Musharraf Returns to Pakistan Ending Exile Before Elections

Former Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who quit as president in 2008 to avoid possible impeachment and went into exile, returned to his country yesterday vowing to contest May’s general election.

His party secured a bail agreement to prevent the ex-dictator being arrested on arrival in the nation, where he faces charges of illegally detaining judges and failing to provide adequate security for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto before her 2007 assassination.

“I will face the courts,” Musharraf told supporters at the Karachi airport. “I was not afraid to face them before. I am not afraid to face them today.”

Since stepping down, Musharraf has based himself in the Gulf emirates and London. Several thousand people greeted the former president, carrying his party’s flag and banners welcoming him. Security, including police, paramilitary and airport security force, searched vehicles and passers-by.

He arrived a week after the government of Asif Ali Zardari, who succeeded Musharraf as president, became the first civilian administration in the nation’s history to complete its full term and prepare to transfer power through a ballot. Zardari, Bhutto’s widower, and his government had said they’d detain Musharraf if he returned.

While Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party has alienated voters amid power cuts, inflation above 7 percent and growing insecurity nationwide, Musharraf isn’t well placed to capitalize on its weakness at the ballot box.

‘Write Books’

“The best thing would be that he writes books rather than engage in politics,” Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political analyst based in Lahore, said March 20. “It’s a miscalculation on his part” if Musharraf considers a comeback is possible, he said.

The ex-general’s popularity collapsed as economic growth slowed in the last two years of his rule, and he imposed emergency restrictions that courts ruled illegal. His successor as Pakistan’s military commander, army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, ordered officers serving in civilian administrative posts to return to purely military functions.

The Peoples Party trails in opinion polls, winning half the support of its leading rival, the Pakistan Muslim League of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in a March 4 survey published by Gallup Pakistan. The country’s Election Commission appointed former judge Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, 83, as interim prime minister before the elections, after leading political parties failed to agree on a candidate

Ineffective Governments

As army chief, Musharraf grabbed power in 1999 in a bloodless coup that ousted Sharif. Pakistanis had been frustrated with a decade of corrupt and ineffective governments under Sharif and Bhutto, and opinion polls showed 70 percent of people supported the coup at the beginning.

Musharraf became a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York. He survived at least four attempts on his life by Islamic extremists while in power.

The former army chief blamed Bhutto’s murder on Taliban militant leader Baitullah Mehsud after she had vowed to help the U.S. eliminate the insurgents. A United Nations report in 2010 said Bhutto’s killing may have been prevented had security forces taken proper steps after death threats were made against her.

“There were biases and personal grudges that some people within the PPP government held against our president, and we wanted to avoid such behavior,” Aasia Ishaque, spokeswoman for Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League party, said by phone when asked about the timing of the former general’s return.“The party’s executive committee decided this was the best time to return home and focus on the elections,” she said.

Jinnah Footsteps

The Sindh High Court on March 22, awarded Musharraf so-called protective bail to prevent his detention at the airport in Karachi, his lawyers Salman Safdar and Ahmed Raza Kasuri told reporters. The order covers the Bhutto assassination, the murder of a separatist politician, Akbar Bugti, in the country’s southwestern Baluchistan province, and restrictions placed on judges in 2007 as Musharraf imposed emergency rule. He has to appear before judges hearing each case during the bail period.

“Musharraf chose Karachi for his return since this is the city Jinnah also arrived in, after independence,” Ishaque said. “We wanted the country’s savior to follow in the footsteps of the father of the nation.” Muhammad Ali Jinnah was the founder of Pakistan.

The former army chief will contest the May 11 election from two cities -- Chitral and Karachi, Ishaque said.

“The poor are being crushed under inflation,” Musharraf said. “I will make Pakistan for what it was when it was founded in 1947.”

Pakistan has been run by the military for half its history with three coups ousting civilian administrations.

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