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Required reading: Pakistan

Pervez Musharraf is back in Pakistan. But can he really pull off a stunning political comeback?

After five years of self-imposed exile, Pervez Musharraf is back in his native country. He intends to stand in general elections scheduled for May. But he faces charges of conspiracy to murder and illegal detention of judges, and currently remains free only under the terms of a protective bail arranged before his arrival.

So will the former four-star general shock the world by once again assuming the presidency of Pakistan? And why does Musharraf inspire fierce loyalty among some of this countrymen and bitter hatred among others? Time to turn to the books.

First, turn to Ian Talbot's definitive Pakistan: A Modern History to learn more about the bloodless military coup that swept Musharraf to power in 1999, when, on October 12, then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif tried to prevent a flight carrying Musharraf (then a prominent general critical of military strategy) from landing in Pakistan. The army response was rapid: Sharif was placed under house arrest, the airport was encircled and Musharraf was de facto leader of Pakistan that same day.

Musharraf soon moved to consolidate his power, banning all political rallies in 2000. But his support for the US war drew the ire of many of his countrymen. Read Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad for a look at the intricate dance of power, mistrust and mutual reliance that exists between the two countries.

But Musharraf claimed that his cooperation came only after George W Bush threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age". Indeed, read Musharraf's 2006 part-memoir, part-propaganda tool In the Line of Fire for his first-hand account of his presidency up to that time.

So what does the future hold for Pakistan, a country still rocked by the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the 2011 US mission to kill Osama bin Laden? Pakistan: A Hard Country is an acclaimed new analysis by the academic Anatol Lieven. While western leaders have long understood Pakistan's strategic importance, Lieven argues, they are yet to understand the inherent contradictions that will shape its future.

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