A large crowd of supporters numbering 1,000 patiently waited outside, chanting slogans and throwing rose petals to celebrate his return after four years. The wait was worth it for many when he emerged from the building, albeit for a ten minutes to address them before he was whisked away by security personnel only to return to the lounge where he opened up to Khaleej Times reporter. “Yes, I feel emotional and nostalgic. I’m happy to be back in Pakistan,” he said. The eyes looked weary and the stress appeared to be taking its toll on the once proud general. His confidence seemed to ebb and he didn’t fancy his chances when speaking of polls in May. “Chances are 50:50,” he said sans emotion. The delay was making him restless and he didn’t seem prepared for this stalemate inside the airport.
Supporters outside chanted “Long Live Musharraf” and “Pakistan First”. Many boys scurried about wearing ‘Pakistan First’ T-shirts emblazoned with his picture.
Musharraf may have been low in confidence but the combative side resurfaced when he said: “Where are those who used to say I would never come back? I am not scared by anyone except Allah the Almighty.”
“I have been asked to come back and save our Pakistan, even at the risk of my life. I want to tell all those who are making such threats that I have been blessed by Allah the Almighty,” he said.
The former president had been granted bail in advance to avoid being arrested upon his return, but he could be detained at a later date.
During the flight which took one hour and 30 minutes, Musharraf walked the length of the plane’s aisle talking to his 200 supporters from Dubai and the 100-strong media contingent.
The mood of party workers who travelled with the general was upbeat. Many had flown from Europe and the US to accompany their leader. They chanted slogans for the All Pakistan Muslim League and taunted those who dismissed his legitimacy to return home, leave alone contest elections.
‘Who is Nawaz Sharif?’
Earlier in the day, Musharraf had said at Dubai airport that he was ‘tense’ because he taking at ‘plunge into the unknown’.
“One-third majority is a leap in the dark. Anyone who expects more than this lacks leadership,” he said. “It’s a plunge into the unknown.” He said he had support from all over the country. “People are coming even from Balochistan to support me,” he said, adding that their support had given him the strength to carry on.
When asked about his political opponents, Musharraf dismissed it in his trademark style and said: “Who is Nawaz Sharif?”
A senior party worker said they hoped to see a throng as strong as that of the rally held in Lahore on March 23 by chief of Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf Imran Khan.
The former president said that his mother was old (94) and though she understood that he was returning to Pakistan, she did not understand the reasons for his visit.
His wife Sehba did not accompany him to Dubai airport. “I do not want her to come with me. She can join me later,” he said.
The campaign team
Party sources said the Pakistan government had not confirmed his security posse yet and they were making their own arrangements. “We are concerned about his safety and we are taking no chances,” said a party official who preferred to remain anonymous.
“We expect massive gatherings wherever Musharraf decides to hold rallies,” said Mohammad Altaf Shahid, APML president for UK and Europe.
“As a former president of Pakistan, he should be provided security,” he said.
Sources said Musharraf was expected to remain for a few days in Karachi to resolve his legal issues and would then go to Islamabad. Concerns about a dispersed base of party followers and supporters were brushed aside by the former president’s team.
“That is just an impression that has been given to weaken the party ranks,” they said.
Naeem Tahir, senior vice-president of the party and a media adviser said the former president has mass backing. “He has a lot of support...people are praying for him.” He said that the youth were also a major source of support for the former president.
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