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Three Questions: Pakistan and Former President Musharraf's Political Ambitions

The announcement by Pakistan's former military ruler President Pervez Musharraf to form a new party and re-enter the political fray two years after stepping down raises the question: should the political ambitions of Musharraf be taken seriously?

We turned to VOA's Senior News Analyst and former Islamabad bureau chief Gary Thomas.

Does Musharraf's plan to get back into Pakistani politics come as a surprise?

Thomas: "It kind of is. There were hints that he wanted to get back into politics, but on the other hand, but when you've been disgraced in your own country as a politician and forced out of office, the yearning to go back may still be there on his part, but maybe not on the part of the public. You look at someone like Richard Nixon, who in 1962 lost a gubernatorial race, and said, 'You won't have Nixon to kick around any more.' And six years later, he's running and wins for president of the United States. So it's not unheard of, but... Musharraf could well be arrested on his return, there are rumors that the government would like to pin something on him for corruption, or maybe even there's some talk of trying to pin him for the murder of [former Prime Minister] Benazir Bhutto of all things. There's no evidence that he has any link to that. But he's going to face problems when he goes back."

Pakistan has vaciliated between civilian and military rule, considering that Musharraf was formerly in the military, how does that background affect him politically?

Thomas: "Well, it's kind of unusual in the sense that we've had military leaders in Pakistan who have taken power, but as military leaders. Musharraf took off his uniform while he was in office, but only under pressure. So you don't usually have former military leaders who run for political office. He's forming a new political party and he apparently says this is on the basis of, you know, he has a huge Facebook following. I don't know that I would count up my friends on Facebook and say I can form a political party on the basis of that, but that seems to be what he is doing."

The United States pressed for Musharraf to step down from power. Is his return, would this be an indication that democratic values within Pakistan could be waning and we're seeing the rise of the military again in the nation's politics?

Thomas: "I don't think so. I think this is just one man and his ego. I don't think the military is eager to step back. There is one sort of wildcard here, though, that they did take a public opinion poll in Pakistan recently of various people and institutions and found the military still had very strong favor, some of the other parties had strong favor. The one with the lowest approval rating of all was President Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari's unpopularity is huge, but given that, I don't think Musharraf is the one to step into any political vacuum. I think he is just discredited currency at this point."