Musharraf, who faces several arrest warrants in legal proceedings related to his nine-year autocratic rule, has said he is willing to risk everything to compete in a race that is expected to end in Pakistan’s first democratic transfer of power in its 65-year history.
Some analysts predict his return could stoke a potentially destabilizing confrontation between the judiciary and the military if a court orders his arrest. The betting is that the army that he served in for more than 40 years would defend him against going to jail, even though his popularity among the military is no longer strong.
Then again, Musharraf may receive a collective yawn from everyone except the fevered media if, as promised, he lands Sunday in Karachi on an Emirates Airlines flight from Dubai, his home in exile. Reporters scrambled to reserve seats on the plane, even though the retired general has scrubbed previous avowed returns.
No one really can predict how the Musharraf wild card would affect elections set for May 11, but parlor-game speculation is rampant about the arrival – or not - of the bridge-playing former military leader.
His boosters contend that the public yearns for the stability and better economic times often associated with the Musharraf era, which ended in 2008, because they’ve been hammered by five years of inflation, joblessness and worsening energy shortages under the ruling Pakistan People’s Party.
Musharraf, 69, has never run for office, but his ego appears up to the job: He possesses a stubborn certitude about his value to the nation.
“I’m going back to set the country right, if given the chance,” he said in an interview with the France 24 television network earlier this month. Asked whether he would settle for a seat in parliament, he said firmly, “No, no, no . . . I cannot lower my stature.”
“The parties would hate to see Pervez Musharraf come back and for the people to recall what a tremendous government he had run,” said retired Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, who headed the military’s public relations wing under Musharraf.
“Everyone had a job. Everyone seemed to be making money and prospering,” Qureshi said.
Others call that view overly rosy and say Musharraf is taking undeserved credit for a global swell of prosperity that lifted all economic boats. And, say critics, any good Musharraf did was offset by a far darker legacy that included suspending the constitution, arresting political foes and ousting the Supreme Court in an effort to remain in power.
He faced certain impeachment before he stepped down in August 2008. And though his backers argue today that his one-man rule was essentially democratic, that doesn’t quite wash. After all, it started when he seized power from then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who had been duly elected.