LAHORE - Former president Pervez Musharraf, living in self-imposed exile for the last four years, says he will be returning to Pakistan within a week of the installation of a caretaker setup, which ministers say will be in place on March 16, the day on which the present National Assembly serves out its mandated five-year term. This means he should be back home by March 23.

It is difficult to say at this stage the kind of treatment the former president and the army chief will get on landing in the country which he ruled for nine years after toppling the PML-N government in October 1999. In fact, nobody is in a position to predict if Gen Musharraf has a role to play in the political field at a time when, ostensibly, all factors go against him.

He was declared a proclaimed offender in May 2011 by a Rawalpindi court, which is hearing the case of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. The Supreme Court had ordered the government to approach Interpol to have the former president arrested.

Gen Musharraf is also wanted in the case of murder of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. The slain leader’s son - Talal – has repeatedly announced a reward of Rs 100 million plus 100 acres of agricultural land to anyone who kills Gen Musharraf. (The government has not taken the notice of an individual taking the law into his own hands)

A commission looking into the massacre at the Lal Masjid, Islamabad, is waiting for the former president to appear before it to record his statement.

In such a situation when there is so much against him, the caretaker government will be left with no option but to order the arrest of the former president. And a judiciary which the former president had antagonised by moving a reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry (which was subsequently thrown out by a bench of the apex court), is less likely to give the former president much relief.

In these circumstances the role of the army will be crucial. Army Chief Gen Kayani can play a role to let his former boss off the hook. But it is hard to say if he will do that.

When Gen Musharraf was still the president and the 2008 elections were held, Gen Kayani had distanced the army from the electoral process and had directed everyone not to manipulate the results to the benefit of the then head of state. And now that the man is not only out of power but has also been abandoned by those who ruled the country for five years because of his fullest support, who can say how Gen Kayani will behave.

As for the honour of the former army chief, maybe Gen Kayani lets the law take its own course to strengthen the impression that he wants justice to prevail, no matter how important the man standing in the dock.

Some say that Saudi Arabia will play the same role in the safe return of Gen Musharraf which it had played in the case of Mian Nawaz Sharif. But this is just a rumour.

Even if because of any unseen ‘intervention’ Gen Musharraf is not arrested and is allowed to play his role in politics, the road will still not be very smooth for him.

His party – All Pakistan Muslim League – is almost non-existent across the country. The party has no organisational structure for any tier, because of which it will be difficult for it to get candidates for the elections.

His staunchest supporter – Dr Sher Afgan Niazi – has already pegged out.

Another supporter of the general – Chaudhry Shahbaz – has been keeping silent for a long time.

Barrister Saif is also seldom seen.

Advocate Fawad Chaudhry, who had been defending the general for several months, has already joined hands with the PPP.

The only two people still on the side of Gen Musharraf are Ahmed Raza Kasuri and Gen Raashed Qureshi, whose support will be of no consequence.

Of the dozens of political parties which will take part in the elections, none appears to have a soft corner for Gen Musharraf.

The PML-N is his enemy number one. And the parties which are forming alliance with the PML-N will follow suit.

The PPP and the PML-Q also cannot afford to shake hands with him because of the likely political price they may have to pay for such a gesture.

All religious parties are also opposed to Gen Musharraf.

The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf of Imran Khan is also against the former president.

The MQM and former minister Sheikh Rashid may like to cooperate with the former president – provided the situation allows such an initiative.

Gen Musharraf cannot be expected to have taken the homecoming decision without calculating all aspects of the matter.

It will be clear only after his return to the country if it was a gamble or a calculated risk.