Musharraf lays out programme for return to politics

The former president of Pakistan is planning to return from exile in the UK to start a new party to contest elections in 2013.

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LONDON // The exiled former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf set out his plan today to return to politics in his country with the launch of a new party to galvanise his support.

The retired general was due to unveil the All Pakistan Muslim League in London to contest the next elections in 2013, although he told the BBC he would return from his self-imposed two-year exile in Britain before then.

Mr Musharraf told BBC Radio "I am in the process of creating an environment – the stronger I am politically, the more ground there will be for me to go and protect myself also." He brushed off the threat that he could face treason charges on his return, but admitted there were "other dangers", including assassination attempts from Islamists, who twice tried to kill him when he was in power.

"I'll take the risk, but I'll take the risk at the right time," Mr Musharraf said, adding: "I won't wait until 2013." Earlier this week, he explained at a public debate in London his reasons for returning, saying: "When I see what is happening in Pakistan I think there is a bigger cause, and when there is a bigger cause you have to take risks." Mr Musharraf, 67, quit as president in August 2008 after a new government led by the party of the assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto threatened to impeach him. He was replaced by President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower.

Mr Musharraf came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999, and he warned this week that Pakistan was at risk of a new coup against President Zardari, who is struggling with rampant militancy, a crumbling economy and recent devastating floods. He also called for the army to be given a constitutional role in the politics of Pakistan, which has spent more than half its existence since independence from Britain in 1947 under military rule.

Mr Musharraf repeated this in the interview today, saying that the military were the only resort for Pakistani people frustrated with their government, which, he said, was crippled by corruption and nepotism. "We cannot allow Pakistan to disintegrate, that cannot be allowed. No Pakistani will allow that, no Pakistani wants that. So who's the saviour?. The army can do it. Can anyone else do it? No, nobody else can do it," he said.

Mr Musharraf said the insurgents could be defeated, but warned Western plans to pull their troops out of Afghanistan would be counterproductive as it would "boost" homegrown extremism that was inspired by the Taliban. "I think they can be defeated, but if I have any doubts on whether we can win, I would say it's been a failure of leadership in the United States and Europe … and a failure of leadership in Pakistan," he said.

"Nobody is telling the people who are demanding their soldiers to come back that this will be their worst decision, it will be a blunder. People here or in the United States think you are fighting somebody else's war."

* AFP