Holbrooke dismisses chances of Musharraf comeback

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:34pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has very little chance of regaining power in 2013 elections and any return to military rule would be a disaster, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

"He has about as much chance of coming back to power as (former Soviet) President (Mikhail) Gorbachev," Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a gathering of U.S. diplomats and security experts.

Musharraf, who came to power in 1999 in a bloodless military coup, announced last month in London he had created a new party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, with an eye to competing in the 2013 polls.

Musharraf, who has lived in self-imposed exile since he stepped down under threat of impeachment in 2008, has said he believes he has "an even chance" of regaining power.

Holbrooke said Musharraf's comments should be taken with "considerable skepticism" and that the former Pakistani ruler was responsible in large part for the current struggle against Islamic extremism in the region.

"Had he fulfilled his promises to President Bush to restore democracy, close down the extreme madrassas (Islamic schools) and do the right thing in the tribal areas, we wouldn't be in the situation we are today. He didn't keep his word," Holbrooke said.

Musharraf has apologized for "wrong decisions" made as president. And while he has stopped short of calling for another military takeover, he has indicated he understood why some Pakistanis considered it an option.

Holbrooke said any return to military rule would be a disaster for Pakistan, where the United States is seeking to buttress a weak civilian government that is crucial to its war against Taliban extremists in neighboring Afghanistan.

"Let us not be nostalgic for military rule ... It would be a very big setback. You would have massive disruptions in the political system when stability is what you need," he said.

"Musharraf comes back and wins a democratic election? Fine. But as I indicated earlier, the chances of that are very slim."

(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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