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Column: What was Pervez Musharraf thinking?

Last March, Pakistan’s former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, returned home after four years of self-imposed exile, hoping to re-enter civilian politics. “I have put my life in danger, but I want to save Pakistan,” he told the disappointingly small crowd that met him upon his arrival.

It’s been downhill since then. In April 18, Musharraf ignominiously fled a courtoom in Islamabad after a judge ordered his arrest over the detention of several justices while he was in power. On April 30, the courts banned him for life from running for office. None of this should have been particularly surprising. The Pakistani judiciary still bears a grudge from when Musharraf tried unsuccessfully to depose Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in 2007, leading to a nationwide protest movement. The general election on May 11 was eventually won by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, another longtime rival who Musharraf had overthrown in a coup in 1999.

On Tuesday, things reached a new low for Musharraf when he was indicted in connection with the 2007 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Some experts say he’s unlikely to actually be convicted or face jail time, but it’s just one of a number of legal challenges Musharraf is facing related to his time in power and with Sharif and Chaudhry in their current positions, the chances of a political comeback seem more distant than ever.

In hindsight, Musharraf’s return to Pakistan appears to have been a massive miscalculation on his part. Perhaps he thought there was enough popular support to overcome the legal obstacles and the fact that his archrivals are more influential than ever, but the country appears to have moved on from the Musharraf era, and these days the populist momentum is behind former cricket star-turned-opposition leader Imran Khan.

The general probably should have stayed in Dubai.

(Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics. He was previously an editor at “Foreign Policy” magazine.)

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