KARACHI - Former military chief and president of Pakistan, General (r) Pervez Musharraf, ending his self-imposed exile, landed in Karachi on Sunday, claiming he had come back to save the country despite threats to his life.

Following the cancellation of the no-objection certificate (NOC) of a public gathering scheduled at the ground near Quaid-e-Azam Mausoleum, All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) President Pervez Musharraf briefly addressed a crowd of his supporters at the airport and left for a hotel under police and rangers’ security.

Emirates’ flight 606, carrying former military chief Pervez Musharraf, his party leaders and media persons who accompanied him from Dubai, landed at 1:20pm at Karachi Airport where a few hundred, but much charged supporters, welcomed him. After landing at the Karachi airport, the former military dictator went direct to the VIP lounge where he argued with the police and rangers’ officers, forcing them to allow him to hold a public gathering and a rally to up to the mausoleum of the founder of Pakistan.

Sources said the law-enforcing agencies didn’t give him security clearance to appear before the crowd of his supporters, so he stayed in the VIP lounge for over one and a half hours.

Waiving to his supporters at the airport, the former military dictator said his party would take part in the next elections throughout the country while he might contest from Karachi, Chitral and other constituencies. Musharraf expressed grief over the current state of affairs of the country and vowed that he had come back to save the country and bring a change according to the vision of the Quaid-e-Azam, to enable its citizens to live peacefully.

The former president asked the people where were those who were predicting that he would not return to the country. “They can see that I have come back,” he said. He chanted his old slogan, “Pakistan is first, which was saved and would be saved again.” “People advised me not to go back as I will be killed,” Musharraf said, while referring to threats from Taliban who reportedly claimed they had despatched suicide bombers to attack the former military dictator.

Rejecting the threats to his life, the former army chief declared: “I am afraid of nobody; I am only scared of God.”

Musharraf expressed grief over the law and order situation of Karachi and promised he would bring peace and make Karachi the city of lights again if he was voted to power.

APML Chief Pervez Musharraf declared that Karachi did not belong to a specific community or group, saying the city was for all, whether they were Sindhis, the Baloch, Punjabis, Urdu speaking, Pashtuns, Bengalis and Biharis.

He appealed to the people to support him for the progress and peace of the city, urging the elements involved in killings to shun fighting and bloodshed.

Meanwhile, a large crowd of APML supporters and workers, carrying portraits of Pervez Musharraf, reached the airport to welcome him. While sharing their sentiments, the people were happy to see their leader among them. A teenage girl, Saba Ilyas, while talking to The Nation at the airport, said they had reached here to welcome their leader for progress of the country. Students constantly lost their education because of poor law and order situation in the country. In addition, they were not given better facilities by the PPP government, she added.

Another student of Karachi University (KU), Rida Naqvi, said, “I have come here to welcome my favourite leader. Youth want change in Pakistan as a peaceful and developed country.” Rida said Musharraf was the last hope for change in the country because he had improved the education system and gifted many development programmes to the masses across the country, especially to the people of Karachi.

She said an urban-based political party had been claiming that it had a heavy mandate, but did nothing even for its voters.

Allahyar from Tharparkar district, Sindh, said he had come along with other supporters of Musharraf to welcome him. He said Musharraf had facilitated the poor people of the country in the past and would also deliver in the future. Talking about development in Tharparkar, he said one of the major roads from district Mirpurkhas to Tharparkar was constructed during his era.

Contrary to the scheduled visit to the Quaid-e-Azam Mausoleum, Pervez Musharraf, accompanied by security squad of police and rangers, reached a hotel in the city, where he held a meeting with the APML leadership for his political activities and the party’s organisation.

Musharraf said he had many challenges ahead, including threats to his life as well as political and legal battles.

Musharraf's power base has all but evaporated and he is not thought likely to win more than a couple of seats for his All Pakistan Muslim League party, which he founded in self-imposed exile with the help of Pakistani expatriates.

"I am very nostalgic but very happy to be back after four years," he told AFP on his Emirates flight from Dubai.

Musharraf ended his airport speech by leading chants of "We will save Pakistan".

Musharraf faces several court cases related to his time in office and he remains a highly controversial figure in a country struggling to shake off the legacy of extended periods of military rule. The outgoing government has rolled back much of the constitutional meddling of Musharraf and his predecessors.

Only hundreds of people greeted him at the airport, beating drums, dancing, waving flags and scattering rose petals. When he left the airport in a giant convoy, flanked by security protection, no one lined the main highway.

A court has granted him temporary reprieve from arrest, but he is wanted over the 2007 assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto; the 2006 death of Nawab Akbar Bugti and the 2007 sacking of judges.

Security concerns forced him to scrap plans to hold a public rally at the mausoleum of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah after the Taliban threatened to send a squad of suicide bombers to assassinate him.

Musharraf’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts provided an upbeat commentary on his return, complete with photographs.

An AFP reporter said supporters on the flight from Dubai shouted "Long live Musharraf", annoying some of the regular passengers.

Musharraf, who has been granted protective bail to lift the threat of immediate arrest on his return to Pakistan, told reporters before leaving Dubai that he was ‘not feeling nervous’ but admitted some concern.

"I am feeling concerned about the unknown... there are a lot of unknown factors of terrorism and extremism, unknown factors of legal issue, unknown factors of how much I will be able to perform (in the elections)," he said.