Why is Pakistan's Musharraf on TV?

Bol TV publicity branding for Musharraf TV show Image copyright BOL TV
Image caption Mr Musharraf has his own show - but what do Pakistanis make of it?

Pakistan's controversial former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, has launched a television show commenting on current affairs.

The weekly show began on the Pakistani TV channel Bol last month. So far the former leader has called for closer ties with the US, criticised Pakistan's civilian government and attacked India.

But his move raises many questions about his motives, and how's it being received in Pakistan?

What's behind the move?

Many retired military officials have morphed into security analysts after retirement, but Mr Musharraf is the highest-ranking official to go down that route.

He also scored a first in 2013 when he became the first-ever Pakistani army chief to form a political party of his own and file nominations to contest general elections.

But the electoral goal remains unfulfilled - he was banned from running and became embroiled in legal cases, eventually leaving the country for Dubai a year ago, ostensibly to seek medical attention.

Many believe this unfulfilled political ambition may be the driving force behind Mr Musharraf's reinvention as a television intellectual.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption In the show, Mr Musharraf answers questions on a wide range of current affairs

What kind of show is it?

The programme, which goes out each Sunday, is called Sab Se Pehle Pakistan (Pakistan First) with President Musharraf. The line comes from Mr Musharraf's most popular political slogan during his time in power.

A young female host, Shenaya Siddiqui, asks for his opinions on a range of political, military, economic and even entertainment issues. Mr Musharraf answers the questions from Dubai.

This format is not unique - several channels hire journalists to comment on current affairs - but this is the first such programme to use a former leader.

Editorially, Bol comes across as a staunchly pro-military, anti-India and anti-liberal news channel. It also appears to be trying to expand its audience by giving prominent politicians their own shows.

Over the weekend it launched what it said would be a weekly current affairs programme featuring former president Asif Ali Zardari, who played a pivotal role in forcing Mr Musharraf from office.

What's Musharraf been saying?

So far the top lines have largely related to Pakistan's diplomatic ties and its security challenges.

The former army chief has talked of Pakistan's geo-strategic importance and has called for good relations with Washington.

He's also suggested Pakistan should not consider Israel an eternal enemy, but rather a country Pakistan has differences with over the Palestinian question.

On India, he has adopted a hard line, saying it poses an existential threat to Pakistan but cannot defeat it militarily.

Domestically, he has been critical of the military's operation against Islamic militants, saying troops are chopping off the branches but not the trunk. He blames the civilian government for this, saying it has political contacts with sectarian groups.

That might raise a few eyebrows - many will recall that the former president himself was accused of playing a double game over militants for years.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption On TV, Mr Musharraf has maintained the hard line he took against India as Pakistan's leader
Image copyright AFP
Image caption He's talked about ties he believes the nation should have with neighbours and other key nations

How's the show been received?

Many believe that Bol is trying to be provocative to draw viewers.

And critics point out that Mr Musharraf is not objective. They point to his role in the proliferation of militancy in the region, while accepting US funds to fight them.

As Pakistan's army chief he scuttled a possible rapprochement with India by launching the Kargil war in 1999. He then toppled Pakistan's elected government the same year.

Researcher and author Ayesha Siddiqa says Mr Musharraf's TV career shows he is "driven by ego".

"His political ambitions have been dashed for now, but he is telling himself that he still matters. And he wants to use this opportunity to mouth a narrative that has damaged the country in the past and continues to do so."

Ms Siddiqa, who was also targeted in one of Bol's programmes, says the channel "wants to establish itself as one that will represent the military's interests… It seeks to be part of a certain kind of publicity that weakens the civilian narrative."

Bol's management refused to comment.

Is Musharraf likely to return to Pakistan soon?

Mr Musharraf was forced to step down as president in 2008 and went into exile.

He returned in 2013 to contest the general election, but soon faced a raft of charges - including two counts of murder, over the death of Benazir Bhutto and a Baloch tribal leader, and high treason - relating to his time in power.

But he was then allowed to leave for Dubai for medical treatment. Many believe Pakistan's powerful security establishment played a role in orchestrating his departure.

Recently, however, he's talked of returning once more to play an active role in politics. He has also been discussing possible political alliances with other groups.

His aides say he faces a threat to his life but would come back to face the court cases if his security could be guaranteed.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Musharraf stepped down as president on 18 August 2008 after nine years in power

Do people support him?

Back in 2013, he hoped to win some seats in parliament, especially in the northern region where his investment in infrastructure had made him popular.

But his disqualification and subsequent house arrest rendered his party dysfunctional for all practical purposes.

It remains redundant and it is not clear if the leadership has any plans to rejuvenate it by forging alliances and drawing up a new charter.

The BBC's attempts to obtain the party's views were not successful.

Many people believe Mr Musharraf has agreed to appear on his own TV show as a path back into politics. Only time will tell if it helps propel him back into the national conversation.

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