Musharraf returns to 'save Pakistan,' but nation skeptical
General Pervez Musharraf ruled Pakistan for nine years until pushed into self-imposed exile. He returned today to stand for parliamentary elections in May.
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Musharraf also enjoys good relations with Karachi's dominant political party, says Sehgal. “The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) owes him big because he helped their revival after the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz targeted them in turn.” In what could be construed as a tacit form of support, the MQM’s chief Altaf Hussain – who also lives in exile in London – said on Saturday that the former president had a legal right to return to Pakistan and participate in politics. While the MQM supported Musharraf for a major part of his rule, it has denied reports that it was planning to collaborate with the All Pakistan Muslim League for the elections. The Pakistani media has also speculated that the Saudi royal family has told the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz – whose leadership it has a strong relationship with – not to create any trouble for Musharraf.Skip to next paragraph
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Unlike other politicians that are busy holding rallies, courting candidates, and preparing for the polls, Musharraf has a mountain of legal challenges ahead. Pakistan’s courts have ordered arrest warrants to be issued for Musharraf owing to his absence from several criminal proceedings, including of the murders of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. In 2011, the court hearing the late Ms. Bhutto’s murder trial ordered the confiscation of Musharraf’s top assets.
Ishaque said that Musharraf was returning to the country to “face all the charges against him.” His lawyers managed to stave off the prospect of their client being arrested on arrival by obtaining preventive bail. His arrival, Sehgal says, will also be an “embarrassment for the Army,” who “would not like to see him being treated like a common criminal.”
“His return,” Mr. Almeida says, “seems more a case of a former dictator who can’t quite accept his own irrelevance than someone who has genuine ideas about how to move Pakistan forward, or even out of the mess he helped create.”
Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999, overthrowing the government led by Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif. At the time, he said that the coup was not "martial law," but a "return to democracy." The nine years of his rule – during which he served as the head of the Army, a self-styled chief executive, and later as president – were marked by the war in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, a deadly spike in home-grown militancy, and an insurgency movement in Balochistan Province sparked by the murder of Mr. Bugti, a tribal leader.
Almeida notes that there is little hope for Musharraf to carve a niche for himself in politics. “While he is in Pakistan, he will never be far from the headlines and will be a regular feature on political talk shows. Beyond that, it’s hard to see how he can influence politics or policy. The most powerful argument against Musharraf: When you’ve had a decade in power already, what great, new contribution can he possibly come up with?”
(Musharraf visited the Monitor's Boston offices and gave an extended interview in 2002. The transcript highlights the promises and plans made by the general-president at the early stages of his rule.)
* Editor's note: The subheadline was updated to correct the number of years Musharraf ruled.
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