NEW: Official: A jail cell is waiting for Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan
Musharraf plans to return to Pakistan and run for office
Musharraf says he did much to improve Pakistan's economy
He says he understands he risks arrest or assassination by returning
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who has vowed to return to Pakistan and run for office despite authorities’ threat of arrest, maintained in an interview Monday that he successfully led the nation while others failed.
Musharraf, in a speech to thousands of supporters in the southern city of Karachi via video link from Dubai on Sunday, said the nation must decide whether it needs change or “the same faces.”
Asked if he wasn’t one of those old political leaders, Musharraf acknowledged to CNN that he is. “But the difference is, the other ‘olds’ have not performed,” he said. “They have failed the country. They have tried thrice over. … I have tried once for 10 years and succeeded.”
He asked that he be judged on his entire record, not by the end of his presidency, when he was the target of protests and a coalition of opposition parties moved to impeach him.
“In my time, I am known for one thing – an honest man and an honest government,” he said. Allegations of corruption, he said, are “all lies. It’s all wrong. … All the government, in my time, is known, stands out, for lack of corruption, for honest governance.”
Musharraf said Sunday he will return from exile to Pakistan between January 27 and 30. Officials have said that when he does, he will be arrested in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
A jail cell in Karachi is waiting for Musharraf upon his return, Manzoor Wasan, the home minister for Sindh province, told reporters Monday.
The former president will be arrested upon his arrival at the airport, Wasan said. The court has declared Musharraf a “proclaimed offender” in connection with Bhutto’s assassination, and his office has received the arrest warrants, he said. In Pakistan, the provincial home ministry, not the federal government, is responsible for such arrests.
“No one is above the law,” Wasan said.
During the interview in Dubai on Monday, Musharraf said he accepts that risk and understands his life might be at stake as well.
“It’s not a bed of roses leading Pakistan, governing Pakistan,” he said. “It’s a thorny issue. … It’s very, very difficult. We are a country of many diversities, and as you said, you have to risk your life and you have to burn midnight oil – you have to work extremely hard to understand and to deliver. You are risking your comfort and your life.”
However, he added, “to me, a cause, and the state and the people of Pakistan are more important than myself.”
Musharraf said that in his time as Pakistan’s leader he did much to improve the nation’s economy and socioeconomic situation.
Asked whether he would change anything, he said, “As far as my definition of what I have to do, what a leader needs to do – welfare of the people, development of the state – I don’t have to change anything, because on both, whether you take education, poverty alleviation, job employment generation, inflation control for the people, and you take for the state the economy, the communications infrastructure, water management, agriculture, telecommunications, IT industry … each one of them was a success.”
He did acknowledge, however, that he made mistakes, in particular referencing “my confrontation with the judiciary.” Musharraf’s popularity began declining in 2007, after he suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry for “misuse of authority.” The move resulted in protests and accusations that Musharraf was attempting to influence the court’s ruling on whether he could seek another five-year term. Although Chaudhry was reinstated, the damage was done.
“You are taking the glass one-tenth empty. You’re not seeing the nine-tenths full part,” Musharraf said Monday. But asked whether he undermined democracy during that year, he said, “I agree, there in that last one year, my downfall started.” His reputation began suffering, he said, and it suffered further after Bhutto’s assassination, which plunged Pakistan into turmoil.
However, “Today, the people (of Pakistan) are demoralized, dismayed,” he said. “They want to leave the country. They are selling their children to feed their stomachs. … A demoralized people, hungry, jobless – now this is the state of the people and the country. … We have to rectify this. Everything else is secondary.”
He maintained that democracy is important to him, as it represents a way forward for the nation. But, he said, it’s not important to Pakistanis. “People first want to feed themselves and their families,” he said. “They want to earn money. They want to live in a degree of comfort. They want to have security for themselves. This is what they look for.”
He said people have been demanding that the army “do something for Pakistan. So where is democracy now in Pakistan?”
But, he added, he does not believe military rule is the answer.
He said he believes his popularity is recovering in Pakistan, although it’s not yet where it was. “It has certainly turned around because of the poor performance of the government today,” he said.
CNN’s Nasir Habib contributed to this report.