When Pakistan’s former military ruler and president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, returned home last week from four years of self-imposed exile, a physician-turned- entrepreneur from Villanova was by his side. Raza Bokhari, a 1991 immigrant from Pakistan turned highly successful businessman and civic activist, describes himself as “a long term friend of Musharraf’s, and his current point of contact in the USA.”
In a phone interview from Islamabad, Bokhari said Musharraf returned to participate in upcoming May 2013 Pakistani elections – despite death threats, huge legal challenges, and an uncertain political future. He says the former president is “a brave man” but “it’s too early to tell” how things will turn out.
Musharraf resigned in 2008 under threat of impeachment and still faces various legal charges in Pakistan, for which he received pre-trial bail. His legacy is full of haunting contradictions.
Once admired by Pakistan’s liberal elite - despite the fact that he had seized power in a 1999 coup - Musharraf’s reputation declined after he tried to dismiss the country’s chief justice in 2007. He battled Islamic extremists after 9/11, yet insisted Osama bin Laden was not hiding in his country (could he really not have known?). He started the disastrous Kargil conflict with India as army commander in 1999. Yet as president he engaged in secret and substantive talks with India to end the conflict over Kashmir – talks that were ended by his resignation.
Musharraf insisted – in an interview at a huge dinner party held in his honor in 2009 at Bokhari’s Villanova home - that he would have pushed those talks with India to a successful conclusion had he remained in power.
Now that he’s back home, it’s unclear what political support the former leader still retains. Most U.S. and Pakistani analysts doubt he can have any major impact, or that his political party will win more than a few seats in upcoming May elections.
Although the Pakistani government is providing him with security, Musharraf also faces serious threats from extremists, including the Taliban, which forced him to cancel a large welcome home rally planned in Karachi. Bokhari says: "President's Musharraf's reaction is that he has been dealing with the Taliban for the past 12 years and the best way to face them is... to stand up to them."
The Villanova businessman also believes Musharraf still has a key role to play in Pakistani politics. “He is very realistic coming into the fray at the eleventh hour. He wants to see the political status quo broken, and to give the people more choices than the failed political parties” that normally contest Pakistani elections and have lost public trust.
Bokhari will return home next week but will remain in close contact with his old friend as he tries to revive his political fortunes in Pakistan.