Musharraf's lonely road to democracy

Syed Fazl-e-Haider says Musharraf has little chance of a political comeback in Pakistan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 3:36am

Pakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf has returned home after four years of self-imposed exile, despite death threats, and now appears trapped.

He is on the hit list of Islamist extremists; he is the target of Baloch insurgents who have vowed to avenge the death of veteran Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, which Musharraf was accused of having a hand in; he is wanted by the judiciary in several cases; and he is shunned by mainstream political parties that want little to do with a former military dictator.

Musharraf, a dictator turned democrat, returned home last month to test his destiny in parliamentary elections scheduled for next month. Will he have any future role as a democrat in Pakistan? He came to power by a short cut (military coup) in 1999, but there is no short cut in electoral politics.

Musharraf has vowed to rescue the country from the scourge of extremism but it seems that he may fall prey to it. His return has incurred the ire of the Pakistani Taliban, who have threatened to assassinate him for his perceived allegiance to the US. He cannot move freely due to the security threats, remaining under tight security cover and moving around in a bullet-proof vehicle.

He is virtually under siege. Today, though he is still backed by the military establishment, which was willing to provide security for the former army chief, he is not backed by his former political allies. No longer in power, Musharraf finds his mantra of enlightened moderation is no longer attractive to the liberal political parties.

The days are gone when he was the most powerful man in the country, simultaneously holding the offices of president and army chief.

His allies and friends in domestic politics, who were part of his administration from 2002 to 2007, have heaped all the responsibility for any wrongdoing under his government solely onto his shoulders.

Musharraf is politically isolated. While in exile, he formed the All Pakistan Muslim League. On his return, he had hoped for a possible political comeback by becoming the nation's third political force, after the two major parties, the Pakistan People's Party led by President Asif Ali Zardari and main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. But no other party has so far been willing to join forces with the former dictator.

Over the weekend, poll officials in the northern Pakistani town of Chitral accepted Musharraf's nomination for the May elections. But he may not be able to muster enough support to ensure a poll victory. His party seems like a small bear poised to fight political bulls in electoral politics.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider is a development analyst in Pakistan