Opinion: Musharraf's Resignation

The Game is Over

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf stepped down in the face of intense political pressure. His legacy is likely to be better than expected, argues Thomas Bärthlein. But there is still much to be achieved

President Musharraf (photo: dpa)
Musharraf, Pakistan's strongman since leading a military coup in 1999, announced he will step down in the face of an impending impeachment motion by the ruling coalition government

​​Pervez Musharraf has recognized - rather late - that the game is over. In the end, there was no one left to support him. Not the parliamentarians in his own party. Not the army, which he led for more than a decade. Not his long-time allies Washington, George Bush and Dick Cheney.

And above all, not the Pakistani people, some 80 percent of whom demanded his resignation, according to the most recent polls.

Musharraf's tactics worked for nearly a decade, and put him at the top of political power. His crowning achievement was to sell himself to the West as their indispensible ally in the "war on terror," in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

In Pakistan, where many people celebrated his putsch, he remained popular for a long time, above all among middle and upper-class liberals. They saw him as a moderate reformer who would reign in putative radical Islamists. Of course, the influential military also profited a great deal under the long leadership of the general, especially financially.

A difficult opponent in Chaudhry

But in March 2007, his political structures started to collapse like a house of cards. It became clearer and clearer that Pervez Musharraf had but a single political interest: Pervez Musharraf.

Iftikhar Chaudhry (photo: AP)
Not only the judges and lawyers, but the media, civic society, political parties and hundreds of thousands of citizens showed solidarity with Iftikhar Chaudhry

​​The president took on Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was becoming too independent for his tastes - and who consistently appealed for the rule of law.

Not only the judges and lawyers, but the media, civic society, political parties and hundreds of thousands of citizens showed solidarity with Chaudhry. They forced Musharraf to step down as commander in chief of the army this past autumn, and made him hold free elections in February.

In the end, it was a democratic movement, and it lends Musharraf's resignation on Monday, Aug. 18, historic dimensions. Democracy in Pakistan has won a dramatic power struggle.

Army's political role is changing

The Pakistani constitution is contradictory in that, on the one hand, it gives parliament the possibility to impeach its president, but also gives the president the power to dissolve parliament. But Musharraf's extreme isolation meant he couldn't even resort to that option.

The power struggle wasn't only between democrats and Musharraf. His power had a lot to do with the political role of the army. His resignation is likely to strengthen civil institutions in relation to the armed forces over the long term.

Some have celebrated Musharaf's announcement (photo: AP)
Pakistanis danced in the streets on Monday after beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation, with many ordinary people
hoping his departure would bring improvement to their lives

​​What has Musharraf left behind? In the end, the legacy of his rule appears likely to be more positive than it would currently appear.

Musharraf brought about a singular liberalization, particularly in the electronic media sector - even if he sometimes did it against his will. Society modernized thanks to a long-lasting economic revival.

Moderates in Pakistan are clearly stronger than they were before his putsch in 1999. Musharraf also played a decisive role in the peace process with neighboring India, where he is significantly more popular than he is at home.

Strengthening Islamic militants

On the negative side, there were authoritarian and often contradictory policies, especially in the so-called war on terror. Under Musharraf, Pakistani intelligence officers let hundreds of their countrymen "disappear."

Sometimes the air force would bomb supposed militant enclaves. But there was also the unmistakable feeling that the intelligence community supported extremists, when that would play a useful role in internal political power struggles.

This turned out to be a terribly counterproductive course of action when it came to dealing with extremist ideologues and militant insurgents like the Taliban. It made the Islamists martyrs in the eyes of many, and gave most Pakistanis the impression that the battle against the Taliban was only being waged on Washington's orders.

The only way out of this is true democracy. The parliament and the independent court system must be strengthened in order to stand up to the strong domestic and foreign forces that are used to pulling the behind-the-scenes strings of Pakistani politics. Musharraf's political heirs are inheriting an enormous responsibility.

Thomas Bärthlein

© DEUTSCHE WELLE 2008

Thomas Bärthlein is the deputy head of the South Asia service at Deutsche Welle

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