ISTANBUL - TDN with wire dispatches
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who spent his early childhood in Turkey owing to his father's diplomatic posting in Ankara and is reported to be fluent in Turkish, submitted his resignation yesterday after a turbulent nine years in office.
The 64-year-old former commando, who grabbed power in a coup and later dragged a reluctant Islamic nation into the U.S.-led war on terror, characterizes himself as "a moderate leader with liberal, progressive ideas," and repeatedly expresses his admiration for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.
The former Pakistani general devotes a chapter in his autobiography, �In the Line of Fire: A Memoir� on his life in Turkey. Even Turkish soccer team, Besiktas Club, sent a membership card to Musharraf who is known as a fan of Besiktas.
In 1999, just after coming to power, he paid a controversial visit to Turkey, his first visit to a NATO country, and compared himself to Gen. Kenan Evren, who overthrew the Turkish government in a coup in 1980. Musharraf said he regarded himself as "a soldier and not a politician" and like Evren, planned to "silently fade away."
But during nine turbulent years in the line of fire as Pakistan's leader, he insisted time and again that he was the only person who could save Pakistan. And when he finally gave up the fight, he maintained that line.
"Sometimes I think that I should do something to steer the country out of crisis. But also I think that I should not do anything which prolongs the uncertainty," he said in a televised address.
When then-army chief Musharraf ousted Nawaz Sharif, the elected prime minister, in 1999, many Pakistanis handed out sweets at the end of a corrupt and economically disastrous administration.
But for all his repeated jokes about leaving the running of the country to the government and playing tennis and golf instead, his real sport has been keeping hold of power.
"He suffers from a highly inflated image of himself," Talat Masood, a former general-turned-political analyst, told Agence France-Presse. "All dictators eventually think that they are the savior, that without them the state will collapse and that they are destined to play that role," Masood said.
Musharraf was born in Old Delhi on Aug. 11, 1943, and his family moved to the newly created Pakistan shortly after independence four years later. 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 Oct. 7, 1998, then-prime minister Sharif appointed him chief of staff. Amid political tensions, Sharif tried to sack Musharraf when the general was on an airliner returning from Sri Lanka a year later, 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 U.S. support after the Sept. 11 attacks.
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.
The government would like to send him into exile, possibly to Turkey, Britain or Saudi Arabia. However, none of them have offered him refuge yet.