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mian Khursheed

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Faced with the humiliation of impeachment, former army chief Pervez Musharraf quit as Pakistan president on Monday, having lost political, popular and increasingly even U.S. support.

Born in New Delhi on August 11, 1943, Musharraf arrived with his parents in Karachi, Pakistan's first capital, a day after the Partition of India in 1947.

A career army officer, Musharraf came to power in a 1999 coup, went on to be a close U.S. ally in the war against terror, and narrowly survived al Qaeda-inspired assassination attempts.

His enemies said he betrayed Islam by caving in to U.S. pressure to abandon support for the Taliban government hosting al Qaeda in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He believed he saved Pakistan.

The U.S. government sank more than $11 billion into Pakistan, mostly its military, and expected Musharraf to produce results.

Pakistan captured hundreds of al Qaeda, and lost over 1,000

soldiers fighting in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Yet suspicions lingered that Pakistani intelligence agencies played a double-game, allowing the Taliban safe refuge.

The alliance with the United States was always a hard sell in Pakistan, and contributed to Musharraf's unpopularity.

Regarded as a military dictator, he was treated initially as a pariah by the West, but at home was seen as a different kind of general when he first seized power.

He had a friendly, straight-talking charm and after a decade of inept, corrupt civilian rule, many Pakistanis welcomed the overthrow of prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Musharraf's favorite film was "Gladiator", the tale of an honorable general who saves Rome from a wicked emperor.

SAVIOUR COMPLEX

Critics say Musharraf suffered from a "savior complex", believing he was indispensable for Pakistan, but in late 2007, people welcomed back from exile Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, the leaders they were disillusioned with a decade earlier.

Musharraf had promised to return Pakistan to democracy, but critics say he stifled political freedom.

A 2002 general election was widely seen as rigged. The pliant parliament that emerged elected Musharraf president. He turned to it again to re-elect him before its term ended in late 2007.

As challenges mounted, Musharraf reverted to autocratic ways. His downfall will be traced back to March 9, 2007, when he tried to force Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to resign.

Chaudhry's defiance mobilized a lawyers' movement to defend the judiciary and galvanized the opposition.

Out of desperation, Musharraf last November imposed emergency rule for six weeks to purge the judiciary before the Supreme Court could rule on the legality of his re-election.

Having secured a second term, Musharraf quit the army to meet a constitutional requirement, and set an election date.

Bhutto was killed on December 27 while campaigning, sparking a forest fire of conspiracy theories, most damaging to Musharraf.

Led by Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistan People's Party won the vote in February and forged an alliance with Sharif that completed Musharraf's isolation.

FEET OF CLAY

Musharraf had always held up the economy as one of his successes. Brought back from the brink of bankruptcy and made more open and investor friendly, Pakistan became one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

But the gap between rich and poor widened, and soaring international food and energy prices along with mismanagement during the last year undid much of the good.

Musharraf's more lasting legacy may be a peace process with India launched in 2004, two years after the nuclear-armed rivals went to the brink of a fourth war.

Otherwise, Musharraf ultimately disappointed many who hoped he would lead Pakistan out of political morass and growing religious conservatism.

Some liberals perceived a kindred spirit in the bluff ex-commando, who liked a peg of whisky and wasn't shy of being photographed with his pet Pekingese, despite more orthodox Muslim taboos regarding alcohol and dogs.

Musharraf appeared set on rolling back Islamisation policies put in place earlier, even though critics say his marginalization of mainstream parties enabled Islamist ones to gain influence.

Rape laws were amended to give women more protection, but otherwise Musharraf's liberal inclinations were hobbled by the conservatives he needed for support.

His lack of resolve was manifest in a half-hearted attempt to reform religious schools seen as nurseries for militancy.

He paid a price. Appeasement emboldened radical clerics in charge of Islamabad's Red Mosque. After shooting broke out in July last year, Musharraf ordered a commando assault on the complex and more than 100 people were killed.

A wave of suicide attacks in retaliation killed hundreds, and as Pakistan became increasingly unstable, more people asked if Musharraf was part of the problem.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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