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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Social media polarised by Pervez Musharraf's appearance at Asia Cup cricket game in Dubai

Now living in the emirate, the former president saw Pakistan lose to India by nine wickets

Pervez Musharraf watching India vs Pakistan cricket on Sunday. Courtesy: Twitter
Pervez Musharraf watching India vs Pakistan cricket on Sunday. Courtesy: Twitter

As the new prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan has long left his cricketing days behind him. For the country’s former president, Pervez Musharraf, though, the opportunity to watch his country play India in the Asia Cup was irresistible.

His appearance at the Dubai International Stadium, photographed smoking a cigar and wearing a well cut blue blazer, provoked hundreds of comments on social media.

It was a reminder that the former president, who resigned 10 years ago and now lives in Dubai in self-imposed exile, remains a deeply polarising figure in his home country.

Many were supportive, calling him a man who “saved Pakistan through his wisdom”, someone “who has saved this country” and “not a traitor but a patriot.”

In the other camp were those who regarded Mr Musharraf as a fugitive from justice, accusing him of corruption, violating the constitution and even murder.

Mr Musharraf, who runs his private office from Dubai and has more than two million Twitter followers, stayed silent on the debate over his appearance at the cricket match, and the result which was in India's favour by nine wickets.

His most recent comment on Twitter was to offer condolences to the family of John McCain last month, calling the veteran US senator “honourable, reasonable and objective”.

India opener Rohit Sharma scored his 19th one-day international century against Pakistan in Dubai on Sunday night. AP Photo
India opener Rohit Sharma scored his 19th one-day international century against Pakistan in Dubai on Sunday night. AP Photo

The former president was seen sitting with Indian officials at the game in a photograph shared on social media by Rajeev Shukla, the chairman of the Indian Premier League.

The post received more than 350 retweets and 1,300 likes.

The image also reopened the fault lines for Pakistanis both at home and living overseas about the legacy of the Musharraf years.

Seen as a key ally in the West in the so-called War on Terror, he resigned in August 2008, forced out by the ruling coalition and faced impeachment on charges that included violating the constitution.

He has continuously proclaimed his innocence against charges that he violated the constitution by ordering the arrest of judges in 2007, and more seriously, allegations that he was involved in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto . Mr Musharraf claims the allegations are politically motivated.

After first leaving for exile in London, he returned to Pakistan in 2013 for the general election, where Mr Musharraf was disqualified as a candidate and faced death threats from extremists, including the Taliban.

Later that year, he was placed under house arrest over the Bhutto murder, but granted bail, and in 2016, was given permission to travel abroad after saying he needed medical treatment in Dubai, where he now lives.

Last month, Interpol rejected a request from Pakistan for his arrest on charges of treason, saying the organisation did not involve itself in political cases.

Mr Musharraf insists he is ready to return home to make a statement to the court to help clear his name, but is adamant on conditions including watertight security and the unfreezing of assets.

His lawyers argue that while he owns a property in Dubai, he currently has no home in Pakistan.

With the Pakistan Supreme Court pressing for a timeframe for Mr Musharraf’s return, the case continues.