The Pakistani Taliban on Saturday threatened to assassinate former military ruler Pervez Musharraf when he returns to the country to contest elections after nearly five years in self-imposed exile.
The 69-year-old escaped three assassination attempts when in office from 1999 to 2008, a target of Islamist extremists because of his alliance in the US-led “war on terror” and attempts to clamp down on militants.
“We have prepared a special squad of suicide bombers for Musharraf,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“They will attack Musharraf after he arrives (in) Pakistan.”
Musharraf is due to fly into Karachi, his home town and Pakistan’s largest city of 18 million which is suffering from record levels of violence linked to ethnic and political tensions, on Sunday.
When former prime minister Benazir Bhutto returned to Karachi from eight years in exile on October 18, 2007, bomb attacks killed at least 139 people in what remains the deadliest single terror attack on Pakistani soil.
She was later assassinated in a gun and suicide attack at the end of an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. Her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, has accused Musharraf of her murder.
Musharraf is wanted by the courts over Bhutto’s death, the 2006 death of Akbar Bugti, a Baluch rebel leader in the southwest, who died during a military operation, and for the 2007 sacking and illegal arrest of judges.
He went to the top of the Taliban hit list after ordering the army to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad, where radicals were holed up. The operation left more than 100 people dead and opened the floodgates to Islamist attacks in Pakistan.
Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked groups went on the rampage, carrying out hundreds of attacks that have killed more than 5,700 people according to an AFP tally.
In an interview with AFP in Dubai on Friday, Musharraf said he was prepared to risk any danger to his life in order to stand for election on May 11, polls which should mark the first democratic transition of power in Pakistani history.
“Two hundred percent! I am travelling back on Sunday to Pakistan,” he said.
“I will go by land, air or sea… even to the peril of my life, this is the oath I took for the country.”
On Friday a court in Karachi granted him protective bail for at least 10 days on charges of conspiracy to murder and illegally arresting judges, but analysts say the risk of arrest is less than the danger to his life.
“Security will be a huge challenge for him,” retired lieutenant general Talat Masood told AFP.
It is not only the Pakistani Taliban, but Baluch groups, who hold him responsible for Bugti’s death, and hardline sectarian groups who want to kill him, said Masood.
“Moreover he is arriving in Karachi where the security situation is very difficult. He wants to be part of the political landscape. He will have to move around to meet people and travel to other places,” the retired general said.
“I don’t know why he is taking the risk when he has not a bright future in Pakistan,” he added.
Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup when he was army chief of staff in 1999 and left the country after stepping down in August 2008, when Asif Ali Zardari was elected president.
Last year he delayed a planned homecoming after being threatened with arrest and commentators say most of his powerbase has evaporated and that he will only secure, at most, a couple of seats for his All Pakistan Muslim League (APLM) party.
He has presented himself as “a third alternative” to the PPP and to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, whom he ousted in 1999 and who is considered a frontrunner in the May vote, by promising to reverse economic decline and restore security.
In 2010 a UN report said Bhutto’s death could have been prevented and accused Musharraf’s government of failing to provide her with adequate protection.
Musharraf’s government blamed the assassination on Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009.