Today, the world experienced a first: a former dictator returned to a land he ruled for nine years in an attempt to have yet another crack at power. Pervez Musharraf’s seemingly limitless ambitions were on display, as he cast himself once again as Pakistan’s only saviour. “I have come back for you,” he told a crowd, in mock self-abnegation. “I want to restore the Pakistan that I left.”
The Pakistan which Musharraf ruled isn’t a particularly memorable one for many of those he left behind, when he went into self-imposed exile in London and Dubai four years ago. Tellingly, only a few hundred people turned out to receive Mr Musharraf at Karachi airport.
The pensioned former military ruler also has no political vehicle to transport his ambitions. The politicians who once gathered around him, like devoted courtiers, are now in different parties, with no desire to go back.
Voters wishing to pursue an alternative to the two main parties can now turn to Imran Khan.
Mr Musharraf also doesn’t register any support in the flurry of recent polls that have come out.
In 2007, he shed the real source of his authority, his army uniform. It was his “second skin”, he famously remarked. Without it, he stands politically naked.
Gallingly for Mr Musharraf, his most powerful adversaries are now running the show. Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Chief Justice he twice sacked, is still on the bench. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Mr Musharraf ousted in the 1999 coup, leads the opposition and is in line to head the next parliament.
There is a small chance that Mr Musharraf could end up as a lonely parliamentarian. The Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement has said it could yield a seat in Clifton, an upmarket beachside neighbourhood, to the retired commando. It would be amusing, as one tweeter mused, if Mr Musharraf ends up in a parliament headed by Mr Sharif.
With no real political future ahead of him, it is hard to see why Mr Musharraf has hazarded the journey. The Taliban has said it is going to send a death squad after him.
“I only fear Allah, no one else,” he said yesterday, in characteristically bluff tones. Mercifully, he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Pakistan cannot afford another assassination during another election. One wonders if one man’s vanity is worth the risk.