(Reuters) - Pervez Musharraf, the four-star general who ruled Pakistan for nearly a decade after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999, oversaw rapid economic growth and attempted to usher in socially liberal values in the conservative Muslim country.
Musharraf, 79, died in hospital after a long illness after spending years in self-imposed exile, Pakistan media reported on Sunday. He enjoyed strong support for many years, his greatest threat al Qaeda and other militant who tried to kill him at least three times.
Born in New Delhi in 1943, Musharraf was four years old when his parents joined the mass exodus by Muslims to the newly created state of Pakistan. His father served in the foreign ministry, while his mother was a teacher and the family subscribed to a moderate, tolerant brand of Islam.
He joined the army at the age of 18, and went on to lead an elite commando unit before rising to become its chief. He took power by ousting the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who had tried to sack him for greenlighting an operation to invade Indian-held areas of Kashmir, bringing Pakistan and India to the brink of war.
In his early years in government, Musharraf won plaudits internationally for his reformist efforts, pushing through legislation to protect the rights of women and allowing private news channels to operate for the first time.
His penchant for cigars and imported whisky and his calls for Muslims to adopt a lifestyle of "enlightened moderation" increased his appeal in the West in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
He became one of Washington’s most important allies after the attacks, allowing U.S. forces to operate armed drones from secret bases on Pakistani soil that killed thousands and ordering domestic troops into the country’s lawless tribal areas along the Afghanistan frontier for the first time Pakistan’s history.
That helped legitimise his rule overseas but also helped plunge Pakistan into a bloody war against local extremist militant groups.
In a 2006 memoir, he took credit for saving Pakistan from American wrath saying the country had been warned it needed to be “prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age” if it did not ally itself with Washington.