Musharraf party launches Pakistan recruitment drive

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

Image caption, Mr Musharraf could face charges if he returns from exile in the UK

The political party of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has launched a formal public recruitment campaign.

A spokesman for the recently formed All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) said the drive was intended to pave the way for the former president's return.

Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999 when, as chief of Pakistan's army, he ousted elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup.

He went into exile in 2008 after his allies were beaten in elections.

'Not afraid'

"President Musharraf intends to return to Pakistan as soon as a date is announced for the next elections," APML spokesman Mohammad Ali Saif said.

He was speaking at a crowded press conference in the southern port city of Karachi.

"President Musharraf is not afraid of any of the charges made against him - he fully intends to return and face them," Mr Saif said.

He was referring to several criminal cases and inquiries that were launched against Mr Musharraf after he left the country to go into self-imposed exile in the UK.

The most significant of the charges he faces has been put forward by a UN commission looking into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

The commission found President Musharraf and his government were culpable for her death because they provided insufficient security for a rally she was staging near the city of Rawalpindi.

However, Mr Musharraf and his supporters have strongly denied the accusations, arguing that the charges are politically motivated.

"We intend to debate these charges on forums across the nation," Mr Saif pledged.

He said the party had started a mass membership scheme and would soon hold rallies across Pakistan.

"Pervez Musharraf is still one of the most popular men in Pakistan," Rashid Qureshi, a former Pakistan army general and Musharraf loyalist said.

Mr Qureshi has long been the chief troubleshooter for the former president and served as his aide and chief military spokesman.

"General Musharraf has no desire for personal power - he only intends to serve Pakistan," Mr Qureshi said.

He said that the newly formed APML would pave the way for his return.

Mr Musharraf formed the party in London to address "the crises facing Pakistan".

He had also said he would be announcing the date of his return soon.

Critics of the former military ruler say he is the primary culprit for the ills facing the country.

Most prominent among the critics is Nawaz Sharif, now the main opposition leader, who wants Mr Musharraf to be tried on charges of treason.

But analysts say the chances of that are slim - because the former general still has allies in Pakistan's powerful military establishment who would not be averse to seeing him return.

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