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International Chicago Mon Nov 15 2010

Who Will Save Pakistan?

This article was contributed by Maham Khan

"Musharraf! Musharraf," a crowd of over 500 Chicagoans cheered to answer the question, as the former president made his entrance.

mushy5[1].JPGIt's been two years since Pervez Musharraf resigned as president of Pakistan under impeachment pressure in 2008. After a seven-year-long reign as president, his 2007 imposition of "emergency" martial law and a battle against the country's judiciary ultimately forced the leader to escape the country.

Even today, there are "fatwas" or edicts in Pakistan that claim his life.

But after a two-year hiatus in London, Musharraf has launched a campaign tour to announce that he will reenter the game of politics.

"Now is the time," Musharraf said. "The void of leadership must be filled."

Musharraf--formerly affiliated with the Pakistan Muslims League--Quaid (PML-Q) will be running under a new party--The All Pakistani Muslim League (APML).

"This is the original party of Pakistan--it is Quaid-e-Azam's party," Musharraf said, referring to the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. "Our objective is to win in 2013 for the betterment of Pakistan."

Musharraf spoke casually in a mélange of Urdu and English to a banquet hall filled mostly with Pakistanis.

The former leader acknowledged that Pakistan is struck by a sense of hopelessness, fear and distrust of the leadership, which he blamed in subtle words, on the Zardari-Bhutto political lineage.

"Right now Pakistan is the result of dynasty politics," he said. "This dynasty has ruined Pakistan."

"In nine years I succeeded. We made some mistakes but mostly we succeeded," he said. "These other leaders have failed--twice."

Musharraf spoke with military fervor on the topic of terrorism. He claimed to be the only leader in Pakistan that could actually fight terrorism, citing the stern actions his government had taken against the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) incident in 2007, despite threats from militant groups.

The Mosque was linked with the January 2007 bombing of the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad and was allegedly training militants.

He was proud of the aggressive actions taken against the mosque, he told his listeners, because it established the writ of the government's strength.

The crowd applauded with equal fervor.

"They [current regime] are closet Taliban. They are appeasing the terrorist and working with them," he said. "They are the wrong people to fight extremism."

In 2004, Musharraf was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his fight against terrorism and during his leadership, coined the term "enlightened moderation" as a solution to fight against Islamic fanaticism.

Support in the West

Aqueel Athar has lived the majority of his life in Canada and the U.S. He came to the event because he wanted to know what Musharraf had to offer.

"Anyone who has any roots in Pakistan is looking for better governance in Pakistan, for someone who can delegate, bring reform and establish human rights and I hope Musharraf can ultimately address all these things," Athar said. "He sounds very sincere and honest to me, but only time will tell I guess."

After listening to the charismatic candidate speak, 27-year-old Ambereen Husain has faith.

"Pakistan was founded on equal rights and he is the only candidate who has ever made equal rights for minorities a priority," Husain said. "He is addressing the issues that matter to my generation."

And according to Musharraf, a good chunk of his supporters in the West, like Husain, are the youth of the Pakistani Diaspora abroad. In Chicago, the twenty-something crowd was as present as their older generation.

"I think it's because out all of the options for Pakistan he is the only one who has the actual platform to be the leader once again," Husain said. "He has a plan."

Local Pakistani activist and a main organizer of the event, Hameedullah Khan said it is no coincidence that the majority of Musharraf's supporters are educated Pakistanis in America.

"They understand the changing political climate on a global level," Khan said. "And support in the west will certainly help him."

Khan is also involved with local politics and believes that he and other Pakistani Americans have the ability to educate American policy-makers about the realities of Pakistan.

Musharraf made no discretion about what he needs from his American supporters.

"I need you to all join APML, support us and most importantly, tell your relatives back home to join," Musharraf said. "What happens here does impact at home too."
This may have been the most relevant plea Musharraf made to his Chicagoan supporters, since there currently is no expatriate voting for Pakistanis.

