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Stage set for Musharraf’s homecoming

KARACHI, March 23: In sharp contrast to great hustle and bustle associated with charged crowds expecting their exiled leader, the provincial secretariat of retired Gen Pervez Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) witnessed little activity on the eve of the general’s planned homecoming.

The secretariat housed in a lavish bungalow located at the end of Kashmir Road near a roundabout popularly called Kabooter (pigeon) Chowrangi, is not far from the Quaid’s mausoleum where the general is scheduled to address a rally on Sunday.

It is on the same street where its rival Pakistan Peoples Party’s provincial secretariat is located.

But this physical proximity has failed to lessen their acrimony as Gen Musharraf is expected to face hard times in former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination case.

The general is accused of conspiracy to murder and has got pre-arrest protective bail just a day before his planned landing to avoid arrest on arrival.

The secretariat was illuminated and its walls were adorned with large portraits of the former president but the overall atmosphere was not more impressive than a park outside the bungalow, which was packed with luxurious and expensive cars and a few trucks.

Thin crowd, with fewer still young guns, was witnessed in and outside the building. The people inside the secretariat – even the employees – were smartly dressed.

The party office-bearers had little to offer to the media in writing. They did not have a copy of their leader’s schedule of activities after his arrival. Despite all this, the party leadership expressed ‘great expectations’ about the APML’s ‘rising popularity’.

“Although it is generally a negative expression, but dare I say it, our party’s popularity is spreading like an epidemic,” Aasia Ishaq, the APML’s secretary information, told Dawn.

Mohammad Ali Shervani, her deputy, said a Pakistan International Airlines’ flight (PK-606) would bring Gen Musharraf, his confidants and dozens of media representatives, to Karachi and land at the Quaid-i-Azam International Airport at about 12.40pm on Sunday.

He said the party had formed its own security circle to safeguard the leader. The party’s own 2,000 guards would be at the airport to provide security to Gen Musharraf during his drive to a compound near the Quaid’s mausoleum, where he would address a rally, he claimed.

“We will have 8,000 more party guards at the rally venue,” said Mr Shervani.

He said the party had asked the government to provide security to Gen Musharraf which he deserved in the capacity of being a former president and ex-chief of army staff, but a response from the authorities concerned was still being awaited. “We have demanded a bullet-proof vehicle and security personnel from the government,” he said.

The party leaders were confident that they were getting ‘encouraging public response’ for the general’s comeback. “People are extremely happy and eagerly waiting for their leader’s return. We expect thousands to join us to listen to their leader,” Chaudhry Mohammad Shafiq, APML’s vice-president, told Dawn.

“People are flocking to Karachi from every part of the country. You’ll see tomorrow history will rewrite itself,” he claimed.

He said that Gen Musharraf would stay in Karachi till March 26, during which he would preside over several party meetings to finalise candidates for upcoming general elections. The names of the candidates would be announced on March 26 in Karachi.

During these meetings, Gen Musharraf would mull his strategy with his legal advisers on how to deal with court cases against him.

In the meanwhile, Dr Mohammad Amjad, APML’s chief coordinator, held a press conference at the provincial secretariat to allay doubts about the general’s arrival.

“I am assuring you that he is coming on Sunday. No one should give an ear to the elements who are falsely propagating that his arrival is still in doubt,” said Dr Amjad.

He said the party had received a no-objection certificate from the provincial home department and the city commissioner’s office to hold a rally near the Quaid’s mausoleum, still the compound’s main gate was locked, denying entry of trucks which carried stuff for the stage.

He said Saudi Arabian rulers had not asked Gen Musharraf to postpone his homecoming. “In fact, the Saudi government encouraged him and said it was his right to go to Pakistan and participate in national politics.”