The Return of the General: Why Is Musharraf Running for Office in Pakistan?

His crowd of supporters seem to dwindle by the day but the former dictator of Pakistan is keen to prove that he still has the right stuff to lead the country

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Fareed Khan / AP

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, center, surrounded by bodyguards, walks toward the courtroom in Karachi on March 29, 2013

Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf had a rough day in court on Friday, having a shoe hurled at him as he was forced to appear in two murder cases to plead for bail. He secured bail but was barred from leaving the country. The ignominy added to the retired general’s troubles since he arrived back in Pakistan last week, ending four years in exile in Dubai and London, to make another bid for power at the elections in May. Ahead of his return, the Pakistani Taliban threatened to send a death squad to kill him. Once he landed at Karachi airport, fewer than 2,000 people were there to greet him in what was billed his great homecoming.

Musharraf heralded his day in court with a tweet, with a blurred picture of him hastening past the phone camera. The pensioned dictator has memorably claimed in interviews that his social-media following demonstrates his popularity in Pakistan. His Facebook page has 825,000 Likes. “Leaving to appear in court today,” he said, in the first time a former dictator has live-tweeted an audience with a judge. The Twitter account shows the former commando in action: training at the gym (“Feel very energized”), tasting Pakistani food (“The best cuisine in the world”), posing with a dwindled crowd of fans and showing off his farouche-looking armed bodyguard (“Taliban threat? NOT ON MY WATCH!!!”).

As a barrel-chested Musharraf strode into court, with flashing cameras retreating in front of him, a shoe zipped over their heads. The assailant was a lawyer, a familiar type of opponent. In 2007, during his last year in power, Musharraf sacked Pakistan’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry twice, sparking a lawyer-led movement that ultimately saw him resign as President of Pakistan the following year. Like most shoe hurlers, the lawyer, Tajamal Lodhi, was a terrible shot and missed his target by some distance. Local news channels gleefully played the footage several times. They too have a gripe with Musharraf: he shut down a number of independent news channels when he imposed a state of emergency in 2007.

(MORE: Angry Lawyer Throws Shoe at Pakistan’s Musharraf)

Lodhi, the lawyer, was released without charge. Musharraf, however, didn’t get off as easily. He managed to secure bail in the three cases he’s charged with involvement in: the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the death of Baloch leader Akbar Bugti and a case about his sacking of several judges in 2007. Musharraf’s troubled history with Pakistan’s judiciary made this a delicate moment. It was also the first time that a former Pakistani military ruler was appearing in court. In his tweets, Musharraf struck a deferential tone, referring to the judges as “honorable.” But the Sindh High Court also ruled that Musharraf would not be allowed to leave the country without their permission, placing his name on an “exit-control list.”

Over the next month, as campaigning for Pakistan’s general elections in May gets under way, Musharraf will be forced to appear at courts in different parts of the country to extend his bail. It is unlikely, however, that he will end up convicted of his involvement in either the Bhutto or Bugti assassinations. He is widely accused of failing to give Bhutto adequate security, including in a high-profile U.N. inquiry. In Bugti’s case, Musharraf notoriously remarked on television that he would “hit him from where he wouldn’t see it coming.” But the courts would need more evidence to establish culpability. “You would have to demonstrate liability in very direct terms,” says Feisal Naqvi, a leading Pakistani lawyer. “It would be very hard to prove this in court.”

Musharraf still manages to attract considerable attention in Pakistan. Many news channels broadcast his press conference live from the luxury hotel in Karachi where he is ensconced. The familiar bluff rhetoric was on display, with Musharraf controversially saying that Kargil — a military adventure he led as army chief in 1999 — was a success. But few believe that he will make a political impact. “Despite a very poor performance by the democratic government, people are not going to choose a former military ruler,” says retired Lieut. General Talat Masood, who was once close to Musharraf.

(MORE: Musharraf Returns to Pakistan Amid Death Threats)

After having ruled Pakistan for nine years, it is difficult to establish why Musharraf wants be involved in politics again. Some ascribe the decision to his vanity. “He’s fantasizing,” says Masood, the retired general. “He has highly exaggerated ideas about himself. He’s out of touch with reality. He certainly has a grand vision, but it’s about himself rather than the country.” The forthcoming elections have drawn a strange cast of characters, all vying for political power. At one point, A.Q. Khan, the notorious nuclear proliferator who has also established a political party, was thinking about fighting elections but dropped out yesterday. His election symbol was going to be a missile.

Beyond the trouble with the courts, Musharraf will also have a hard time campaigning. “This is why he won’t make an impact,” says Imran Khan, the former cricket legend turned politician who was imprisoned by Musharraf briefly in 2007. “We’ve not invented any way to deal with the suicide bomber. The only way to avoid one is to stay at home.” It’s a big risk to take for what looks to be a very small reward.

Musharraf insists that he will hit the campaign trail, and is tipped to possibly win a couple parliamentary seats, one in Karachi and one in Chitral. And if current opinion polls hold through the elections, Musharraf would be reduced to sitting as a lonely member in a Parliament headed by Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister he ousted in the 1999 coup that brought him to power.

