KARACHI, Pakistan – When he left Pakistan in 2008, he was seen as a dictator who shunned democracy in a country that wanted to embrace it. On Sunday, former military ruler Pervez Musharraf returned to his homeland after four years of self-imposed exile, hoping that a nation readying itself for historic parliamentary elections would hail his momentous return.
But as he stepped off the plane at Karachi’s international airport, he came back to a very different nation – one that has no interest in bringing back military rule, and appears to have little if any appetite to give a onetime autocrat a major spotlight on the political stage.
“He has a lot of misunderstanding about his political standing in Pakistan,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a leading Pakistani political analyst. “He has high hopes, but the political realities have changed in Pakistan. If he contests the elections, maybe he gets elected to parliament, or one or two people from his party get elected. But with two or three people in the legislature, you can’t really do that much. So I don’t think he’s going to be an important player in Pakistani politics.”
The 69-year-old former president and army chief arrived in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and its commercial capital, in the early afternoon after leaving Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Though he faces criminal charges linked to the assassination of a former prime minister and the slaying of a Baluch nationalist leader, the most immediate peril confronting him is the Pakistani Taliban, who say they have assembled suicide bomb squads to kill him.
Greeting him at the airport was a small but vocal crowd of several hundred supporters, many of them dancing and waving green flags and banners with his image. Musharraf’s aides had expected tens of thousands of backers to show up at the airport. Later in the afternoon, he spoke to the crowd, portraying himself as a savior risking his life for the sake of his homeland.
“People said I wouldn’t come back and would be afraid. But I fear only God,” Musharraf told the crowd. “Risking my life, I have returned because people wanted me to come back and save Pakistan.”