Pervez Musharraf wielded absolute power after he took control of Pakistan in a military coup in 1999, ruling the South Asian country for nine years before being removed when his political party was routed in a general election.
Musharraf remained Pakistan’s army chief and appointed himself chief executive, and later president, during most of his rule, which saw a credit-driven economic boom cycle that came to an end by the latter years of his reign.
Since losing power, and seeing his political party failing to win any significant seats in two subsequent general elections, Musharraf has seen his political fortunes wane as he chose to live in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates after he was charged with treason in 2014.
The charge – for which he was handed the death penalty on Tuesday – was a divisive issue in Pakistani politics.
‘You are with us or against us’
Musharraf, 76, was born in the old city of New Delhi in 1943, four years before the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan. Shortly after partition, his parents left Delhi for the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, a haven for millions who left northern India for the newly created Muslim nation of Pakistan.
The son of a career diplomat, Musharraf was commissioned in Pakistan’s army in 1964, joining the officer corps and seeing action in the country’s 1965 and 1971 wars against India. He rose swiftly through the ranks, and, in 1998, was appointed as army chief by then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan’s powerful military has ruled the South Asian country for roughly half of its 72-year history, and the position is considered one of the most powerful in the country.
Musharraf and Prime Minister Sharif presided over Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May 1998, conducted in response to similar Indian tests in that country’s Pokhran region days earlier.
By October 1999, however, relations between the two leaders had soured considerably, and Sharif sought to dismiss Musharraf while he was on a flight back from an official visit to Sri Lanka.
Musharraf’s response was swift: He ordered the military to take control of state institutions and announced a state of emergency, with himself as “chief executive” of Pakistan, as soon as he landed.
He remained “chief executive” until 2002 when he organised a general election whose validity and fairness has widely been disputed. His PML-Q political party was ushered into power and he was appointed president, a post he continued to hold until he was removed in 2008.
Musharraf presided over a period of relative economic stability in Pakistan, liberalising markets and opening up lines of credit that fueled an economic boom for several years.
He was also at the forefront of the United States’s so-called “war on terror” in the region, as US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks on US soil.
Famously, Musharraf reported that he received a phone call from then US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who stated a clear ultimatum: “You are with us or against us.”
Musharraf chose the former, cutting off ties with the Afghan Taliban and facilitating the US war by allowing US and NATO supplies to flow through Pakistan into Afghanistan, authorising the use of US drone attacks in certain areas of Pakistan and offering other security assistance.
He also led a series of military operations against armed groups based on Pakistani soil, particularly focused in the largely lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In 2007, he ordered the military to storm a mosque in the capital Islamabad where a Muslim leader had begun to order attacks on local businesses for not complying with his edicts. More than 100 people were killed in the ensuing siege.
Controversially, Musharraf also concurrently held the army chief position until November 2007, which was also the month when he imposed a second “state of emergency” following widespread protests against his rule.
It is Musharraf’s actions in November 2007 that lay at the centre of the treason case against him. On November 3, he imposed a “state of emergency”, suspending the constitution and detaining senior political leaders and judges.
The crisis was precipitated in March 2007 by Musharraf’s attempt to remove then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a move the Supreme Court later deemed illegal. The attempt prompted widespread protests by lawyers across the country, who were later joined by political parties and other groups.
The unrest was accelerated by a stagnating economy and rising prices for household staples. By November, the protests had grown so widespread that Musharraf suspended his own government and imposed direct rule, also attempting to replace the higher judiciary with new judges.
Continuing to face pressure for holding the dual roles of army chief and president, Musharraf resigned from the former role, appointing General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, his intelligence chief, as his successor. He became a purely civilian president.
He ended the state of emergency by mid-December, after introducing legislation to protect some of the actions he had taken during that time.
In February 2008, a scheduled general election saw Musharraf’s PML-Q party routed, with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) coming to power, following the assassination of its leader, two-time former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, on the campaign trail in December 2007.
Musharraf resigned as president by August, replaced by PPP chairman and Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari. He spent the following years on lucrative speaking tours around the world, settling first in London and later in Dubai.
In 2010, he established a new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), but the party failed to gain much traction with Pakistani voters. The APML won a solitary seat in Parliament in 2013, and none in the 2018 election.
The 2013 election saw Musharraf’s bitter rival, Nawaz Sharif, return to power as prime minister, and his PML-N government wasted little time in starting the treason case against Musharraf.
In 2013, after Musharraf was briefly held under house arrest, the government asked the Supreme Court to try Musharraf for treason, with a special tribunal set up to hear the case in November.
With the death sentence handed to him on Tuesday, Musharraf is the first former military ruler to be held accountable for seizing power illegally in Pakistan’s history.
In March 2016, he left Pakistan for Dubai, after seeking permission from the Supreme Court to receive medical treatment, saying he would return “in a few weeks or months”.
He has not returned to Pakistan since, despite numerous court orders demanding he appear before the tribunal.
The case, meanwhile, has faced numerous delays, with proceedings picking up again in 2018 under orders from the Supreme Court. In 2019, the chief justice ordered the special court to deliver a verdict with or without Musharraf’s testimony.
Asad Hashim is a digital correspondent with Al Jazeera. He tweets @AsadHashim