Musharraf: Pakistani ex-dictator back in line of fire
Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's former dictator who has flown home to Taliban death threats, remains hugely controversial nearly five years after he resigned, accused of treason and murder by his opponents.world Updated: Mar 24, 2013 15:10 IST
Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's former dictator who has flown home to Taliban death threats, remains hugely controversial nearly five years after he resigned, accused of treason and murder by his opponents.
A whisky-tippling moderate, he was a key US ally in the "war on terror" and escaped at least three Al-Qaeda assassination attempts when in office, but divides opinion in a nation starting to shake off long periods of military rule.
Supporters say he is convinced that he alone can save Pakistan in May general elections. He was fed up with sitting out his life on the sidelines in Dubai and London, they say.
"I want to put Pakistan on the road to prosperity and free it from terrorism," the 69-year-old said in an interview with Der Spiegel.
"The last five years... were a total failure" in Pakistan, Musharraf said, adding that "all the economic and social indicators showed that Pakistan was a developing country" before he fled into self-imposed exile.
In his memoir "In the Line of Fire", he quoted Napoleon and Richard Nixon as models for leadership -- men both known, among other things, for their tenacity.
But while Pakistan's security environment and economy are undeniably worse than when Musharraf left office, analysts say he is a spent political force.
Save for some elements from the military and businessmen, nostalgic for the initial boom under his rule, few are thought likely to vote for his All Pakistan Muslim League, founded in exile with the support of expatriates.
Musharraf was born in Old Delhi on August 11, 1943, and his family moved to the newly created Pakistan shortly after independence four years later. He said he had his first brush with death falling out of a mango tree as a boy.
He joined the Pakistan Military Academy at age 18 and became a commando about five years later, in 1966.
He rose through the ranks and in 1998, then-prime minister and current frontrunner for the May election, Nawaz Sharif, appointed him chief of staff.
As army chief, Musharraf orchestrated the brief, high-altitude "Kargil conflict" in Kashmir that took nuclear rivals India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
When he ousted Sharif in 1999 in a bloodless coup, many Pakistanis handed out sweets to celebrate the demise of a corrupt and economically disastrous administration.
Musharraf won a five-year term as president in a 2002 referendum, but reneged on promises to quit as army chief until late 2007.
Musharraf aligned with the United States after the September 11 attacks of 2001, earning international praise for trying to tackle Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants and for presiding over a period of record economic growth.
He faced no serious challenges until he tried to sack the country's chief justice in March 2007, sparking nationwide protests and months of turmoil that led to the imposition of a state of emergency in November 2007.
After the December 2007 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who had herself spent years in exile, the national mood soured even more and the crushing losses suffered by his allies in 2008 elections left him isolated.
On August 18, he finally resigned in the face of impeachment proceedings by the governing coalition.
Today he is wanted by the courts over Bhutto's death, the 2006 death of Akbar Bugti, a Baluch rebel leader in the southwest, and for the 2007 sacking and illegal arrest of judges. Bhutto's son, Bilawal, has accused him of her murder.
A 2010 UN report said Bhutto's death could have been prevented and accused Musharraf's government of failing to provide her with adequate protection. His administration blamed the assassination on the Pakistani Taliban.
Despite the controversies of his rule, the former leader says he is a viable alternative to the Bhutto and Sharif parties, proclaiming in an interview with AFP on Friday that it was his destiny to return to Pakistan.
"I will go by land, air or sea... even to the peril of my life, this is the oath I took for the country," Musharraf said.