From the safety of a London library, Pakistan’s ousted ruler, Pervez Musharraf, officially launched his political comeback yesterday around a personality-driven new party, offering to be the “light in the darkness” for his long-suffering country.
Musharraf, a former general who held power after a military coup in 1999 until he was forced out two years ago, vehemently denied reports he was calling for another army takeover.
He admitted to having made unspecified mistakes while in power, but he used the occasion principally to pour scorn on the civilian government elected to replace him, accusing it of corruption and incompetence in the face of a natural disaster. After two years’ exile in London, he said he could no longer stand on the sidelines.
The launch of the All Pakistan Muslim League was the climax of an elaborate series of interviews and advance publicity. Yesterday more than 200 of his supporters were wedged between the leather-bound tomes of the Gladstone Library at the National Liberal Club in London and shown a screened account of the “achievements” of the Musharraf years.
In particular, his response to a severe earthquake in 2005 was portrayed as being far more brisk and effective — with helicopters delivering aid that was enthusiastically distributed by Pakistani troops — than President Asif Ali Zardari’s reaction to the recent devastating floods.
To ominous background music, ordinary Pakistanis were shown helplessly marooned. “Apres moi le deluge,” Musharraf seemed to be telling his country.
“This is not merely a manifesto. This is a covenant between me and God, and between me and the people of Pakistan,” he said, under the new party symbol, a martial--looking falcon.
Earlier in the day, he told BBC radio: “When there is a dysfunctional government and the nation is going down and its economy is going down ... there is a pressure on the military from the people. There is a sense of despondency spreading in Pakistan. So who is the savior? The army can do it. Nobody else can do it.”
Last night, however, he denied he was calling for a return of the army to power.
“I don’t think the army will ever take over. The army doesn’t need to take over,” he said.
There are few signs of political support for him inside Pakistan.
“Musharraf can no longer count on the only constituency that might once have backed him, and that’s the army,” said Farzana Shaikh, associate fellow of the international relations think tank Chatham House’s Asia program and author of Making Sense of Pakistan.
Musharraf is evidently still a long way from home, but for an exiled ruler who has spent more than a year in a three-bedroom apartment off London’s Edgware Road, last night’s brightly lit stage and the admiring audience must have seemed like the next-best thing to being back in power.