In his first address since returning to Pakistan from self-exile, former president Pervez Musharraf declared his intention to run for office, saying he defied risks to ‘save’ the country.
“I have come back home today. Where are those who used to say I would never come back?” the former dictator, who plans to stand in a historic May 11 general election, told members of his political party at Karachi airport.
Hundreds of supporters had gathered at the airport, beating drums, dancing, waving green flags with pictures of Musharraf and Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and scattering rose petals.
“I don’t get scared by anyone except Allah the Almighty... I have come back by putting my life in danger,” Musharraf, who also faces a series of legal cases, told a gathering of his All Pakistan Muslim League.
“I have been ordered by my people to come back and save our Pakistan, even at the risk of my life. I want to tell all those who are making such threats that I have been blessed by Allah the Almighty.”
Musharraf (69), is not thought likely to win more than a couple of seats for his party in the polls and he remains a highly controversial figure.
He seized power in a bloodless coup as army chief in 1999 but left the country after resigning in 2008, when Asif Ali Zardari was elected president after the murder of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
As ruler Musharraf escaped three al-Qaeda assassination attempts. He became a prominent target for Islamist extremists after making Pakistan a key US ally in the ‘war on terror’ after the 9/11 attacks.
Musharraf was forced to scrap plans to hold a public rally at Jinnah’s tomb in Karachi after the Taliban threatened to send a squad of suicide bombers to assassinate him.
Supporters on the flight from Dubai shouted ‘Long live Musharraf’, annoying some of the regular passengers. Musharraf, who has been granted protective bail told reporters before leaving Dubai that he was ‘not feeling nervous’ but admitted some concern.
“I am feeling concerned about the unknown... there are a lot of unknown factors of terrorism and extremism, unknown factors of legal issue, unknown factors of how much I will be able to perform,” he said.