KARACHI — Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, returned home Sunday hoping to make a political comeback despite Taliban death threats and looming arrest warrants. But judging by the lackluster crowd at the airport to greet him, his biggest challenge could be his waning popularity.
His return comes as Pakistan is poised to transition from one democratically elected government to another, a first for a country that has experienced three coups since its 1947 inception.
After years on the margins of Pakistani politics, Musharraf is seeking to rebuild his image, hoping to capitalize on an electorate frustrated with five years of rising inflation, rolling blackouts, and security problems.
Musharraf, a four-star general who was chief of the army, took power in a 1999 coup and his military-led regime steered the country for nearly a decade until he was forced to step down as president in 2008. Confronted with mounting criticism and widespread protests after he tried to dismiss a popular chief justice, he left facing impeachment by the newly elected Parliament.
He later left the country and has been living in London and Dubai .
The former president plans to spend a few days in Karachi, where he and his team will forge a plan for the upcoming election, said spokeswoman Saima Ali Dada. He will then travel to Islamabad. Meanwhile, his legal team will meet to decide the best way to respond to the charges against him.
Musharraf has been implicated in the 2007 assassination of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, as well as the killing of Akbar Bugti, a Baluch nationalist leader who died in August 2006 after a standoff with the Pakistani military. In another case, he is accused of illegally removing a number of judges, including the chief justice of the supreme court.
His return to Pakistan was made easier when a court granted him preemptive bail, which essentially meant he could not be arrested immediately upon landing. But he must appear before a court within 10 days, and there is no guarantee that he won’t be arrested in the future.
Musharraf’s supporters, including elements of the military and members of Pakistan’s influential expatriate communities, consider him a strong leader whose voice could help stabilize the country.
But Musharraf’s welcoming party, estimated at between 1,000 and 2,000, was small compared with the hundreds of thousands of people who thronged this same terminal when Bhutto returned to Pakistan.
The Pakistan Taliban vowed to kill Musharraf in a video released on Saturday. The former general angered many militants with his decision in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to back the United States in its invasion of Afghanistan and cut off ties with the Taliban.