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Exiled Pakistani ex-president home to 'save' nation despite death threat

By Faith Karimi and Aliza Kassim, CNN
March 24, 2013 -- Updated 1848 GMT (0248 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Musharraf vows to remain in Pakistan
  • He plans to lead his party in elections
  • He's been in self-imposed exile since resigning as president in 2008
  • Pakistani authorities have vowed to arrest him on return; Taliban threaten to kill him

(CNN) -- In his first address since returning to Pakistan from self-exile, former President Pervez Musharraf declared his intention to run for office, saying he defied risks to "save" the country.

Musharraf landed in Karachi on Sunday after more than four years in exile. He faces criminal charges, and the Taliban have vowed to unleash a "death squad" to assassinate him.

However, he said, he does not plan to flee again.

"I have put my life in danger and have come to Pakistan -- to you to be the savior of this country," he said at the airport. "I have come to save Pakistan."

He chided people who had doubted that he would return.

"There were rumors that I would not come -- where are those people now?" he asked. "I am here. I have returned."

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At the airport, crowds danced, waved the nation's green flag and chanted Musharraf's name. Some people carried giant posters, plastered with his face.

"Inshallah (God willing) we will be successful if I have your support," he said.

After his statement, he was whisked away to an undisclosed location for safety reasons.

Police hovered nearby, guns slung from their shoulders.

Complicated return

Musharraf resigned as president of the south Asian nation five years ago and went into exile in London and Dubai. He hopes to reassert his influence and lead his party in May elections.

His return comes with complications. Government officials have said he would be arrested as soon as he sets foot in the nation while the Pakistani Taliban have vowed to assassinate him.

However, his party says it has taken pre-emptive measures to ward off a potential arrest.

"Musharraf has been granted bail in advance of his arrival to Pakistan. We have made sure that he is not arrested and his return home will be smooth," said Jawed Siddiqui, a member of the former president's party, All Pakistan Muslim League.

His lawyers paid an unknown amount of bail, which means Musharraf will not be arrested for at least 15 days, but must appear in court.

Fear of the unknown

Musharraf's return home comes with a lot of uncertainties.

As he boarded a flight from Dubai International Airport, Musharraf said he was not nervous, but was concerned about the unknown.

His wife, Sehba, had a different answer when asked if she was worried.

"Who wouldn't be?" she said.

Last year, he scuttled plans to return home after the military warned him not to.

"There were indications that they didn't want me to come, and my own colleagues told me not to come," Musharraf said. "Therefore, I changed my mind."

This time, he said, he will be protected by government security and his private security agents.

Musharraf landed in Karachi on a commercial airline. He said in a statement he would be accompanied by 200 expatriates from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

Arrest over Bhutto's killing

In 1999, Musharraf, then chief of Pakistan's army, became its president in a bloodless military coup. He remained in power until resigning five years ago, a period that included the U.S.-led invasion of neighboring Afghanistan.

A few months before he left office, Benazir Bhutto -- who was Pakistan's first elected female prime minister -- was killed in a suicide bomb attack as she was wrapping up a campaign rally in Rawalpindi.

The attack came months after she survived an assassination attempt in Karachi. Authorities want Musharraf arrested for not doing enough to protect Bhutto's life despite numerous threats. The former military ruler has denied having anything to do with the killing.

A jail cell awaits

Last year, Pakistani authorities confiscated his property and froze his bank account. They have accused him of not declaring foreign bank accounts he had in his name.

The Sindh province Home Ministry said last year that a jail cell awaited him in Karachi upon his return, .

In Pakistan, the provincial Home Ministry, not the federal government, is responsible for such arrests.

Musharraf defended his record last year, and said he did much to improve the nation's economy while he was in office.

However, he has admitted to making mistakes.

Disillusioned Pakistanis

Musharraf's popularity began declining in 2007 after he suspended the nation's Supreme Court chief justice for "misuse of authority." The move resulted in protests and accusations that he was attempting to influence the court's ruling on whether he could seek another five-year term.

Although the chief justice was reinstated, the damage was done.

Pakistanis were also disillusioned with Musharraf's policies that led to shortages of essential food items, power cuts and skyrocketing inflation.

However, under his leadership, Pakistan attained respectable economic growth rates and established a generally favorable investment climate. Along with that came a growing middle class, more aggressive news media, and a more assertive judiciary.

'Death squad' threat

Pakistan also disapproved of the way Musharraf carried out his end of the "war on terror" and used it as a crutch to explain away many of his unpopular moves.

After the September 11, 2001, terror attacks against the United States, Musharraf supported the American war on terror and targeted the Taliban. The militants have accused him of pushing an American agenda in Pakistan.

An opportune time

Musharraf's return comes at an opportune time.

Last week, Pakistan marked the first time a democratically elected government has served a full five-year term in the country's 65-year history.

While the ruling Pakistan People Party rode to power on the back of discontent with Musharraf, it had to deal with the same problems that plagued Musharraf: food shortages and power cuts.

Five years is often enough time for a populace to forgive and forget.

On Sunday, election officials named former chief justice Mir Hazar Khan Khoso as interim prime minister. He will head the caretaker administration through the May elections.

It remains to be seen whether Pakistan, now soured by the PPP's reign, will welcome Musharraf back with open arms.

Explosives-packed water tanker targets Pakistani military checkpoint; 17 killed

CNN's Leone Lakhani contributed to this report from Karachi

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