Uphill Battle in the East

Chicago-based Pakistani journalist Ali Malik was weary after listening to the former chief executive of Pakistan.

"A presidential candidate must win over masses in Pakistan," Malik said. "And the people of Pakistan remember him as the man who tried to become a martial law dictator. I doubt he can be the future leader of Pakistan."

From his reporting, Malik has gathered that even though many Pakistanis think Musharraf is the best option for Pakistan at this point, they don't think he can deliver on the promise of democracy, given his past.

Director of the South Asian Center for the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C., Shuja Nawaz agreed with Malik's sentiments. Nawaz thinks ultimately support in the west is being overplayed--it's all irrelevant until he actually gets back into the country.

"Even with pockets of support in the west financing his activity, Musharraf and everyone else is dependent on support in the country," Nawaz said. "It will be an uphill battle for him to come back to Pakistan--he will face concerted efforts to prevent his reentry, including significant threats to his life."

According to Nawaz, one of many obstacles he will face is a lack of support for a new party. There is likely to be strong resentment towards a new party because the current ones have deep roots.

In addition, Nawaz's research with members of the Pakistani military last spring found that even the military is unlikely to support him.

"Opinions expressed felt that when he was chief of army staff, focus had shifted from professionalism of the army to 'villainization' of the army," Nawaz said.

While Musharraf emphasized that "America must see the APML as the viable alternative to save Pakistan," it seems an endorsement from America is also debatable.

"I think the United States would find it very difficult to support an ex-military man in Pakistani politics," Nawaz said. "The U.S. is now totally committed to the civilianization of Pakistan's government and to civilian supremacy. It would really destroy the credibility of the region if it they were to shift again to some sort of military or quasi military system."

But while the retired general claimed he is not running on a military platform, he did describe the need for unity between the military and the bureaucracy.

"The perception was that I was a dictator because I wore a uniform," Musharraf said. "So I will come back according to the mandate of the people, in plain dress."

Musharraf insisted that he is an advocate for democracy and wishes nothing but the empowerment of the Pakistani people--but true democracy will only come after the elections.

Nawaz, Malik and various critics of Musharraf say it doesn't matter what he says because in the end history will always incriminate him.


This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. More information here.

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Anthony / November 15, 2010 7:02 PM

Nice work. Great to seem some international coverage. Where was this speech given? Chicago?

mahamkhan / November 15, 2010 10:34 PM

Yes this was in Chicago a few weeks ago.

Tawfiq / November 15, 2010 10:59 PM

Great Job on the article. I definitely learned a great deal on this issue.

Ambereen / November 16, 2010 12:29 PM

Maham-Thank you for publishing an article that not only summerizes Musharraf's speech but really addresses how people (Pakistani, and Pakistani Americans) feel about his possible return to Pakistan. I applaud your efforts and wish you continued success on reporting on issues that effect us all.

John Niederkorn / November 17, 2010 5:04 PM

Good job gurrrl!

A B / November 17, 2010 7:52 PM

Nice article.

becky / November 18, 2010 3:06 PM

Nice work!

ifti nasim / November 18, 2010 10:59 PM

very well written. congratulations.

Aamir / November 18, 2010 11:58 PM

Good One

NsN DeZyNz... / November 19, 2010 2:38 AM

a very well written artical...good job...=)...

Muhammad Faisal Masood / November 19, 2010 4:15 AM

I like to say just come back musharraf....people feel very sorrow by seeing todays n your time of presidency.....People of Pakistan will support you...we all cry of today's situation....Very Good Article...and Live long Prosperous Life you the Writer...

Tariq Bashir / November 19, 2010 10:57 AM

Fight for Powers

Tariq Bashir / November 19, 2010 10:58 AM

You cannot say that all politicians are same

Devin / November 22, 2010 3:30 PM

Very informative and an under-covered story. Thanks.

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