x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Former Pakistan president to return home for elections

Former Pakistan president to return home to fight elections, despite fears he could be arrested or assassinated.

DUBAI // The former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf yesterday set a date of next March 23 for his return to his homeland to stand for elections under his newly formed political party.

He said he would fly to Lahore on Pakistan's National Day because the city was where the 1940 Pakistan Resolution calling for greater Muslim autonomy in British-ruled India was signed.

Elections are scheduled for 2013. Mr Musharraf plans to run for a seat in parliament under the All Pakistan Muslim League, whose formation he announced in London last October, despite the fear of him being arrested on arrival in the country.

"I am going to land in Lahore on the 23rd of March, 2012, if not earlier - but not later," he said.

Within Pakistan, Mr Musharraf's return would not be widely welcomed, said Cyril Almeida, a columnist with the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. His popularity plummeted by the time he resigned as army chief in 2007, then stepped down as president the following year before he left Pakistan, he added.

"It's a non-starter," said Mr Almeida. "He doesn't have any genuine political support."

Mr Musharraf faces an arrest warrant in connection with the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, apparently after a federal agency linked him to the case, his spokesman said earlier this year.

As in previous press conferences, he shrugged off the arrest concerns or that he himself could be assassinated, though both, he acknowledged, were possibilities.

"I'm a risk taker," he said.

Mr Musharraf said he had not secured any deals with the Pakistani government or any political parties to secure a safe return. Nor had he sought any backing from foreign governments. He said he was focusing instead on strengthening his party and rebuilding his popularity.

When asked about the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan's garrison town of Abbottabad, not far from the capital, Mr Musharraf denied any members of Pakistan's intelligence agency could have known the al Qa'eda founder had been hiding there.

In recent media reports he had been quoted as saying that "rogue elements" in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence might have known about bin Laden's whereabouts.

He blamed, instead, a failure of intelligence and urged Pakistanis to stress this as a way to defend the ISI's reputation.

"It was not complicity. It is a failure or incompetence," he said.

chuang@thenational.ae