KARACHI (Reuters) – Pakistan’s former President, Pervez Musharraf, returned home on Sunday after nearly four years of self-imposed exile to contest elections despite the possibility of arrest and a threat from the Taliban to kill him.
Musharraf hopes to regain influence so that his party can win seats in the general election scheduled for May 11, when he will face fierce competition, including from the man he ousted in a military takeover.
The former army general, who seized power in a 1999 coup, resigned in 2008 when his allies lost a vote and a new government threatened him with impeachment. He left Pakistan a year later.
About 1,000 supporters chanted slogans outside Karachi’s airport. Musharraf has been far removed from Pakistan’s numerous troubles during his exile in London and Dubai, where he lived in a posh part of the Arab emirate.
The governing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has had little success in tackling corruption, chronic power cuts and rebuilding the dilapidated infrastructure. And the former president has not offered any plans of his own.
Pakistan may soon have to turn to the International Monetary Fund again to keep the economy afloat and avoid a balance of payments crisis.
A caretaker government, headed by newly-appointed Hazar Khan Khoso, a former judge, will make preparations for elections.
Musharraf faces charges of failing to provide adequate security to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto before her assassination in 2007.
He also faces charges in connection with the death of a separatist leader in southwestern Baluchistan province. He denies any wrongdoing.
Musharraf had been granted bail in advance to avoid being arrested upon his return, but he could be detained at a later date.
It remains unclear whether Musharraf will manage to regain influence in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed U.S. ally. He is unlikely to beat former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whom he removed in a military coup.
Other contenders include cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who has been delivering speeches for months, hoping to tap into deep public discontent.
Musharraf’s most immediate concern may be Pakistan’s Taliban, who threatened in a video on Saturday to dispatch suicide bombers and snipers to kill him and send him to “hell”.
Musharraf dismissed the threats, but a rally he was supposed to hold on Sunday afternoon was cancelled. Al Qaeda assassins tried to kill Musharraf at least three times in the past.
He angered the Taliban and other groups by joining the American war on terror following the September 11, 2001 attacks and by later launching a major crackdown on militants.
Militants were especially enraged when Musharraf’s security forces launched a full-scale attack on Islamabad’s sprawling Red Mosque in 2007 after followers of radical clerics running a Taliban-style movement from there refused to surrender.
The government said 102 people were killed in fighting when the complex was stormed.
Musharraf has said he will spend the first few days upon his return in the port city of Karachi before going to Islamabad to deal with his legal problems.
He will have just two months to try to persuade voters his political party can deliver what others have not.
The odds are clearly stacked against Musharraf, a former commando who during the 1965 war with India leapt into a burning artillery gun to remove shells that would have killed wounded comrades had they burst.
While in power, he infuriated everyone — from the chief justice, whom he sacked, to lawyers who led a movement against him, to clerics.
But critics have said he suffers from a “savior complex” and perhaps that is what led him home to face possible dangers.
One of Musharraf’s favorite films is the Hollywood blockbuster “Gladiator” — the tale of a Roman general’s triumph over the wicked emperor who betrayed him.
(Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Ron Popeski)