Musharraf launches comeback bid with new Pakistan party

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Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf vowed Friday to return to politics as he launched a new party in London, where he has spent the past two years in self-imposed exile.

At a packed press conference, the retired general unveiled the All Pakistan Muslim League with which he will contest the next elections in 2013 as a civilian -- although he said he would return before then.

"The time has come to make Pakistan into a progressive, modern Islamic state," he said, cheered on by dozens of supporters.

The new party would be a "national salvation", he said, warning that Pakistan's current government under President Asif Ali Zardari was failing to "show any signs of light in the darkness that prevails in Pakistan."

Asked when he would go home, Musharraf said: "Whatever the dangers, whatever the pitfalls, I will be in Pakistan before the next election."

The 67-year-old has acknowledged threats from Islamists, who twice tried to kill him when he was in power, but he brushed off the threat of treason charges he could face on his return.

"Today there is no case against me in the courts of Pakistan. Whatever cases have ben instituted have been done on political grounds. That, I am prepared to face when I get there," he said.

Musharraf made his announcement against a backdrop comprising the white and green colours of Pakistan's flag and the new party's logo, the crescent and star of the national flag and a hawk's head.

Earlier this week, he explained at a public debate his reasons for returning, saying: "When I see what is happening in Pakistan I think there is a bigger cause, and when there is a bigger cause you have to take risks."

Musharraf came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and quit in August 2008 after a new government led by the party of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto threatened to impeach him. He was replaced by Zardari, Bhutto's widower.

He warned this week that Pakistan was at risk of a new coup against Zardari, who is struggling with rampant militancy, a crumbling economy and recent devastating floods.

He also called for the army to be given a constitutional role in the turbulent politics of the nuclear-armed nation, which has spent more than half its existence since independence from Britain in 1947 under military rule.

In a BBC interview Friday, Musharraf said the military were the only resort for Pakistani people frustrated with their government, which he said was crippled by corruption and nepotism.

"We cannot allow Pakistan to disintegrate, that cannot be allowed. No Pakistani will allow that, no Pakistani wants that. So who's the saviour?. The army can do it. Can anyone else do it? No, nobody else can do it," he said.

Pakistan is on the frontline of the battle against Islamist insurgents on its border with Afghanistan, where NATO and the United States have more than 152,000 troops fighting.

The US invaded the country in 2001 following the September 11 attacks which were planned from Afghanistan.

Musharraf said the insurgents could be defeated, but warned Western plans to pull their troops out would be counterproductive as it would "boost" homegrown extremism that was inspired by the Taliban.

"I think they can be defeated, but if I have any doubts on whether we can win, I would say it's been a failure of leadership in the United States and Europe... and a failure of leadership in Pakistan," he told the BBC.

"Nobody is telling the people who are demanding their soldiers to come back that this will be their worst decision, it will be a blunder. People here or in the United States think you are fighting somebody else's war."

© 2010 AFP

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