AFP : Musharraf: steely leader in a difficult job

Monday, August 18, 2008

Musharraf: steely leader in a difficult job

ISLAMABAD, Aug 18 (AFP): During nine turbulent years as Pakistan's leader, Pervez Musharraf insisted time and again that he was the only person who could save Pakistan.

And when the 64-year-old former commando finally gave up and resigned as president on Monday in the face of impeachment proceedings by the governing coalition, he maintained that line.

“Sometimes I think I should do something to steer out the country out of crisis. But also I think that I should not do anything which should prolong the uncertainty,” he said in a televised address.

When then-army chief General Musharraf ousted elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in 1999, many Pakistanis handed out sweets at the end of a corrupt and economically disastrous administration.

A whisky-tippling moderate fond of dogs, Musharraf won praise for trying to tackle Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants and presided over a period of record growth.

He also showed a steely nerve in what has been dubbed the world's most dangerous job -- one in which he has escaped at least three assassination attempts by Al-Qaeda.

Musharraf was born in Old Delhi on August 11, 1943. His family moved to the newly-created Pakistan shortly after independence in 1947.

He said he had his first brush with death falling out of a mango tree as a boy.

He joined the Pakistan Military Academy at age 18 and became a commando in 1966, but he admitted “my bluntness and indiscipline landed me in many a serious trouble” until his marriage in 1968.

He now has a son and a daughter.

On October 7, 1998, then-prime minister Sharif appointed him chief of staff.

A year later amid political tensions, on October 12, 1999, Sharif tried to sack Musharraf when the general was on an airliner returning from Sri Lanka [...], triggering what Musharraf calls his “counter-coup.

”The premier ordered the jet not to land in Pakistan, but Musharraf's fellow generals arrested Sharif and took over Karachi airport, where the plane landed with only seven minutes of fuel left.

With no experience in civilian leadership, Musharraf was forced to rely on opportunist political allies and got a boost from US support after the September 11 attacks.

He won a five-year term as president in an April 2002 referendum. In 2004, he reneged on a subsequent promise to quit as army chief.

He faced no serious challenges until he tried to sack the country's chief justice in March 2007, a move designed to remove a key hurdle to his legal manoeuvres to stay in the top spot.

Instead it sparked nationwide protests and months of turmoil that led to the imposition of a state of emergency in November 2007.

Under international pressure, he quit as chief of the powerful army a few weeks later.

After the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in December, the national mood turned even further against him and the crushing losses suffered by his allies in parliament left him increasingly isolated.

Having resigned, Musharraf's fate remains uncertain.

His aides were lobbying for him to remain in Pakistan and live at his half-built farmhouse outside Islamabad -- but the ruling coalition appears unlikely to agree.