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RFE/RL Exclusive: Musharraf Says His New Party Will Lead 'Pakistan Out Of Darkness'

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 04.10.2010 05:03

LONDON -- Former Pakistanii military ruler Pervez Musharraf says he decided to form a new Pakistani political party because he wants to "introduce a new, democratic political culture" to his country.

In a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL in London, where he now lives, Musharraf said he planned to return triumphantly to Islamabad "before the next elections," which are scheduled for 2013.

His new party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, was needed on the scene because Pakistan finds itself in a "dismal" place, he said. "I'm forming this new party because on the political landscape of Pakistan I don't see any other party which can deliver Pakistan from the darkness in which it is at present finding itself."

Bloodless Coup, Years Of Rule

Musharraf's entrance in 1999 onto Pakistan's tumultuous political scene was under markedly different circumstances.

In October of that year, military lieutenants loyal to Musharraf, who was then head of the Pakistani Army, launched a coup against the elected civilian government of Nawaz Sharif in retaliation for Sharif's decision to sack Musharraf for launching a military conflict with India in Kashmir.

In the bloodless coup, Musharraf claimed power and for the next nine years ruled the nuclear-armed nation unchallenged.

The political system he put together was built on safeguarding his position. In 2002 he held a referendum in which he was the only candidate. His critics accuse him of stifling democracy, persecuting opponents, promoting cronyism and corruption, and systematically undermining governance by tampering with key institutions.

His rivals blame him for turning Pakistan into a global front line in the U.S.-led war against terrorism and argue that he showed extreme deception in his alliance with the West. While publicly siding with Washington, he quietly allowed sanctuaries for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's western borderlands with Afghanistan, which still pose grave threats to regional and international security.

Now, on the brink of returning to Islamabad, Musharraf is both looking back at his record of what he said was one of "major progress" for Pakistan and ahead at what he wants to accomplish next.

Apology To The Nation

But first, he is setting the record straight. At the unveiling of his new party on October 1 in London, he told the crowd and cameras: "I am aware of the fact that there were some decisions which I took which resulted in negative political repercussions, repercussions which had adverse effects on nation building and national political events, and my popularity also, may I say, plummeted in that last year. I take this opportunity to sincerely apologize to the whole nation."

He said he decided to make the apology because in hindsight, he sees how decisions he alone made created the problems that ended his presidency. Among them, he fired the chief justice of the Supreme Court, imposed a state of emergency, and was both the president and head of the army for a brief period.

Of those decisions, he now says, "They may have been legal, they may have been constitutional, but it led to turmoil, negative effects on the state, and they are the ones that I apologized for."

Musharraf doesn't blame anyone else for what he calls his "political failures" -- which he says his opponents exploited -- and predicts that he will return to Pakistan with "political authority, political legitimacy, and with the support of the people."

He won't name the date of his return but says before the next election he will be in the country, "creating a certain environment." And to skeptics who say he cannot build support from his base in London, he says he can.

"We will prepare the groundwork [in London] and make a formal party, draw people towards us," he said. "Once that environment is created, I land in Pakistan, and then I create that upsurge in the movement toward my party. That is what my plan is."

Challenges At Home

The Pakistan he will return to is still suffering deeply from the devastating floods of this summer. Tensions with the NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan are running high after cross-border helicopter strikes led to Pakistani casualties. The border area with Afghanistan remains a haven for terrorists. The socioeconomic situation is in deep need of improvement.

But Musharraf has a plan of action for the list of challenges facing his country, and he insists that Pakistan "has tremendous potential [and] the resources to stand on its own feet."

If the country "gets it act together," he said, it can solve its socioeconomic problems, curb terrorism and extremism, and remove the political turmoil that has come to define the government. "It's not a shortage of resources [or] a shortage of capabilities," he insists, "it is actually a leadership failure. So the leadership is unable to harness all the potential that Pakistan has."

Musharraf says he wants to declare "jihad against illiteracy and poverty and backwardness." He talks about the need to bring the private sector into the government's effort to spread and improve educational opportunities. He is passionate about the need for more vocational training for young people.

Although his new party's manifesto declares that no law should be made in Pakistan that goes against the Koran -- which the Taliban also believes -- Musharraf says his view of Islam is "a very educated, well understood concept of Islam, [a] progressive...educated concept."

He cites the Taliban's attitude toward women, and their edict that women be made to stay inside and not receive education, as one of many interpretations of the Koran he doesn't share. "I am of quite the opposite view. I think the Islamic view on women is certainly an emancipated woman, and not the backward woman that they are talking about."

On how effectively Pakistan is dealing with the terrorists and extremists who are operating with impunity in the mountainous border region with Afghanistan, Musharraf said a misperception is being created and disseminated by "senior members of official Afghan circles."

The problem does not originate in Pakistan, he says, but in Afghanistan, where he says "not enough is being done."

"They may be coming into Pakistan, they have sanctuaries in Pakistan, they have support, there are Taliban in the mountains of Pakistan, but the main force -- the concentration of Taliban -- is in Afghanistan," he said. "This misperception [is] being created that [the problem] is Pakistan."

He added, "You win in Afghanistan, you will also win in Pakistan. You win in Pakistan, I don't think you are going to win in Afghanistan."

As for the homegrown insurgents within Pakistan who are increasingly becoming a problem for the government, Musharraf said Islamabad needs to focus on its own "breeding ground of terrorism." He says extremism in Pakistan "is what is fueling terrorism and fueling the linkage with the Taliban."

Long Odds

Musharraf's new political endeavor has been greeted with mixed feelings in Pakistan. Few expect him to be ever able to win a fair election. The fact that most politicians -- even his erstwhile allies -- appear reluctant to join his new political party seems likely to deprive him of putting together a credible political machine.

He is universally disliked by Pakistani political classes and most major political parties would strongly resist his political comeback.

Musharraf seems to know the odds against him as he begins the long road that he hopes will take him back to power.

"I would like to come into politics -- into the democratic dispensation of Pakistan -- on my own feet, with no need of assistance from anyone," he says.

"It is the people of Pakistan who need to support me and back me up. That is the way to come forward and win. Not on the shoulders of anybody else."

interview conducted by Akbar Ayazi in London. Written by Heather Maher, with additional reporting and writing from Abubakar Siddique

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Musharraf_Says_His_New_Party_Will_Lead_Pakistan_Out_Of_Darkness/2175515.html

Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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