Musharraf supporter in Karachi (Photo: Fahad Desmukh)
Former general and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, has announced that after three years in self-imposed exile, he wants to return home to run for office. Gen. Musharraf, who now leads his own political faction, the All Pakistan Muslim League, addressed a rally by video link from Dubai.
Fireworks were set off when Musharraf announced that he promised to return to Pakistan some time between the 27th and 30th of January.
He was addressing a rally of about 8,000 supporters in Karachi, via a video-link from Dubai.
Musharraf ruled Pakistan as a military dictator from 1999 to 2007 and then as a civilian president for another nine months. He finally stepped down from office in August 2008 to avoid impeachment proceedings against him.
Since then he has lived in exile in London and Dubai spending much of his time on the global lecture circuit. But recently he has expressed an interest in returning to Pakistan to contest parliamentary elections as a constitutional leader.
In 2010, he set up the All-Pakistan Muslim League, a new political party that he leads.
The only problem is that there are arrest warrants out for him in Pakistan in connection to the killings of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Bugti.
His opponents are also threatening to push for him to be tried for high treason for his 1999 military coup. But Musharraf remains defiant.
"There are many who are trying to scare me, but I am not scared," Musharraf said during the rally. "I have fought wars. I have seen threats. I don't fear, and I will come to Pakistan. These cases against me have no basis. I will face them in the courts."
And while Musharraf has no shortage of opponents, he does also have supporters — as was evident yesterday in Karachi.
"I'm here to support Musharraf because I think we are a beneficiary of his era between 2000 — 2007," said businessman Waquas Haider. "Haven't seen a better time in Pakistan than that."
Haider is part of a class of entrepreneurs and white-collar professionals that arguably prospered the most during Musharraf's rule.
The former general's supporters overwhelmingly refer to economic growth under Musharraf as his most important credential. Haider said businessmen like himself could count on growth back then — and they want that certainty back.
"And that's what has been missing since he's been gone, certainty. In a business environment that's what we need," Haider said.
Musharraf's supporters are convinced he can bring back prosperity. They also don't think the former general did anything wrong back in 1999, when he overthrew an elected government in a coup.
According to Ali Naqvi, an office-holder in Musharraf's new political party, it was a legitimate act by Musharraf.
"I don't call it unconstitutional," Naqvi said. "At that time the situation was very grave. Pakistan was being declared a failed state. It was high time, he did a right thing. People supported it. People were distributing cakes and sweets. Especially in the urban areas. People were on the streets and dancing. How can you call it unconstitutional?"
That's not how Musharraf's foes see it. Which is why his most immediate challenge — before campaigning for parliament – is how to return to Pakistan without getting arrested.