MORE: Pakistan’s Election Season Begins With Two Very Different Candidates

10 comments
JimWaltDodge
JimWaltDodge

He over threw the elected govt. of Pakistan, He tried to Fire and detain the Chief Justice of Pakistan only these 2 acts qualify him for High treason, but for sure he will be spared of any punishment as he is American puppet.

SanMann
SanMann

WHY HAS MUSHARRAF RETURNED TO PAKISTAN???


It's  obvious - he's afraid that Nawaz Sharif will come back to power. Duh.

Sharif's PML(N) and Bhutto's PPP typically alternate in power, just like Democrats and Republicans in the US. Musharraf threw Nawaz and his PML(N) out of office and seized power in a military coup, sending Nawaz into exile which he only returned from after some effort. Now it's Musharraf in exile, and fearful that Nawaz's return to the Prime Minister's seat will seal Musharraf''s own fate - something that the general is determined to avoid at all costs.

By returning to Pakistan and joining the electoral fray, he will only bring back ugly reminders of the Pakistani military's role in undermining the civilian political process.

thecapital15
thecapital15

AND yeah the answer to your preposterous question,, as to why he is risking his life & being subjected to such BS at the hands of esteemed "lawyers" that garland a self confessed killer of Governor Taseer & offer funeral in absentia of Osama Bin Ladin.. IS BECAUSE THE MAN CARES FOR PAKISTAN !!! & HE HAS TO OFFER A LOT !! & guess to your utter dismay many think the same

thecapital15
thecapital15

so errm what was the point of this article? it was like listening to some third rate commentary from a field reporter.. get a grip you "journalists",,  this vilification of one of the most successful President in history of this country isn't really working for any.. 8.4 GDP  growth, reduction in poverty to 24% which is 35% now & reforms in higher education are one of the very few things i can throw at you.. You handful sellouts won't be able to fog memories of millions.. The one who hurled the shoe rightly got served,, better get your moment of clarity or perhaps you might not know what hit you too...

KaleoK
KaleoK

There's a simple reason:

Under Musharaf, terrorists were trained in Pakistan for attacks in India, the US, Europe, and elsewhere. After Musharraf, Pakistan has also become a target.

Musharraf wants to right this wrong!

KamranHamidi
KamranHamidi

A biased article indeed. Firstly, you claim that he shut down a number of TV channels under his regime. But what you fail to mention is that it was President Musharraf who first allowed the media to be independent. Before he gave media freedom, there was no independence of media. Secondly, the TV channels were shut down because they were showing live coverage of dead bodies from terrorist attacks on TV - a practice which is not even allowed in the US or Canada because of moral grounds. May I also add that your statement about Musharraf's claim that he threatened Nawab Bugti with "he won't know what hit him" is absolutely incorrect. Musharraf had made a statement about Baloch militants/terrorists that "they should lay down their arms and stop attacking innocent civilians/government offices or else they won't know what hit them". You seem to have distorted that fact by saying Musharraf directly threatened Bugti with this statement. Please show proof of the video footage where he threatened Bugti as you claimed.

FeisalRahimtoola
FeisalRahimtoola

@JimWaltD Yes he did over  throw an elected Prime Minister but CJP was controversial and other judges acted unionist. In Pakistan you can qualify as a lawyer without study and even get license to practise as lawyer even without interning. Twenty years ago, every year, three times new lawyers passed exams than the practising ones! It is for this reason the lawyer community as a group is worse than the corrupt and inefficient police!

bahadur227
bahadur227

What a stupid and wrong comment made by you?Why don't you accept it was CIA who trained the Taliban to fight USSR in Afghanistan? and when USSR are defeated,abondend them and Pakistan have to hold the baby.

As bunderstan(india)is cocerned,it is the terrorist acts of terrorist army of bunderstan getting revenge attacks from Kashmiri Freedom Fighters in Kashmir.Don't put the blame on Pakistan.It is the killing of innocent Kashmiris,childern and young men,rape of women and indiscriminate murder by terrorist occupeir bunderstani army is to blame for the attrocities committed by them.Do not shift the blame on Pakistan at all.Condenm the acts of brutality by the bunderstani army first and do not cover up these attroticity by blaming Pakistan.Ask the occupier to fullfill its obligation of free plebicit for the Kashmiris,promised by Nehru through UNO.

It is bunderstani RAW is trying to create difficulties for Pakistan,by using bases in afghanistan to train its paid agents,but for its backluck,those Balauch leaders are coming back and taking part in elections to serve their own country and shuning the bunderstani scheme of destabilizing Pakistan.You should condenm bunderstani interference in Pakistan's internal affairs instead of puting blame on Pakistan.Just grow up and stop blame game.

sardarjah
sardarjah

absolutely agree. tatally biased and one sided article . Any one who challenges the writ of the govt is bound to be hit hard! he gave this country prosperity based on economic growth, no doubt. He was also a human bieng, and also surrounded by the worst of advisers at times. In my opinion he should clearly state where he possibly went wrong, and also outline to the people of pakistan, how he intends to rights some of those wrongs. He will only stand a chance if he comes clear on the numerous allegations put up against him. If he is seen as wiser and to have learned from his maistakes only then will his chances be good! he must also use his diplomacy skills to show more tact in his aproach to adversaries.