Musharraf mulls a comeback

The general who resigned under the threat of impeachment and was forced to flee is hoping that nostalgia for his rule may help his chances.

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf speaks at a news conference Monday, March 15, 2010, in Portland, Ore.. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) *** Local Caption ***  PD104_Musharraf_Visit.jpg

ISLAMABAD // Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president who resigned from office 18 months ago, is considering a political comeback and plans to meet Pakistani politicians and supporters in Abu Dhabi and Dubai this month to chart his political future, according to a close aide.

"President Musharraf plans to visit Bahrain at the request of the royal family at the end of March. He will then visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai," Rashid Qureshi, a retired major general who acts as the spokesperson for Mr Musharraf, said Thursday. Mr Musharraf, 66, who resigned under the threat of impeachment in 2008, is living in exile in London but indicated his desire to return to politics during a lecture tour in the United States last week.

"I am keeping my options open," Mr Musharraf was quoted as saying in a speech in Sarasota, Florida. He stressed that Pakistan had gone "downhill" since his departure. Efforts are already under way to register a political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, with the country's election commission to mark his return to politics. Most political analysts had written off any political future for Mr Musharraf when he was forced out of power and discount the possibility of a popular comeback.

Mr Musharraf faces several legal charges if he returns to the country and some politicians have said he should return only if he wants to go to jail. "Many of Musharraf's crimes come in the category of 'High Treason' in the Constitution of Pakistan and are punishable by death," stated an editorial on Wednesday in Daily Times, a Lahore-based English daily newspaper. "He had been let off the hook as a quid pro quo because of an understanding with the PPP, and partly because the institution he headed would not allow its former chief to be dragged over the coals," the editorial stated, referring to the ruling Pakistan People's Party and the powerful army.

The editorial advised Mr Musharraf to "count his blessings", continue with his world lecture tours and "lay his dreams of returning to politics to rest". Supporters of the former president, however, seem undeterred and claim that his fiscal and management policies were better than those of the current government. Inflation has increased steadily over the past few years. Power outages are frequent. Shortages of flour and sugar have caused a public outcry, forcing many to look back at the Musharraf era in a comparatively favourable manner.

"The situation in the country was much better when President Musharraf was in power," Mr Qureshi said. "Politicians have tried to involve him in every wrong that has happened in Pakistan and it is nonsensical. He did everything for the sake of the country. He kept the welfare of Pakistan as the purpose of everything he did." Mr Qureshi said several Pakistani politicians have kept regular contact with Mr Musharraf though they were still reluctant to come out publicly in support of their former leader.

"I am 100 per cent sure he will return to Pakistan," Mr Qureshi said without elaborating on a definite timeline. "If he decides to enter politics, I think there will be a great support for him." Mr Qureshi stressed that a reflection of the support for the former president can be found in his huge following on Facebook, the internet social networking site. "Three and a half months ago his Facebook page was launched. He now has 157,000 members on Facebook," Mr Qureshi said. "He is the most popular [Pakistani] politician on Facebook."

He said a further 150,000 people have registered to become members of the new political party. Mr Qureshi claimed that Mr Musharraf had a massive following in the urban, educated population of the Pakistani society though it had been reluctant to take part in electoral politics, exhibiting apathy towards the country's turbulent and often treacherous politics. "An effort can be made for the urban, educated youth of Pakistan to register and vote [for him]," Mr Qureshi said.