Mush's gamble

Pervez Musharraf’s return to Pakistan and to another stint in politics after four years in self-exile outside the country was less spectacular than anticipated.

Crowds that showed up to welcome him at Karachi International Airport numbered at most a couple of thousands. This lukewarm welcome stands in sharp contrast to the rapturous reception that Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto received when she returned to Pakistan in 2007 after almost a decade in self-exile. Musharraf’s ‘homecoming’ is being keenly watched as his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) is likely to contest in the upcoming general election. If the size of the reception he received at Karachi is an indication of his support among the masses, it does seem that Pakistan’s former army chief and president is not quite the man of the masses he claims to be. The welcome party at Karachi suggests that the challenge he poses is not as formidable as thought.

Musharraf has taken a huge risk in returning to Pakistan. The Taliban has threatened to kill him. Then, an anti-terrorism court has issued an arrest warrant for him for his alleged role in the assassination of Benazir. There are other serious charges against him and these could see him get arrested in the coming weeks. It is unlikely that his old nemesis, the courts, will deal with him with kids’ gloves.  His future is riddled with uncertainty. However, he enjoys an advantage that his political rivals lack. He has the support of the Establishment, code in Pakistan for the military. It is widely believed that return to Pakistan ahead of elections was orchestrated by the military. The masses might not be with him but the military is. It could ease his return to the political arena.

In the coming weeks, Musharraf will closet himself with his party members to chart out the APML’s election strategy. He will need to build alliances. He is expected to reach out to his old ally, the Muttahida Quami Movement.  At the moment he does not wield the kind of political clout that would attract powerful allies.   However, Musharraf has been known to turn adversity to his benefit, his coming to power in 1999 through a military coup being an example. The coming weeks will crucially determine his political fortunes.

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