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Musharraf comeback looks remote


* Musharraf plans to contest elections by 2013
* No support for Musharraf by any politician, leader

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf has spent two years building a Facebook following and cultivating the media, but few believe his audacious plan to recapture power has any chance of success.

Aside from the small matter of possible death or arrest if he steps foot on home soil, there is little sign he can win over the politicians he alienated, the judges he sacked, his former underlings at the military or the Americans.

From the comforts of self-imposed exile in London, the 67-year-old unveiled the All Pakistan Muslim League on Friday and has said he would contest elections in 2013.

The current climate could not be more uncomfortable for President Asif Ali Zardari and his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), facing an onslaught of criticism at home over perceived economic, political and governance failings.

With the military said to be mulling ways to shake up the coalition, the Supreme Court flexing its muscles and the media calling for Zardari’s head, now could be the perfect time for the return of a leader remembered for his firm grip on power.

The government’s perceived response to floods, a deadly threat from Taliban militants and an economy in meltdown have all shaken a country still getting used to democracy after almost a decade of military rule.

But aside from a tiny band of loyalists, none of the principal powerbrokers and few people on the street believe Musharraf is the answer.

“I wouldn’t read too much into him announcing his party. The going would be very, very tough for him if he did decide to return,” Pakistani political and security analyst Imtiaz Gul said.

“Those chances are remote in the near term because Pakistani people already suffered because of him for nine years and neither the military nor the Americans would like to hedge their bet on a person who has outlived his utility.” No prominent politician has declared support for Musharraf.

When asked recently about Musharraf’s possible return, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that he would be “received by the chief justice.” The meaning was clear; the current government wants Musharraf back in Pakistan only in the dock, standing trial in the highest court in the land.

To form a government and become prime minister, Musharraf would need to win at least 172 seats in the 342-member national assembly.

Pakistan’s most popular politician today is Nawaz Sharif, head of the PML-N and considered the probable victor of the country’s next election. But relations with Musharraf could not be worse. It was Sharif whom he ousted as prime minister in his 1999 coup, then saddled him with hijacking and attempted murder charges.

Musharraf would have to reunite the parties who supported his rule the first time round, but even former allies have remained silent. “We are trying to unite all the factions of the Muslim League and then Musharraf will lead that alliance,” a self-described leader in the new All Pakistan Muslim League Amoon Pasha said.

That ambition for the moment appears to rest on the elderly head of Pakistan Muslim League-F Pir Pagara, who has just one seat in the national assembly.

“Pagara has assured us full support and has started meeting with senior Muslim League’s leaders and parliamentarians,” said Pasha.

While Musharraf brushes off the threat of treason charges, he has admitted there are “other dangers”, including assassination attempts from militants who tried to kill him twice when he was in power.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been blamed for killing more than 3,700 people in three years of devastating attacks, including the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto after her return from exile. Nor do analysts rate Musharraf’s chances of winning support in Washington, which appears determined to stick by civilian rule in ally Pakistan.

“Why would the Americans go to an ex-general? The Americans will look for a player who is relevant today. It could either be a political leader or a general in the army,” said political analyst Hasan Askari.

If Musharraf does return home, many expect Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to summon him over the 2007 arrests of senior judges as the general attempted to cling onto power.

“On balance, the odds seem to be against Musharraf. It will not be entirely surprising to see him backtrack on his promise to return to Pakistan soon and let his enthusiasm cool,” said a recent editorial in a Pakistani newspaper. afp

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