ondon, Oct 1: Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf today announced his much-anticipated return to mainstream politics with an apology for the "political mistakes" of the last years of his regime and promised to start his career with a "clean slate".
Launching his new banner -- the All Pakistan Muslim League -- thousands of miles away from Pakistan, the former President said he would return to his country and contest the 2013 general elections. "On this occasion, I apologise to the people of the country," Musharraf, who is on self-imposed exile since the general election of 2009, said. The 67-year old also said his party would strive for friendly and peaceful relations with India, but after peaceful resolution of all issues. "I acknowledge that during the last years of my regime, there were some decisions, which I can term as political mistakes," he said at a crowded press conference in central London. "... I promise not to commit them again. I start my political career with clean slate," he added.
Musharraf, who toppled Nawaz Sharif's elected government in 1999 in a bloodless military coup, was at the helm of affairs in Pakistan for eight years, before he paved the way for the return of democracy. He said he took the decision to return to active politics as "I don't see any political alternative who could show ray of light to Pakistanis. I think I can be that ray of light". He said that if voted to power in the next elections, his party would have "zero tolerance for extremism" in the country. "There will be zero tolerance for extremism," he said.
The commando-turned-politician said Pakistan had made significant gains under his rule, and expressed dismay that the achievements of his years are being wasted by the present government. He said the majority of Pakistan's 170 million people were living in poverty, while the few rich and powerful manipulate the law to their own benefit. His party, he said, would launch a "jihad against poverty and hunger". Musharraf said its time to reignite the fire of the All India Muslim League -- the movement that had succeeded in carving out an independent Pakistan in 1947. "There is need to bring all patriotic people under one flag, that flag should be the All Pakistan Muslim League," the former military ruler said. "I believe this common flag can be the flag of All Pakistan Muslim League which will strive for the Pakistan of Quaid-e-Azam's (Mohammad Ali Jinnah) vision," he said.
Pakistan, Musharraf said, was established because the Muslims of the subcontinent believed they would not be able to enjoy freedom under Hindu rule in India. "We got an independent country... we became a free nation, but look at the condition of the common people. They are yet to be freed from poverty, a majority of them are illiterate. "Was this the Pakistan for which we had struggled?" he asked. "An unhappy country is like a graveyard," he said. Musharraf, earlier told the BBC that the army must be involved in lifting Pakistan from its current economic woes and political infighting in addition to Pakistan People's Party government's failure to provide effective relief to victims of recent floods. Musharraf said "there is a growing sense of despondency spreading in Pakistan and that the threat of terrorism and a dysfunctional government are causing a crisis."
"The situation in Pakistan can only be solved when the military has some role," he said. "If you want stability, checks and balances in the democratic structure of Pakistan, the military ought to have some sort of role." Musharraf claimed that the circumstances that forced him to launch a coup against the civilian government in 1999 have re-emerged.
Security was tight for the launch, which took place at 1 Whitehall Place near 10 Downing Street. Sniffer dogs were brought into the room where about 200 people awaited the announcement regarding the launch of the party. The new political party must be registered in Pakistan before the country's scheduled elections in 2013. Describing the present administration in Pakistan as "corrupt", Musharraf said it had failed to meet the challenges posed by devastating floods and nose-diving economy, besides the the persistent extremist attacks.
"This is about leading, about support of the people and that's my strength," Musharraf said in a Connect the World interview with CNN. "I don't see a political party out there now that is capable of bringing light back in the country. We need a new political culture that shuns dynasty politics," he said. The former military strongman said he wanted a greater presence of women and minorities participating in the body politic. Musharraf claimed that he has "strong pockets" of support and there is a "huge clamour" for his return. He said his Facebook page has more than 300,000 followers and he has raised USD 3 million for flood relief, and wanted to attract the many people who did not vote to give him support. Amid stepped up drone strikes by the US, Musharraf said he did not support the attacks by foreign forces, but backed such actions by Pakistani troops. Musharraf resigned in 2008 as Pakistan's ruling coalition began taking steps to impeach him, and Asif Zardari succeeded him. PTI