Musharraf counting on support of Facebook generation

The former Pakistani president said Pakistan had to turn a page on its dynastic politics and claimed to have his own following among the country's youth.

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf said today he would soon launch a new party, touting his support among the Facebook generation as he vowed to remake the nation's turbulent politics. The retired general also accused Afghan President Hamid Karzai of lacking "legitimacy" but urged the West to stay the course against the Taliban or risk destabilising the region still further. "I'm going to declare a party on October 1 ... We have to bring about a new political culture in Pakistan," he told reporters in Hong Kong after addressing an annual investors' forum organised by the CLSA brokerage.

The 67-year-old Musharraf, who lives in self-imposed exile in London, shrugged off the threat of possible legal action arising from his years of military rule of Pakistan. "There are elements opposed to me, political elements, and they are the ones who engineer these cases. One has to face that. I'm very confident nothing can happen (on his eventual return home)," he said. Mr Musharraf, who plans to stand for parliament at the next general election in 2013, did not say where he would launch his new party -- called the All Pakistan Muslim League.

Reports in Pakistan say the October 1 event is slated for London, and Mr Musharraf has proclaimed his belief that he could become president again. As army chief, Musharraf ousted the civilian prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999. He was president from 2001 and has lived abroad since resigning in 2008. Pakistan is back under civilian rule but President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is under siege from militants, a parlous economy and catastrophic floods.

Political analyst Mutahir Ahmed said that despite the Mr Zardari government's enormous unpopularity, Musharraf posed little threat. "I do not think they should be worried, although they lack credibility themselves," Mr Ahmed, a professor of international relations at Karachi University, told AFP in Islamabad. "In the political history of Pakistan, retired generals have not been able to make a mark and their political forays have ended as failures," he said.

Mr Zardari and Mrs Bhutto's 21-year-old son Bilawal is being groomed for his own political career, but Musharraf said Pakistan had to turn a page on its dynastic politics and claimed to have his own following among Pakistani youth. He said that more than 80 per cent of the 295,000-plus followers of his Facebook page were aged between 18 and 34. "Therefore I know that it is the youth who are yearning for change."

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Mr Musharraf made Pakistan a key ally of then US president George W Bush in the "war on terror", but faced a resurgence of Islamist militancy in the tribal northwest near Afghanistan. He had a dismal relationship with Mr Karzai, who regained power last year in an election that was widely decried as fraudulent. "There must be a legitimate government in Afghanistan ... He does not have that legitimacy," Mr Musharraf told the CLSA forum.

In contrast, the former military leader heaped praise on US Gen David Petraeus, calling the head of foreign forces in Afghanistan a "great commander". But with the American president Barack Obama planning a troop drawdown from mid-2011, Mr Musharraf warned that abandoning Afghanistan would "be playing into the hands of the Taliban and al Qa'eda", and said "quitting is not an option". "The whole world is against the Taliban. So why can't we win? We can win and will win. But we will suffer casualties," he said. "No one is analysing the effect of abandoning the region on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the world."