Earlier this year when former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced he was going to return to Pakistan to contest the upcoming elections, few Pakistanis believed he would take such a daring step. Despite the fact that their doubts were well founded, Musharraf returned home on the 24th of March to what was (at best) a lukewarm reception.
The former army chief who seized power in a coup in 1999 was forced to resign in 2008 amid fierce protests by the legal community of Pakistan and since then lived abroad in a self-imposed exile. His return has sent Pakistani lawyers berserk in a frenzy to get the former president tried before the numerous cases pending against him in the Pakistani courts.
Nothing encapsulates the hatred the legal community feels towards Musharraf better than the recent incident in which a lawyer hurled a shoe at him. The list of cases and grievances the lawyers hold against Musharraf is exhaustive. The former president has been accused of violating the constitution when he seized power in 1999, he has been accused of high treason and more recently of betraying the country by handing over numerous Pakistanis to the U.S. as suspected terrorists without any proper trial. Furthermore, Musharraf made 29 amendments to the constitution to expand his powers during his tenure and also suspended the much admired chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Ahmed Chaudry.
And, as if the legal complications surrounding Musharraf’s return were not enough, the Pakistani Taliban released a video last week threatening to kill Musharraf.
So why then return to Pakistan? While it is true that the country did substantially better under Musharraf’s rule than it did under the Zardari administration this does not mean that Musharraf stands any real chance of coming to power in the upcoming elections in May. The quagmire of complications and controversies surrounding Musharraf are sufficient to render him incapable of putting up a strong bid to get his party (the All Pakistan Muslim League-APML) elected to power.
The public opinion in general seems to be pointing towards a predominantly 2 horse race between the PTI (Pakistan Tehrek-e-Insaf) led by former cricket superstar Imran Khan and PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) led by ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. However, the Pakistani society and the public are a highly divided entity where local and ethnic affiliations play a major role in the election process. This is especially true for the smaller cities and towns in rural Pakistan.
Musharraf seems to recognize this fact. His aim at best seems to be to gain a few seats for the APML for the provincial assemblies. That is exactly why he has concentrated on rallying support and contesting from his hometown Chitral and from Bahawalpur. In doing so Musharraf aims to keep the APML alive and involved in the Pakistani political system to whatever limited extent he can.
Despite his shaky reputation, Musharraf maintains a limited but extremely dedicated set of followers. However, this clique alone will not be sufficient to get the APML to gain power in May. Musharraf’s return seems to be a move aimed at long term success rather than success in the May elections. If he manages to clear the cases against him and gradually change public opinion over the coming years, then he might then pose a more serious bid for power.
For the future, the general needs to start thinking and acting like a purebred astute politician.