Musharraf May Gamble On Return To Pakistan

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf i i

In exile since 2008, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has announced his return to politics with the launch of a new political party and a potential run for the presidency. Here, he addresses members of the British Pakistani community in Birmingham in October. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf

In exile since 2008, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has announced his return to politics with the launch of a new political party and a potential run for the presidency. Here, he addresses members of the British Pakistani community in Birmingham in October.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf is contemplating a return home from exile — and a possible run for the presidency. But any comeback for the former president and army chief is fraught with uncertainties.

For Musharraf, who has been in exile since 2008, coming home would be like Sisyphus pushing the rock uphill. He faces the possibility of arrest for treason or an attempt by al-Qaida to kill him — they've tried before. Musharraf also must win back the support of the political class he alienated, the judges he fired, and the former underlings in the military who believe he disgraced them.

Opponent of Musharraf at a rally in October 2009 i i

A supporter of Pakistani opposition leader Nawaz Sharif -- a former prime minister who was arrested in 1999 by Musharraf -- symbolically beat Musharraf with a shoe during a rally in Karachi in 2009. Opposition to Musharraf's potential return to Pakistan is strong. Fareed Khan/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Fareed Khan/AP
Opponent of Musharraf at a rally in October 2009

A supporter of Pakistani opposition leader Nawaz Sharif -- a former prime minister who was arrested in 1999 by Musharraf -- symbolically beat Musharraf with a shoe during a rally in Karachi in 2009. Opposition to Musharraf's potential return to Pakistan is strong.

Fareed Khan/AP

Retired Pakistani Brig. Javed Hussein says it is impossible for Musharraf to regain the trust of the army he once ran because it resents the former general, who came to power in a military coup in 1999.

"[They are] resentful of the fact that he was using the army for his personal purposes to project himself. The army is quite sick of him, and they don't want to be embarrassed," Hussein says.

Analysts say senior and retired military officers also do not want to become entangled in the controversies attached to Musharraf. Investigators last week sought to question him about the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to ask why, despite threats on her life, security was not provided for her when she was killed in 2007.

The same year, Musharraf ordered the bloodiest assault in Islamabad's history — the storming of the Red Mosque to root out Islamist militants who had taken it over. Critics say that attack sowed the seeds for the militancy that plagues Pakistan today.

Analyst Najam Sethi says memories of all this would haunt Musharraf's return and a run for office in the 2013 election.

"The minute he comes back to Pakistan, the two mainstream parties — the one in government and the one in opposition — would launch all manner of criminal cases against him, and he would have a snowball's chance in hell of surviving," he says.

Musharraf supporter Malik Waheed, 33 i i

Toy store owner Malik Waheed, 33, expresses nostalgia for Musharraf's years in power. He remembers it as a time of prosperity and is not concerned by the former leader's poor record on human rights. He calls Musharraf a "pragmatist" who did not hesitate to make tough decisions. Julie McCarthy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy/NPR
Musharraf supporter Malik Waheed, 33

Toy store owner Malik Waheed, 33, expresses nostalgia for Musharraf's years in power. He remembers it as a time of prosperity and is not concerned by the former leader's poor record on human rights. He calls Musharraf a "pragmatist" who did not hesitate to make tough decisions.

Julie McCarthy/NPR

"Having said that, both parties are losing a lot of credibility because of their corruption and inefficiency, and I think in that sense a vacuum is being created into which Musharraf could conceivably flow," he says.

Mixed Memories Of Musharraf's Rule

At the central market in Rawalpindi, cart-pushers, vegetable vendors and shoppers watch prices rise and their incomes fall, and some are nostalgic for the time Musharraf was in power.

Malik Waheed, 33, owns a toy store and says he supports Musharraf's possible return. He says during Musharraf's rule, the country experienced prosperity, and business and employment were better.

When asked if it troubles him that Musharraf was viewed as a dictator, Waheed says no.

"His tenure was good," he says.

But deeper among the market's stalls, shop owner Sheikh Jabbar is indignant over the fact a former "dictator" would be attempting to revive his political career. In addition, he says, Musharraf "got a lot of money from the West to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida. But that money did not benefit Pakistan at all."

Musharraf has made much of the response he's received from young people on his Facebook page. But 22-year-old international relations student Raja Qaiser notes there is no "dislike" option on the site.

If there were, he says, the "dislikes" would outnumber the "likes" 10 to 1.

"I visited his website — the monotonous stance. But my question is: He has served this country for 10 years; did he make any remarkable achievement in these 10 years? No. So why should I try him again? No, I will not," Qaiser says.

'Anything's Possible'

Pakistan has a history of leaders in exile returning home.

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Musharraf's former information minister, says the fortunes of his old boss could improve.

"The numbers could change. This is a very emotional nation," he says.

Rashid says no one ever expected current President Asif Ali Zardari — the deeply unpopular widower of Benazir Bhutto — to win office.

"If Zardari can be the president of Pakistan, anything's possible," he says.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.