LONDON (Reuters) - Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf said Friday he will return to lead a new political party to tackle corruption, revive the sluggish economy and step up the fight against Islamist militants.
Musharraf, who quit office in 2008 to avoid impeachment charges, said he feared the nuclear-armed country could break up without a change of political leadership.
Pakistan is a frontline state in the United States’ fight against Islamist militancy in the region, but questions about Islamabad’s commitment to the campaign have raised tensions between the two countries.
“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,” he told BBC radio.
“There is a sense of despondency spreading in Pakistan. We cannot allow Pakistan to disintegrate. So who is the savior? The army can do it. Nobody else can do it.”
London-based Musharraf, who took power in a military coup in 1999, denied that he faced arrest for treason if he returns to Pakistan, although he said he did fear assassination attempts.
“There is no charge against me, whoever thinks like that doesn’t know the reality,” he said. “There are other dangers.”
Asked when he would return, Musharraf said it would be before the next elections, due by 2013.
“I won’t wait until 2013,” he said. “The stronger I am politically, the more grounds there will be for me to go.”
He warned that a Taliban insurgency could engulf Pakistan unless the government takes a stronger stance.
“If we don’t curb it, there is a possibility that we keep going down and it could end up destroying (the country),” he told BBC radio. “If the armed forces of Pakistan don’t want that, it will never end up destroying Pakistan.”
Musharraf has talked of re-entering politics several times over the past year. Since leaving Pakistan, he has spent most of his time in Britain and the United States.
His popularity waned after he clashed with the judiciary and imposed a six-week stint of emergency rule in 2007 to thwart opposition to his efforts to secure another term. An alliance with the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks was also deeply unpopular with many voters.
Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said Musharraf’s prospects in Pakistani politics were weak — at least for now.
“Traditionally, military rulers have not succeeded in popular politics, including those who went to the opposition,” he said. “He’ll have to come back and demonstrate his support. While sitting in London you can’t really do politics.”
Political commentator Najam Sethi said Musharraf’s new party faced big hurdles.
“Musharraf does have a constituency but since the two mainstream parties, the media and the judiciary are against him, the short-term prospects don’t look good,” he said.
Reporting by Peter Griffiths in London and Augustine Anthony in Islamabad; Editing by Louise Ireland