Pakistan’s former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has chutzpah. It takes some audacity, aged 69, to leave behind a comfortable life in exile in London and Dubai and fly home to face Taliban death threats and several court charges – and fight an election.
Mr Musharraf became deeply unpopular at home in the last years of his rule because of his doggedly pro-American stance. It is, therefore, a measure of the country’s dismal performance on almost every front since power was ceded to a civilian government in 2008 that he feels there is even a chance of staging a political comeback in the 11 May elections.
The election is a milestone. Barring a last-minute military coup, which looks unlikely, it will be the first in Pakistan’s history in which one democratically elected civilian government has handed power to another. Mr Musharraf played a key role in this process of demilitarising Pakistan’s politics when he bowed out peacefully in 2008, and will claim some of the credit for this benign development – one of the few that Pakistan has experienced in recent years – in the campaign.
How far it can take him is a moot point. Mr Musharraf’s successors in the governing Pakistan People’s Party have squandered most of their credibility over the past five years under the diffident and corrupt leadership of Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the late Benazir Bhutto. But the beneficiaries of growing disillusionment with the PPP have been the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who is likely to win most votes in May, and, to a lesser extent, Imran Khan. In other words, some people may feel a twinge of nostalgia for the Musharraf era but Pakistan has moved on.
Meanwhile, the greatest challenge facing him over the next few weeks will not be wooing swing voters but warding off the numerous militants who have put a price on his head. He well knows the seriousness of those people’s intentions, which only confirms what a great gambler the former general remains.