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Musharraf confirms return to Pakistan despite 'peril'

Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf speaks during an interview with AFP in Dubai, March 22, 2013
Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf speaks during an interview with AFP at his residence in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on March 22, 2013. Musharraf said Friday he would definitely return home Sunday to contest historic elections in May and th

Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf said Friday he would definitely return home Sunday to contest historic elections in May and that he was prepared to risk any danger to his life.

He gave an interview with AFP in Dubai just hours after a Pakistani court granted him protective bail in a string of legal cases, paving the way for his return from nearly five years in exile without the risk of immediate arrest.

But commentators say most of his powerbase has evaporated and that he will only secure at the most a couple of seats for his All Pakistan Muslim League (APLM) party in the next national assembly at the May 11 election.

"Two hundred percent! I am travelling back on Sunday to Pakistan," he told AFP in Dubai, where he has divided his time with London.

"I will go by land, air or sea... even to the peril of my life this is the oath I took for the country."

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup when he was army chief of staff in 1999 and left the country after stepping down in August 2008, when Asif Ali Zardari was elected president.

He is wanted over the assassination of Zardari's wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who died in a gun and suicide attack on December 27, 2007, just two months after her own return from years in self-imposed exile.

Bhutto's son, Bilawal Bhutto, who is co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), has accused Musharraf of murdering his mother, and the outgoing government always insisted that Musharraf would be arrested should be return.

Last year, he delayed a planned homecoming after being threatened with detention. But an interim government is expected to be in place by Sunday even if Zardari will remain president until after the elections.

"There will be no arrest or anything," Musharraf told AFP.

He has presented himself as "a third alternative" to the PPP and to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, whom he ousted in 1999 and who is considered a frontrunner in the May vote, by promising to reverse economic decline and restore security.

He conceded to AFP that his powerbase was weak, saying he was open to the prospect of a coalition with other parties campaigning for change, including former cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).

"If I (alone) cannot (succeed) then one must get into coalition. And when you talk about coalition... those who have capability may be contributing towards better governance, should get into (the) coalition," he told AFP.

He said he will stand personally in four constituencies, but asked how many seats the APML could realistically win, he said: "Frankly I don't know. I think I will have a good judgment when I'll go there."

Political analysts believe Musharraf will be disappointed.

"He has no political future," Hasan Askari told AFP.

"He thinks that people are so annoyed by the outgoing government that they will join his party and support him, but it won't happen."

To preclude the prospect of his arrest on arrival, his daughter, Ayla Raza, petitioned a court in Karachi on his behalf for protective bail in three cases, including the 2007 assassination of Bhutto.

Judge Sajjad Ali Shah posted bail at 300,000 rupees ($3,000) over the 2007 sacking of judges, the 2006 death of Akbar Bugti, a Baluch rebel leader in the southwest, and the murder of Bhutto.

The decision prevents Musharraf being arrested for 10 days in connection with the judges' arrests and for 14 days in connection with the other two cases. Technically, Pakistan's Supreme Court could intervene to reverse the order.

Outside the court, a handful of APML activists flashed victory signs and chanted "Long Live Musharraf", but Zardari's spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, said Musharraf would not escape retribution.

"Inevitably he will face justice as neither the stern laws of nature pause for pity nor Musharraf will be allowed to violate laws of the land with impunity," he wrote in a text message to AFP.

In 2010, a UN report said Bhutto's death could have been prevented and accused Musharraf's government of failing to provide her with adequate protection.

Musharraf's government blamed the assassination on Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009.