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(Guardian UK) Pakistan’s former president, Pervez Musharraf, has announced his intention to return from exile and stand for election at the head of a new political party.
Musharraf, who has been living in London for the past year after resigning from the presidency under heavy political pressure, told CNN yesterday that he could not name the date of his proposed return because of "security issues” but said it would be "sooner rather than later”.
His supporters launched a new party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, earlier this year intended as a vehicle for his return. The former general said he hoped to lead it into the next election.
"The question of whether I am running for president or prime minister will be seen later,” Musharraf said, though he hinted heavily that it was the latter job he was aiming for.
"We run a parliamentary system there,” Musharraf said. "Basically, you are heading the party, you are running for the prime ministership,” he said. "Because in Pakistan, the chief executive is the prime minister, not the president.”
The former Pakistani leader, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, faces a number of obstacles to his return.
Unless there are midterm elections, the next vote will not be until 2013, and it is unclear how much support his party could count on. His supporters were humiliated in 2008 elections, which led to his resignation. Musharraf could also face legal action if he returned over the imprisonment of judges in the last turbulent months of his rule.
In the CNN interview, Musharraf also said there were security concerns involved in the timing of his decision.
"Maybe my wife and my family [are] more worried than I am,” said the former president, who was the target of several assassination attempts while in office. "But there are security issues which one needs to take into consideration. And that is why I’m not laying down any dates for my return.
"But I do intend launching and declaring my intentions formally sooner rather than later.”
His return would draw comparisons to that of Benazir Bhutto in 2007, who was persuaded to end years of self-exile to run for elections, only to be assassinated in December 2007. The killing was blamed on the Pakistani Taliban, but a UN report last month said that Musharraf’s government had not done enough to protect the opposition leader. In his interview yesterday, he rejected the accusation.
"It was me who warned her about the threat,” Musharraf said. "It was I who stopped her from going to that venue once before, to which a lot of political aspersions were cast on me that her movements are being restricted. But she decided to go again.
"All the security, wherever possible … by the police was provided to her,” he said.
Musharraf’s rule was defined after 11 September 2001, when he opted to side with the US in its "war on terror” in Afghanistan and beyond. It became an increasingly unpopular decision at home, particularly after US drones began to target Taliban fighters on the Pakistani side of the border.
The Pakistani army was widely reported to have covertly connived in the air strikes, but Musharraf insisted yesterday their continued use was counterproductive: "Indiscriminate use of the drones … is having a negative impact in the public because of the collateral damage.”