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04/19/2013

A turbulent homecoming - and arrest - for Pakistan's leader

Pervez Musharraf
A pedestrian walks past an election poster of former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf on a street in Islamabad on Friday. (AMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

He was living in a three-bedroom apartment in central London, steps away from all the glitz and culture of one of the world's greatest cities. Evenings were spent playing bridge late into the night and singing ghazal songs with old friends.  

Not a bad way to spend retirement, some might say.

But Pervez Musharraf, 70, had no intention of a cozy retirement funded by lucrative lecture tours around the world.  Instead the former military leader returned home last month after five years of self-imposed exile, hoping to make a democratic play for power in May’s election with his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League. 

But his homecoming hasn’t been warm.  Musharraf is now under house arrest in Islamabad on charges of unlawfully detaining judges dating back to his rule. 

That’s just one of his headaches.

The Senate passed a resolution demanding he should be charged with high treason. He failed four times to get a candidacy seat for next month’s elections. And the Taliban has promised to assassinate him. Besides his support for American foreign policy the Taliban don’t like his fondness for dogs – he has two Pekingese, Dot and Buddy  - and the occasional tipple of whiskey.

Mush, as he is known to pundits, is just as unpopular as he was when he ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008. His support of George Bush’s war on terror, going after Al Qaeda and Taliban militants after 9/11, caused a huge amount of anger.  When he left office, he was facing impeachment. 

His legal troubles are setting a historical precedent because no army chief in Pakistan has ever been arrested.  What happens next to Musharraf may set the tone for the balance of power between the military and a corrupt civilian leadership who between themselves have done a terrible job of governing the country.  

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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