Musharraf returns to Pakistan amid Taliban threat

After more than four years in self-imposed exile the former general who led Pakistan for nearly a decade has returned to his homeland to a noisy but relatively modest reception.Pervez Musharraf, the former army chief who grabbed power in a military coup in 1999, hopes to reclaim a role in national life by leading his party in historic elections in seven weeks’ time.
But despite concerted efforts to generate excitement, including a smattering of tweets and photos showing the various stages of his journey from his home in Dubai on Sunday morning, he was greeted at the VIP terminal at Karachi airport by about 1,500 people – a small crowd by the standard of Pakistani politics. Many of his supporters claimed more police blocked people from coming to the airport, but there were no signs of any restrictions on the roads.
It was a far cry from the return of Benazir Bhutto from exile in 2007 when vast crowds of her supporters flocked to the streets to watch her pass in a slow moving procession from the airport in Karachi, which was attacked by a suicide bomber. She survived the attack but was later killed at a rally in Rawalpindi
Senior police officials say they have been inundated with security threats against Musharraf too.
On Saturday, the Pakistani Taliban released a video in which Adnan Rashid, a former Pakistani air force officer who has previously attempted to assassinate Musharraf, boasted that the organisation had prepared a “death squad for Musharraf” including suicide bombers, snipers and a “close combat team”.
Officials in Karachi refused to grant Musharraf permission to travel in a procession to the grand tomb of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father.
Hours after his regular commercial flight touched down in the southern port city he finally emerged on the steps of the VIP terminal at Karachi airport only after most of the crowd had been dispersed by police.
Musharraf directed his waves and fist bumps towards a nearby bank of television cameras and journalists, a handful of whom were wearing body armour. With no equipment to amplify his voice, only the television microphones had any chance of picking up what he had to say.
“Where has the Pakistan I left five years ago gone?” Musharraf asked. “My heart cries tears of blood when I see the state of the country today. I have come back for you. I want to restore the Pakistan I left.” Musharraf has a small but committed fanbase in Pakistan. “He is an honest man, a risk-taker and a go-getter,” said Farooq Dawood, a retired naval officer among the crowd to greet him. “He could have continued enjoying a very good life in Dubai, but he would rather be here trying to serve his country.”
Despite Musharraf’s willingness to take risks, he avoided coming back to Pakistan while the threat of arrest hung over him, preferring instead to bide his time in London and Dubai. He faces charges of failing to provide adequate security to Bhutto on her return, the alleged murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti, and treason in the case of his sacking of Pakistan’s top judges in 2007.
But last week Musharraf was granted protective bail by a judge, meaning there was no risk of his being arrested the moment he stepped off the plane. The decision prompted Human Rights Watch to warn that he should not be allowed “to elude serious legal proceedings against him”.
His old political enemies also seem to have softened their line, apparently no longer seeing him as any great threat. The PML-N, the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister deposed by Musharraf in 1999, has softened his tone against the former dictator, saying all Pakistani citizens have a right to live in their country.
The return to democracy in 2008 has not impressed Musharraf’s supporters who despair at the record of the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP), which swept to power at the head of a coalition government after Bhutto was assassinated on the campaign trail.
“Democracy is not working in Pakistan,” said Moiz Iqbal, a 24-year-old accountancy student. “People are poor in Pakistan, we just want peace and economic stability.
“It doesn’t matter if we are a democracy or a dictatorship as long as we have peace, employment and a good economy.”
Despite persistent fears that democracy in Pakistan will once again be interrupted, the country continues to move remorselessly towards historic general elections on 11 May, which, if successful, will be the first time one democratically elected government has handed over power to another.
In another important step, the election commission of Pakistan on Saturday announced that Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, an 84-year-old retired judge, would serve as interim prime minister in the runup to election day.
Meanwhile, the country’s two biggest parties, the PPP and the PML-N, continue to make preparations for what is set to be a tightly fought campaign.
Imran Khan, a rising politician determined to challenge the established parties, has also been ramping up his campaign. On Saturday, he attracted crowds estimated to be in excess of 100,000 to a mass rally in Lahore held by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Few analysts believe Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) will be anything more than a sideshow to the three-way tussle between the PPP, PML and PTI.
Talat Masood, a retired general who knows Musharraf well, said the former president had greatly overestimated his importance in the country. “He will create only a few ripples here and there but at the moment does not have a political constituency, does not have an organisation, and his support [is] very limited,” he said.
Raza Rumi, director of the Jinnah Institute thinktank, said the former army chief suffered from “delusions of grandeur”.
“He truly does not have much of a support base,” he said. “Some of the urban, middle-class people may like him who say his rule was good for the economy, but historically you have to have a real political party and supporters organised around a manifesto.”
Musharraf, who appears to partly gauge his support on Facebook followers (of which he claims he has more than Imran Khan), may even struggle to win a seat for himself.
There is speculation he will contest a seat in the mountain region of Chitral and possibly in Karachi as well if he succeeds in winning support from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a party that dominates the port city.
(Source: The Guardian via Muslim News UK)

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