KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Here's a name you might not have heard in a while - Pervez Musharraf. In the years after 9/11, the former military ruler of Pakistan was all over the news. He was a supporter of the war on terror, a guest at the White House. In 2008, he was ousted from power. These days, he's indicted for treason and murder and forbidden from leaving his country. NPR's Philip Reeves paid him a visit and has this report.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: On the face of it, he could hardly be in bigger trouble, yet Pervez Musharraf doesn't sound or look much like a man unduly burdened by worry. The former president and army chief is on home turf these days. He's living in Pakistan's mega-city Karachi. He spends most afternoons sitting on the dazzlingly white sheepskin that covers his favorite chair, receiving visitors here at his villa. Musharraf's home is surrounded by armed security men, cameras, barriers and razor wire. But he's no prisoner.
PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: I am all right here in Pakistan. There's no problem.
REEVES: Are you free to move around?
MUSHARRAF: Yes, yes. Absolutely, I attended a marriage party last night. I was there till about 1 o'clock, early morning.
REEVES: Sometimes at night Musharraf drops in on one of the city's exclusive country clubs.
MUSHARRAF: I keep going to Sind Club or Marina Club. But of course there are security threats, so I don't move around as I would be moving in London.
REEVES: Nearly two years have elapsed since Musharraf returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile in London and Dubai. He came hoping for political reincarnation. It was a disaster. Musharraf is now on bail, charged with treason and banned from leaving Pakistan. Yet, he disagrees with those who say he'd have been a lot better off staying away.
MUSHARRAF: I could never decide that I'm never going to come back to Pakistan and I just live in Dubai and London. No, that I couldn't do. I have relatives and friends. I had to come back.
REEVES: Musharraf says he wasn't expecting so much legal trouble, but points out...
MUSHARRAF: Whenever I came here, I would've had to face the same cases.
REEVES: Recently, Musharraf's fortunes have actually been edging upwards. The civilian government, led by his rival Nawaz Sharif, who Musharraf ousted in a coup 16 years ago, is losing ground. The army that Musharraf once commanded is getting more powerful. Pakistan's generals abhor the prospect of seeing their former chief tried for treason. The cases against Musharraf seem to be losing momentum. Musharraf's also banned from ever running for election. This is spoiling his plan to become the founding father of what he calls a third force, to challenge Pakistan's established political parties. But it isn't stopping Musharraf airing his views. There's overwhelming evidence that during Musharraf's rule, despite his alliance with the U.S. after 9/11, Pakistan covertly sponsored militant groups fighting in Afghanistan. Now with the U.S. draw-down there, Musharraf is warning of a renewed proxy war. He blames meddling in Afghanistan by India, Pakistan's old enemy.
MUSHARRAF: What should Pakistan do when this kind of a situation is faced? Obviously Pakistan starts looking for elements who would support Pakistan, who would play our game there. So what do we end with? We end with a proxy war. We end with an India-Pakistan conflict going on in Afghanistan.
REEVES: Musharraf thinks this would be bad for everyone. Now he thinks it's time to leave Afghanistan alone.
MUSHARRAF: The best solution to Afghanistan? Let them find their own way out from the mess that there is.
REEVES: The pile of legal cases against Musharraf include a charge that he murdered a nationalist leader in Baluchistan province in 2006. But by far the most serious is the treason charge. It's about this event.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MUSHARRAF: In action at this moment is suicide for Pakistan.
REEVES: In November 2007, Musharraf announced on TV that he was suspending the constitution and imposing a state of emergency. Musharraf said he was saving Pakistan from turmoil. There'd been a wave of Taliban attacks and countless street protests against his rule led by the nation's lawyers.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Go, Musharraf, go. Go, Musharraf, go.
REEVES: Musharraf denies guilt and wants the case wrapped up.
MUSHARRAF: We have to bring that to some kind of a conclusion.
REEVES: For Musharraf, this treason case and all the others against him are the work of vengeful political foes.
MUSHARRAF: There's no doubt they want to keep me out of politics certainly.
REEVES: Musharraf has always cast himself as someone who's not afraid to speak his mind. That's what he does when conversation switches to the way the world viewed his rival, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
MUSHARRAF: Unfortunately in the West, you like a person who speaks very good English. You like a person if the person is a woman. It's much better - very liberal, very forward-looking. If the lady is good-looking? Oh, very good, excellent. She's a good leader of the future.
REEVES: Bhutto was assassinated in 2007, during Musharraf's rule. For a while, conspiracy theories swirled around linking Musharraf to this. Attempts are still underway to prosecute him amid allegations that he failed to provide adequate security for her. He strongly denies culpability and believes most Pakistanis know he wasn't involved. There is one episode during his nine-year rule that Musharraf wishes he'd handled differently - it's his disastrous attempt to sack Pakistan's chief justice. Musharraf didn't realize that by trying to throw out the country's top judge, he'd lit a fuse to a crisis that would eventually topple him.
MUSHARRAF: While it was correct to take action, sometimes one has to be pragmatic. Even that correct action may lead to very negative fallout, on the country and on myself. So therefore maybe it should not be done.
REEVES: He adds...
MUSHARRAF: So that is a lesson that I've learned - everything is not black and white.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News.
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