GEN (retd) Pervez Musharraf has threatened to finally make good on his repeated and as-yet unfulfilled promise to return to Pakistan to rescue the country. Presumably he is betting on the calculation that a caretaker government will be less likely to get in his way than the current administration, giving him room to argue that keeping himself out of the country was a political plot driven by his intention to lead his All-Pakistan Muslim League into the general elections. Perhaps he is also entertaining hopes that the military will not want to see one of their own tried and sentenced by civilians. Or that the incompetence of the current government has created an appetite for a former military dictator — now with democratic trappings — to step in to save the nation.
However, the general might find that the country he is returning to will not match his expectations. His being away from the scene for five years may have dampened the unpopularity he had earned by the time he left, and some people may now choose to look back fondly on the perceived achievements and stability of the earlier part of his tenure while forgetting the ways in which Pakistan suffered under his rule. But, while Gen Musharraf has been away, other parties have been busy politicking, keeping themselves in the public eye, doling out patronage or, in the case of the PTI, trying to build up a support base. Nor does he have the large and decades-old constituencies that PPP and PML-N leaders can bank on even when they return from years of being away. The suspicious public response to Dr Tahirul Qadri has proven how difficult it is for people to swoop in from abroad and be taken seriously without significant political legwork. Gen Musharraf would do well to adjust his expectations.