KARACHI Exiled former president Pervez Musharraf said on Sunday he would return to Pakistan later this month to lead his recently formed party in campaigning for a parliamentary election, despite the possibility of his arrest and concern over his security.
"There are efforts to scare me, but these people don't know that I'm not among the afraid," Musharraf told a rally of about 8,000 supporters in the commercial centre Karachi via video link from Dubai.
The former general said he would return between January 27 and 30 and dismissed concern about his security. "I have fought wars. I am not scared of danger."
Musharraf's return, to lead his All Pakistan Muslim League's campaign for an election due by 2013, would add to the political uncertainty at a time of tension between the weak civilian government and the powerful military, which sets foreign and security policies.
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Musharraf resigned and went to live abroad after his allies lost a parliamentary election in 2008 and the new coalition government threatened him with impeachment.
His popularity had plummeted after he became embroiled in a row with the judiciary and briefly imposed a state of emergency in 2007.
Saudi and Pakistani sources told Reuters on Sunday that Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, planned to travel to Saudi Arabia to seek the kingdom's backing before going home.
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, has considerable influence in political circles in Pakistan because of its assistance to the South Asian nation's fragile economy.
"Musharraf will be travelling to Saudi soon in order to get support before he goes back to Pakistan," said a Gulf-based Saudi source familiar with the matter. A Pakistani source also said Musharraf, who is in Dubai, would go to Saudi Arabia soon.
The source declined to say what form of support he was seeking. Some reports have said Musharraf, who faces possible arrest on charges of failing to provide adequate security to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto before her assassination in 2007, will seek Saudi guarantees that he would not be detained.
He also faces threats to his life from Islamist militants seeking revenge for the crackdown he ordered against them.
In 2007, Saudi King Abdullah helped broker the return to Pakistan of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who Musharraf had sent to Saudi Arabia in 2000 under what his government said was an agreement that Sharif would stay in exile for 10 years.
Saudi sources say their country is concerned about the friction between Pakistan's army and government in recent months.
"The stability of Pakistan is very important to the region and has to be maintained," said a second Pakistani source.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is facing his biggest political crisis since taking office in 2008, over an unsigned memo to the Pentagon seeking U.S. help to rein in Pakistan's generals, who have ruled the nation for more than half its history.
Businessman Mansoor Ijaz, in a column in the Financial Times, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked for the memo to be delivered. Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's then ambassador in Washington and a close Zardari aide.
Haqqani denies any involvement, and no evidence has emerged that the military was plotting a coup.
The Supreme Court has ordered an investigation into the matter, which could further threaten the civilian government, especially if it established a link between the memo and Zardari.
(Additional reporting by Amena Bakr in DUBAI; Writing by Qasim Nauman; Editing by Michael Georgy and Tim Pearce)