10:01pm

Tue November 30, 2010
Asia

Musharraf May Gamble On Return To Pakistan

Originally published on Wed December 1, 2010 9:07 am

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.

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.

"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.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

A few weeks ago we heard from the former military ruler of Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf wants to go home and run for office, even though he could be dragged to court for his past.

Mr. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Former President, Pakistan): Now, certainly in Pakistan we understand the realities on the ground - I do that therell some political maneuverings. And for political reasons, cases may be initiated against me. That is correct. Well fight those in the courts.

INSKEEP: NPRs Julie McCarthy has been asking how easy it would be for this one-time U.S. ally to stage a comeback.

JULIE MCCARTHY: General Musharraf coming home would be like Sisyphus pushing the rock uphill. Apart from possible arrest for treason or an attempt by al-Qaida to kill him - theyve tried before - Musharraf must also win back the political class he alienated, the judges he fired and the former underlings in the military who believe he disgraced them.

Retired Brigadier Javed Hussain says it is impossible for the former general to regain the trust of the army he once ran, because it resents him.

Mr. JAVED HUSSAIN (Retired Brigadier): 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 dont want to be embarrassed.

MCCARTHY: Nor, say analysts, do the senior and retired brass want to become entangled in all the controversies attached to Musharraf. Investigators this past week sought to question him about the murder of Benazir Bhutto, asking why, despite threats on her life, security was not provided for the former prime minister who 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 the 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.

Mr. NAJAM SETHI (Analyst): The minute he comes back to Pakistan, the two mainstream political parties - the one in government and the one in opposition - will launch all manner of criminal cases against him, and he would have a snowball's chance in hell of surviving.

Having said that, both political parties - the mainstream 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.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: 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.

Thirty-three-year-old Malik Waheed owns a toy store. We're sitting in his toy store and we're asking him what he thinks about a possible return of President Musharraf. He says he supports it. Why?

Mr. MALIK WAHEED (Toy Store Owner): (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: You're saying that during the Musharraf time there was prosperity, there was employment, there was more business going on. Does it trouble you at all that Musharraf was viewed as a dictator?

Mr. WAHEED: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: No, he says. His tenure was good.

(Soundbite of singing)

MCCARTHY: But deeper into the stalls, shop owner Sheikh Jabbar is indignant. It's unacceptable for Musharraf to return on the grounds he was a dictator, he says. And that's not all.

Sheikh JABBAR (Shop Owner): (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: He got a lot of money from the West, Jabbar says, to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida. But that money did not benefit Pakistan at all, he says.

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 and says if there were, it would outnumber the likes 10 to 1.

Mr. RAJA QAISER (Student): Yes. I visited his website - all 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.

MCCARTHY: Pakistan has a history of leaders in exile returning home. And Musharraf's former information minister, Sheikh Rashid, says the fortunes of his old boss could improve.

Sheikh RASHID AHMED (Former Information Minister): These numbers can change in Pakistan. This is a very emotional nation.

MCCARTHY: Rashid says no one ever expected the current president, Asif Ali Zardari - the deeply unpopular widower of Benazir Bhutto - to win office. If Zardari can be the president of Pakistan, Rashid says, anything's possible.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.