Musharraf returns from exile for polls, vows to save Pakistan

Former military dictator Pervez Musharraf ended nearly four years in self-exile defying threats of arrest and assassination by Taliban, saying that he returned home to "save" Pak and would face all "challenges" that lay ahead.

Karachi: Former military dictator Pervez Musharraf on Sunday ended nearly four years in self-exile defying threats of arrest and assassination by Taliban, saying that he returned home to "save" Pakistan and would face all "challenges" that lay ahead.

69-year-old Musharraf along with a delegation of around 150 people, including supporters from his All Pakistan Muslim League and journalists, landed at Jinnah International airport here by a chartered Emirates flight from Dubai.

As it happened »I

Talking to reporters accompanying him from Dubai to Karachi, a smiling Musharraf said: "It is (a) very emotional (moment). I`m going back after four years."

"There are a lot of challenges. There are security challenges, legal challenges, political challenges. But I will face them," Musharraf clad in an off white shalwar-kameez said as he made his way out of the aircraft.

"Where are the people who said I will never return home. I have been receiving death threats and some people have been trying to scare me but I have returned home for the sake of my country and people," an emotional Musharraf told his supporters.

The former commando-turned-politician said he would soon be launching a countrywide campaign of public rallies and media interaction.

"I have taken a big risk returning home now. But tears come to my eyes seeing the state of the country now. I ask where is the Pakistan I had left five years ago," he said.

"People have tried to sabotage my first public rally in Karachi and already hurdles are being created for me but I am ready to face all challenges whether they are security, political or legal issues," Musharraf said.

The former President claimed that he had been implicated in a lot of cases while in exile but he was ready to face them because he wanted to see Pakistan prosper again.

"My party slogan today is save Pakistan. I am thankful and happy to see so many people come to welcome me," he said.

Delhi-born Musharraf was the mastermind and strategic field commander behind the highly controversial and internationally condemned Kargil infiltration, which derailed peace negotiations with India.

Musharraf had left Pakistan on April 19, 2009, saying he was going abroad for a series of lectures. He did not return from that trip and several courts issued arrest warrants for the former President in connection with the killings of Bhutto and Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Bugti.

Since then, Musharraf has been shuttling between London and Dubai and earned hundreds of thousands of dollars on worldwide lecture tours.

On March 22, The Sindh High Court granted a 10 day pre-arrest bail to Musharraf in several cases in some of which he has been declared a proclaimed offender.

Yesterday, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan threatened to use suicide bombers to target Musharraf when he returns home.

In a video released to reporters in northwest Pakistan, TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said, "We will not leave you alive."

His planned press conference at the airport here was cancelled and would be held later in the week in Islamabad.

Earlier members of his party had said security officials had advised Musharraf to not hold the press conference or address any rally because of security threats to his life.

"But after hours of negotiations the former President made it clear he will not leave the terminal building without first addressing the media and his supporters who have come in thousands to welcome him home," party spokesman Arif Ishaq said.

The Sindh home department also revoked the NOC issued to the APML to hold a public rally at the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam in the city later in the day which Musharraf was supposed to address to mark his return to Pakistan.

Ishaq said Musharraf was very emotional on returning home after a long time in exile and was insistent on also going to the mausoleum to offer prayers.

"He was very emotional and happy but a lot of questions remain on his future plans given the high security threats to his life," another party member said.

He is expected to stay in Karachi for two days before going to Islamabad where he ruled the country as chief executive and then President from 1999 to 2008.

But it was noticeable at the airport that the former President still has a lot of followers and admirers among the people despite the cases pending against him in the courts and his self imposed exile.

The number of his supporters that included women and children swelled from hundreds to thousands as soon as his plane landed at the airport but they started returning home disappointed without catching a glimpse of their leader after being told there would be no address or conference by him.

His supporters, dancing to Bhangra tunes and playing national songs, were clearly excited to see their leader return home as they waited outside the terminal building and around the airport which is a high risk security zone.

Musharraf`s spokesman Rashid Qureshi said that hundreds of more supporters had been unable to reach inside the airport due to the security arrangements.

"Many of them were also confused about where to welcome their leader as they have gone to the Quaid`s mazar for the public rally which has not been allowed by the authorities."

Musharraf admitted that he had some concerns about what to expect in Pakistan now. "Basically there are a lot of unknown factors especially of terrorism and extremism and still unresolved legal issues with the main question will I be allowed to contest the elections," he said.

The former President who came to power in October, 1999 in a bloodless coup against the Nawaz Sharif government is said to have also brought his own security although the Sindh provincial home department said he would be driven from the airport to his destination in a convoy and bullet proof vehicle.

"But we will not allow him to hold any public rally as we have reports about serious security threats to his life," senior police official Tahir Naveed said.

No political party has reacted to Musharraf`s return so far.
His official Facebook and Twitter accounts kept on providing live commentary, posting messages and photographs of him boarding the aircraft and sitting in his seat in the Emirates flight which took off from Dubai after some delay.