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Musharraf Returns to Pakistan After Four-Year Exile

Pakistan's former president, Pervez Musharraf, addresses a group of supporters following his arrival in Karachi March 24, 2013.
Pakistan’s former military president Pervez Musharraf has returned home after four years of self-imposed exile. He is now running in upcoming parliamentary elections, despite death threats from Taliban extremists and pending legal challenges.

Former Pakistan army general Pervez Musharraf arrived in Karachi on a flight from Dubai, ending four years of exile. As was expected by many in Pakistan, only a few hundred supporters gathered outside the airport to welcome the man who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999, and who went on to rule the country for nearly a decade.

Critics remain skeptical about Musharraf’s chances for a come-back. Many Pakistanis blame his policies for the country’s current energy crisis, economic hardships and rise in extremism.

The former military man sounded upbeat about regaining political influence as he briefly addressed the small crowd shouting slogans in his support. General Musharraf mocked critics who said personal threats to his safety and pending legal proceedings would keep him away.

He said his opponents are trying to scare him, but he “only fears God and no one else”. As the former military commando put it, “I have risked my life, but I want to save Pakistan."

Musharraf resigned as president because political forces that won the elections in 2008 had threatened to impeach him, and a few months later he left Pakistan.

Pakistani Taliban militants have threatened to kill Musharraf upon his return. While in power, the former general survived two assassination attempts by al-Qaida-linked extremists. Under his leadership Pakistan joined the U.S.-led war against Islamist extremists, and launched military offensives on militant sanctuaries in the country’s restive tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

There are also several cases pending in Pakistani courts linking him to the assassination of former leader Benazir Bhutto and a key nationalist leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, charges the former president has repeatedly denied. Musharraf’s legal advisors managed to arrange pre-arrest bail in all the cases, paving the way for his return on Sunday.

Upcoming poll

The former president arrived on a day when Mir Hazar Khan Khoso was appointed as a caretaker prime minister to lead the government until May 11, when national elections are to be held.

Pakistan’s Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin Ibrahim made the long-awaited announcement at a crowded news conference in Islamabad, promising a free and fair vote.

“It is a very important issue. This gentleman is going to hold free and fair elections along with us. No doubt he (Khoso) is the government, but he is also obliged to assist us in holding free and fair elections.”

Political parties have welcomed the appointment of 84-year old Khoso as the caretaker prime minister, a former chief justice of the violence-hit Baluchistan province. Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, the caretaker chief executive promised the upcoming elections will be held on time.

Khoso also urged nationalist groups from his home province of Baluchistan to take part in the political process. The resource-rich southwestern Pakistani region is plagued with a low-level Baloch insurgency.

Continuing violence there along with Taliban militant violence in the northwest is seen as a major threat to the elections.

This is the first time in Pakistan's history an elected government has completed its full term, and a democratic transition is set to take place after the May vote.