Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf vows return to politics

By Paisley Dodds, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Ex-Pakistani general to form political party

LONDON — Pakistan’s ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf plans to launch a new political party Friday that may sharpen political tensions at home amid growing criticism of Pakistan’s civilian government.

Since he stepped down in 2008 under an impeachment threat and protests, Musharraf has been living in London.

Musharraf says the only way to tackle Pakistan’s ailing economy and its political infighting — problems exacerbated by recent floods — is to further bolster the army’s role.

A stronger army is also needed to address the threat of terrorism, he said.

“It’s a serious threat (and) Pakistan is most certainly capable of dealing with it,” Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 bloodless coup, told the BBC.

The 67-year-old didn’t say how the army’s strength could be bolstered or what else could be done to tackle terrorism.

Numerous terror plots and attacks, including the 2005 suicide bombings that killed 52 commuters in London and an active plot to wage Mumbai-style shooting sprees in Europe, have been seeded in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Security was tight for the launch, which was taking place at 1 Whitehall Place — a storied and posh former gentlemen’s club. Reporters were swept before coming in, then bomb-sniffing dogs were brought into the room where about 200 people awaited the announcement.

Several Pakistani politicians have used London in recent years to announce their intended political comebacks though few have been successful. Britain is home to more than 1 million people of Pakistani descent, many of whom who keep strong links with Pakistan.

The head of a major Pakistani party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, currently lives in exile in London.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted in the 1999 coup, stayed in the limelight by holding steady press conferences about his return. At the same time, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — who struck a deal with Musharraf to drop corruption charges against her should she return to the country — announced from London in 2007 that she planned to return to Pakistan after nearly a decade in exile.

Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan at a political rally in late 2007, three months after her return. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who continues to be dogged by corruption allegations, became Pakistan’s president in 2008.

Unlike Bhutto, whose comeback was bolstered by the power of the Bhutto political legacy — Bhutto’s father was a beloved figure among the poor — Musharraf doesn’t enjoy the same support and his return would be mired with obstacles.

Many would likely try to prevent it through the courts. Some want him tried for treason for violating the constitution when he seized power in 1999. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who Musharraf fired in 2007, is back in office and is unlikely to give him an easy ride.

Musharraf may be arrested or deported, just as Sharif was upon his return in 2007.

It is also unclear how much support Musharraf still has within the military. Many of his close allies in the army and in the intelligence services have since retired.

“He doesn’t have the same kind of clout he did,” Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Britain who was appointed under Musharraf, told The Associated Press on Friday. “He’s yesterday’s man.”

Musharraf was Pakistan’s leader when Islamist militants began attacking the state in earnest and was a key ally of the Bush administration’s so-called war on terror after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001.

While in power, Musharraf launched several offensives against militants in the northwest, but struck deals with insurgents when it became clear the army could not win by sheer force.

The army and the current government, however, have arguably been more forceful and successful in flushing out al-Qaida operatives and Taliban supporters.

His new political party will be named the All Pakistan Muslim League and must be registered in Pakistan before the country’s scheduled 2013 elections.

Associated Press Writer Chris Brummitt contributed to this report from Islamabad.

will not be displayed