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History, Musharraf Takes Power

Karachi airport, autocratic rule, Musharraf, tax net, Commonwealth of Nations

The Pakistani military accused Sharif of giving in too easily to pressure from India and for pinning the blame for the Kargil attack on army chief Pervez Musharraf. In October 1999 Sharif tried to dismiss Musharraf from his position. He attempted to prevent Musharraf’s return to Pakistan from abroad by refusing to let his airplane land. The commercial airplane was forced to circle the Karachi airport until army forces loyal to Musharraf took over the airport. Army forces also seized control of the government in a bloodless coup that lasted less than three hours.

Musharraf declared himself the chief executive of Pakistan, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the legislature. He appointed an eight-member National Security Council to function as the country’s supreme governing body. Many Pakistanis, already chafing under Sharif’s increasingly autocratic rule and suffering from a sagging Pakistani economy after ten years of government excesses and corruption, welcomed the coup. Sharif was arrested, and in April 2000 he was convicted of abuse of power and other charges and sentenced to life imprisonment; his sentence was subsequently commuted and he was allowed to live in exile in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Pakistan set a deadline of October 2002 for holding national elections to restore civilian rule. The Commonwealth of Nations, however, formally suspended Pakistan’s membership because the coup ousted a civilian government.

After assuming power, Musharraf’s military government adopted a reformist posture. It identified economic reform as the most urgent measure needed to restore the confidence of foreign and local investors. As part of this strategy, Musharraf initiated an ambitious program based on accountability, improved governance, and widening of the tax net. However, in the wake of the coup new international sanctions were imposed to oppose the military regime. Donor agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were unwilling to provide new loans or reschedule Pakistan’s foreign debt.

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