Musharraf returns to Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's onetime military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, ended four years of self-imposed exile Sunday and returned to Pakistan, aiming to carve out a political future, but he received an unremarkable welcome as he landed at the airport in Karachi.

Mr. Musharraf, who resigned as president in August 2008 under threat of impeachment and left the country in April 2009, arrived early Sunday afternoon on a flight from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A small crowd had gathered at the airport and shouted slogans in his support.

Mr. Musharraf, a former general, appeared upbeat as he arrived.

"I respect your emotions," he said, waving to the crowd. "Thank you. Thank you," he said as his supporters shouted "Long live Musharraf!"

"I have returned. People used to think that I would not return, but I have come back," Mr. Musharraf said. "I am not scared of anyone but God."

"I have put my life in danger, but I want to save Pakistan," he added.

Mr. Musharraf faces myriad challenges, both political and personal.

The Taliban militants have threatened to kill him upon his return. But with characteristic bravado, Mr. Musharraf has brushed aside the concerns for his life. He has survived several assassination attempts by the Taliban and al-Qaida.

During his tenure as president, Mr. Musharraf battled with Islamist extremists who have continued to gain strength and challenge the state, especially in the country's restive northwestern regions.

A litany of court cases await Mr. Musharraf. Before returning, he managed to arrange pre-arrest bail in three cases in which he faces criminal charges, including the deaths of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a Baluch leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti. He has denied the charges.

News of Mr. Musharraf's return was nearly overshadowed by the announcement of a caretaker prime minister Sunday. Pakistan's chief election commissioner announced that Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, a retired justice, would serve as the caretaker prime minister and lead the government until May 11, when general elections are scheduled.

Rashid Qureshi, a retired general and a leader of Mr. Musharraf's political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, disputed reports that Mr. Musharraf had received a lukewarm reception on his return. He said supporters of the former president had been planning a big rally Sunday night, but it was canceled because of security concerns.

Mr. Musharraf plans to meet with party officials today, Mr. Qureshi said.



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