Pakistan's Musharraf vows return despite risks
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Saturday that he will return to his homeland despite facing criminal charges and militant death threats.
Musharraf has been living in self-exile in London and Dubai for 4 1/2 years and is planning to return on Sunday to Pakistan. He risks possible arrest in connection with the killing of an ex-prime minister, while the Pakistani Taliban says they have an assassination team ready for him if he sets foot in the country.
He first declared his intention to go back earlier this year. On Saturday, he gave a news conference in Dubai confirming that he would be arriving in the port city of Karachi to take part in May 11 elections despite "fear of the unknown." The former four-star general plans to travel there accompanied by journalists and supporters of his political party, All Pakistan Muslim League.
But just hours after the announcement, the Pakistan Taliban released a video threatening to unleash suicide bombers and snipers against Musharraf if he comes back. One of the two people speaking in the video was Adnan Rashid, a former Pakistani air force officer convicted in an attack against Musharraf. The Taliban broke Rashid, along with nearly 400 other detainees, out of Bannu prison last year.
"The mujahedeen of Islam have prepared a death squad to send Pervez Musharraf to hell," said Rashid, who spoke in the video in front of a group of about 20 militants holding rifles.
"We warn you to surrender yourself to us. Otherwise we will hit you from where you will never reckon," he said.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Musharraf came under intense pressure from the U.S. to back the Americans in the coming war and cut off ties with the Taliban, which he did. For that, militants as well as many other Pakistanis see him as carrying out the American agenda in Pakistan.
He's also vilified by militants for ordering the 2007 raid against a mosque in downtown Islamabad that had become a sanctuary for militants opposed to Pakistan's support of the war in Afghanistan. At least 102 people were killed in the week-long operation, most of them supporters of the mosque.
Militants tried to kill Musharraf twice in December 2003 in Rawalpindi, the sister city to Islamabad where the Pakistani military is headquartered. First they placed a bomb intended to go off when his convoy passed by. When that didn't work, suicide attackers tried to ram his motorcade with explosives-laden vehicles. The president was unhurt but 16 others died. Rashid was arrested in connection with that assassination attempt.
Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup. He faces charges of conspiring to assassinate ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in 2007, as well as other accusations in other cases. But his legal team petitioned a court in Sindh province where Karachi is located to give him preemptive bail, which essentially means that he will not be arrested immediately upon arrival. According to the bail order, he has ten days to present himself to the court.
Musharraf has called the charges baseless.
Associated Press writer Rasool Dawar in Peshawar, Pakistan contributed to this report.