“I am aware of the fact that there were some decisions which I took which resulted in negative political repercussions, which had adverse effects on nation-building and national political events, and my popularity also, may I say, plummeted in that last year. I take this opportunity to sincerely apologise to the whole nation. Human beings make mistakes,” Gen (retd) Musharraf told scores of cheering supporters.
But he vowed to galvanise people and fight a “jihad against poverty, hunger, illiteracy and backwardness”.
The programme, attended by a number of politicians who were in his government, was compered by Advocate Naim Bukhari who had fired the first shot at the chief justice of the Supreme Court, a few days before Mr Musharraf launched his attack on the judiciary which marked the beginning of the end of his rule.
The retired general unveiled the new political party and its manifesto at a gentlemen’s club in Whitehall Palace. Tight security arrangements were made with all those entering the room being thoroughly checked.
Mr Musharraf attacked the “total despondency and demoralisation and hopelessness which prevails in society today” and said: “The time has come to redeem our pledge… to ensure the fruits of freedom are shared by all. The time has come for a new social contract to keep the dream of our forefathers alive… to make Pakistan into a progressive Islamic state for others in the Third World to emulate.”
He said the new party would be a ‘national salvation’ that would “galvanise all Pakistanis regardless of religion, caste or creed” and warned the country’s current government was failing to “show any signs of light in the darkness that prevails in Pakistan”.
He said under his government there would be progress in every field. “I have confidence I can lead Pakistan towards light.”
He said: “New social system will consist of three documents. Whatever we will do first of all it will be in conformity with Quran and Sunnah. Second will be realisation of dream of Quaid-i-Azam and third will be Objectives Resolution.”
Mr Musharraf said he would contest the next elections in 2013, although he announced he would return to Pakistan before then.
Answering a question, he said: “Whatever the dangers, whatever the pitfalls, I will be in Pakistan before the next election.”
The 67-year-old acknowledged threats from militants, but brushed off the threat of treason charges he could face on his return.
“Today there is no case against me in the courts of Pakistan. Whatever cases have been instituted have been done on political grounds. That I am prepared to face when I get there,” he said.
Mr Musharraf made the announcement against a backdrop comprising the white and green colours of Pakistan’s flag and his APML’s logo, the crescent and star of the national flag and a hawk’s head.
He cited Iqbal’s verses to explain the significance of the symbol of hawk (Shaheen) that he has selected for his party.
He declared that he had the experience to tackle the challenges of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the spread of extremism in Pakistan. He insisted that unless Pakistan was part of the fight against terrorism and extremism, “that fight will not succeed.”
He said he would not do anything different this time around, saying his regime made strides to stamp out terror threats and that a crucial part of his strategy would be improving the economy.
“There will be zero tolerance for extremism,” he said. He said he was launching the party in London because he risked assassination if he returned to Pakistan. He will spread his message at a rally in Birmingham on Saturday.
His speech and comments later made at a press conference were greeted by criticism from leaders of mainstream political parties who appeared on Pakistan TV channels and declared that the ‘ousted dictator’ had no future in politics.
In a BBC interview on Friday, Mr Musharraf said the militants could be defeated, but warned West’s plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan would be counter-productive as it would “boost” home-grown extremism that was inspired by the Taliban.
“I think they can be defeated, but if I have any doubts on whether we can win, I would say it’s been a failure of leadership in the United States and Europe… and a failure of leadership in Pakistan,” he told BBC.
“Nobody is telling the people who are demanding their soldiers to come back that this will be their worst decision, it will be a blunder. People here or in the United States think you are fighting somebody else’s war.”
Criticising the Pakistani government, he said: “When there is a dysfunctional government and the nation is going down, its economy is going down, there is a clamour, there is a pressure on the military by the people.”
It is unclear how much support Mr Musharraf still has within the military. Many of his close allies in the army and in the intelligence services have since retired.
“He doesn’t have the same kind of clout he did,” Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain said. “He’s yesterday’s man.”–Agencies