Musharraf eyes return to Pakistan politics, set to unveil new party

HONG KONG (AP) — Former Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf said Wednesday he is gearing up for a return to politics and will launch a new party next month — two years after he stepped down as president after nationwide protests and left the country.

Speaking on the sidelines of an investor conference in Hong Kong, Musharraf expressed confidence he could regain popularity and would return to Pakistan for the next national elections, scheduled for 2013. He said he will announce the establishment of the All Pakistan Muslim League in London on Oct. 1 and outline his political platform.

Musharraf stepped down from office in August 2008 after months of protests and a heavy election defeat for his supporters. He now spends most of his time in Britain.

If he returns to Pakistan, he could face legal scrutiny over the bloodless coup in October 1999 that brought him to power and the subsequent nine years of military rule — particularly a state of emergency declared as protests against him mounted in late 2007.

"My going back is dependent certainly on an environment to be created in Pakistan," Musharraf said, but added, "I would say with certainty in the next elections, whenever the signs of the next elections come up, I will be there in Pakistan."

Despite serving as army chief and dominating his volatile country for years, it remains unclear if Musharraf, 67, would now wield much political clout.

While he retains links to the country's army elite, he lacks a solid political constituency. During his rule, he was widely perceived as subordinate to Washington for supporting its fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could also hurt his standing among a largely anti-U.S. public.

Musharraf acknowledged he had lost popularity in Pakistan, especially after firing the chief justice — who has since been reinstated — and the subsequent state of emergency. But he said he was confident he can rebuild a support base rooted in Pakistan's youth and others disillusioned with politics. He noted that more than 75 percent of his 295,000 followers on Facebook are between the ages of 18 and 34.

"Therefore I know that it is the youth that is yearning for change. It's the youth that is demoralized today. And I know that they can be awakened and brought out to introduce a new political culture into Pakistan," he said.

Musharraf said he isn't aware of any pending legal actions in Pakistan against him stemming from his presidency but is prepared to face any that emerge.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the state of emergency was unconstitutional, but Pakistan's current prime minister has ruled out bringing treason charges against Musharraf unless Parliament passed a unanimous resolution requesting them.

"I'm prepared to face that for the sake of Pakistan. And I know since whatever I did has all the legal backing and legal cover, I'm very confident that nothing can happen legally against me," he said.

Musharraf said the current Pakistan government is struggling to cope with the recent flooding in the country because it lacks resources and international aid is still insufficient. He estimated that the scale of reconstruction will be larger than that required after the deadly earthquake in Kashmir in 2005.

He said he has already organized a telethon in London to raise funds for the victims and is planning another one in the U.S. on Larry King's CNN talk show. He said Henry Kissinger and Angelina Jolie have agreed to take part.