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Ex-President Musharraf Returns To A Different Pakistan

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf greets supporters upon his arrival at Karachi airport in Pakistan on Sunday.
S.I. Ali
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf greets supporters upon his arrival at Karachi airport in Pakistan on Sunday.

After four years of self-imposed exile, Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has come home. His plan is to run for office and reclaim political influence, but death threats and legal battles complicate his return.

Security at Karachi airport was unusually tight as he arrived Sunday, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports; the Pakistani Taliban has issued threats to kill the former president. Just before he was whisked away for his own safety, CNN reports, Musharraf made a statement to a few hundred supporters.

"I have put my life in danger and have come to Pakistan — to you, to be the savior of this country," he said. "I have come to save Pakistan."

Pakistan's columnists are calling the 69-year-old's return politically naïve, McCarthy reports, even ego-maniacal.

"They wonder aloud whether this isn't a man's personal battle against irrelevance, against the idea that his day has come and gone," she tells Weekend Edition Sunday.

Musharraf wants to run in Pakistan's elections, which are scheduled for May 11. He formed his own party while in exile, the All Pakistan Muslim League, but McCarthy says most independent analysts view it as politically marginal. Musharraf has returned to a country that has changed in his absence, she says.

"For the first time in its 65-year history, a democratically elected government has just completed its five-year term," she says. "It's seen as a watershed for this country."

Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999. Although he's a civilian now, his legacy is that of a military dictator.

"Pakistanis like determining their own leaders," McCarthy says. "While they may feel patriotic about their army, they don't want to be governed by it."

Musharraf stepped down from office in 2008 to avoid impeachment over suspending the nation's constitution and imposing emergency rule.

Aside from the very real threat of death — former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007 when she returned to campaign in Pakistan — Musharraf also faces imminent legal battles.

Among the charges against him is that he did not provide enough security to prevent Bhutto's death. To smooth his arrival, McCarthy reports, Musharraf was granted pre-emptive bail, which essentially prevented his immediate arrest upon returning to Pakistan.

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