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13 July 2024

Musharraf likely to delay return to Pakistan


Pakistan's former dictator Pervez Musharraf came under mounting pressure Thursday to delay his return from exile as he admitted that he would be danger if he goes back to the crisis-ridden country.

Friends and supporters advised Musharraf to put off a homecoming announced between January 27-30 after Islamabad said he would be arrested if he returned from more than three years of self-imposed exile in London and Dubai,

"Party leaders are convinced it is not a suitable time for Musharraf to come to Pakistan," said Mohammad Ali Saif, central secretary in the retired general's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML).

Aides fear that the civilian government, under massive pressure from the military and the judiciary, may exploit Musharraf's return to divert attention from a series of crises likely to force early elections within months.

"A meeting of the party central executive committee has been summoned on January 25-26 in Dubai to make a final decision. Musharraf will chair the meeting," Saif added.

Mohammad Amjad, senior vice president in the APML, confirmed that Musharraf had been advised to postpone but that a final decision was pending.

Musharraf had promised to fly home to contest general elections now widely expected within months as Pakistan's civilian government sinks deeper into a major crisis, squeezed by the military and the judiciary.

In an interview broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at the same time that Amjad spoke to AFP, Musharraf admitted he would be in danger in Pakistan.

"I do feel endangered. There is a danger certainly, but you take your own protection and then leave things to destiny. Nobody can ensure you 100 percent protection," he said in what appeared to be a pre-recorded interview.

He admitted that his arrest was possible but said he would "like to remain out" of the crisis currently engulfing the government, army and judiciary.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the upper house of parliament that Musharraf would be arrested if he returns as planned.

Despite widespread disillusionment with the current government over power cuts, inflation, unemployment and the unpopular US alliance, few believe that the ex-dictator is the answer to Pakistan's troubles.

He faces two Pakistani court warrants for his arrest -- connected to the 2006 death of Akbar Bugti, a rebel leader in the southwest and the 2007 assassination of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Pakistan's crisis on Thursday saw the prime minister hauled before the Supreme Court on contempt proceedings at a time of enormous pressure with the army over alleged efforts to clip the military's wings with American help.

"I personally feel he should not come. The current situation is not in his favour and the atmosphere is hostile," Hamid Nawaz, a former general and Musharraf's former interior minister, told AFP.

He said Musharraf's fledgling APML party was ill-prepared to contest elections and that the former ruler would not be safe in Pakistan.

On October 19, a suicide attack targeting Bhutto's homecoming killed at least 139 people in Karachi, to date Pakistan's deadliest militant attack.

The military has not publicly announced that it would guarantee his safety and retired lieutenant general Talat Masood also warned against his return.

"It will be difficult for the government to provide security," Masood said, dismissing his aims as "unrealistic" and his party as "politically bankrupt".

"He is taking a political step and the military cannot do much because there are cases against him and he may be arrested," he added.

Musharraf was forced to step down in August 2008 after the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) formed a government following elections.