Musharraf eyes Pakistan presidency in political comeback

LONDON, Sept 11, 2010 (AFP) - Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has vowed to return to politics in a bid to restore the country's self-confidence and thinks he could become president again.

The retired army general told the BBC he would form a new political party and stand for parliament at the next general election in 2013.

Internally Displaced Pakistani people along wiht Pakistani Air Force officers offer Eid Al-Fitr prayers at a camp in Sukkur on September 11, 2010. AFP

The ex-president said he would return to Pakistan before then and acknowledged that doing so would be risking his life.

Musharraf, 67, said he was not scared of possible legal cases against him and insisted that he had to try to lift Pakistan out of its "pathetic situation".

He admitted his popularity had waned but said it was still strong among the majority of Pakistanis who do not vote.

"Two hundred percent I will participate in the next election. Standing for myself. Standing for a party that I'll create," Musharraf said Friday in London, where he lives in exile.

"I do intend creating a new party because I think the time has come in Pakistan when we need to introduce a new political culture: a culture which can take Pakistan forward on a correct democratic path, not on an artificial, make-believe democratic path."

Musharraf said he would launch the new party "in the very near future" but would not return home for the moment.

"The only certainty is that I will go back before the next elections," he said.

Asked if he was confident of becoming the next president, the former army chief replied: "No, I can't be assured, I can't be confident, but I believe there is a good chance of my winning on the political scene.

"I haven't decided whether I'm going to be president or anything, but however, winning first of all in the next election is the issue.

"There is a good chance and I believe very strongly that it's better to try and fail rather than not try and go down without trying, because at this moment we see darkness all over in Pakistan.

"We have to show light, we have to show an alternative or viable alternative where people see light and gain some confidence, because there is total breakdown of self-confidence of the people of Pakistan. They have lost hope in Pakistan. It's a pathetic situation."

As army chief, Musharraf ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999. He was president from 2001 and has mostly lived in London since resigning in 2008.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Musharraf made his country a key ally of then US president George W Bush in the "war on terror", but still faced a resurgence of Islamist militants in the tribal areas near Afghanistan.

In 2007 he moved to sack dozens of top judges, sparking mass protests. He declared a state of emergency in November that year, suspending the constitution.

But he stepped down as army chief within weeks amid claims he was endangering the country's fragile democracy.

He eventually resigned as president when opponents threatened impeachment on charges that reportedly included violation of the constitution.

Pakistan's prime ministers are elected by the national assembly, and its presidents by an electoral college of the senate, national and provincial assemblies.

"So first of all you should have a party which wins in the elections," Musharraf said on his chances of returning to high office.

"I did very well for Pakistan, I know that. I can challenge anybody on any point as far as Pakistan as a state and the people of Pakistan are concerned.

"We did wonders for them in those seven years, which should be compared with the 50 years of the past."

Musharraf said possible legal cases against him were not putting him off a swift return.

"Legally, I am absolutely on a safe wicket," he said. "We will go and face the music, we'll answer every allegation."

He said security was a concern. "One is not scared, really, for oneself but still, one shouldn't be foolhardy," he said, though he acknowledged there was a risk of him being "killed".

As president, he faced assassination threats from militant groups.

"I have fought wars, I have faced dangers and I'm a lucky man. I'll try my luck again and I'm not scared of that," he said.

"There's a bigger cause. Bigger than myself. The cause is Pakistan at this moment and I feel it's incumbent on any Pakistani to come forward if he or she can contribute."

Musharraf's political rivals in Pakistan greeted his possible comeback with scorn.

"The brave former army commando preferred to run away instead of facing courts of law in Pakistan," said Siddique-ul-Farooque, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

"Musharraf must remember that whenever he gets out of this hibernation and comes back to Pakistan, he will have to face the courts."

Liaqat Baloch, a leader of Pakistan's largest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, told AFP, "The former president is a coward man and he will not return to Pakistan."

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