Musharraf Returns

Imran Khan is a correspondent with Al Jazeera.

Imran Khan

The fanfare was ratcheted up well in advance of Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani president and retired army general, touching down in Karachi.

Huge posters were printed and posted on the main road from the airport, showing Musharraf hugging friends with a stern faced eagle, the symbol of his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party, next to him.

Some proclaim his greatness, others show him as the saviour of Pakistan. The more modest ones just say: “Welcome home Pervez Musharraf”.

His party faithful have long been at work for this day. Every item of political paraphernalia conceivable seems to have been made: flags with his party’s name on them, keyrings, stickers, badges and posters.

Buses were drafted into service to ferry the expected thousands to and from the airport. No detail, it seems, was forgotten to give the man the welcome his party thought he deserved.

Well, one detail: people.

If this was a hero’s welcome, then Musharraf must have been disappointed.

As one surveyed the crowd at the airport, there were probably about 1,000 people there. Peanuts for a political rally in Pakistan, and for the city of Karachi, home to around 14 million people.

That, however, was not the only disappointing thing.

Musharraf’s political team had announced days in advance that a huge rally would be held at the mausoleum of the country’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. That choice of location was strategic: they wanted the visual image of the man next to Jinnah, as if he was the man to carry forward Jinnah’s legacy.

It was, however, not to be.

The rally was cancelled, with the government citing security concerns in cancelling the authorisation for the event. Many in the local media, however, wondered out loud if this was not to the APML’s advantage, give the number of supporters who would be needed in order for such an event to be seen as a success.

Back at the airport, Musharraf’s public relations team was working in overdrive, trying in vain to spin his arrival as a success.

One of his official Twitter accounts proclaimed that millions had come out in the streets of Karachi. That statement was quickly given the digital equivalent of a mauling by other Twitter users in Karachi.

The former leader was scheduled to give a news conference at the airport to outline his plans for the country, but that, too, was quickly scrapped.

In the end, Musharraf, a man used to being respected by those around him, gave a short statement to a crowd much smaller than his expectations. Still, he was defiant in his language, proclaiming that he would save the country, that he would bring peace and prosperity to this poverty- and extremism-ridden country.

His mood may still be confident, but one can only wonder if anyone is listening. As the crowd left the airport, some of the political paraphernalia made with so much hope and optimism was simply left on the street, as an emblem of a once powerful man now wondering what place he occupies in Pakistan’s political landscape.


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