10 Questions for Pervez Musharraf

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf wants to return to a job that nearly got him killed — twice

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Levon Biss for TIME

Pervez Musharraf.

You are planning a return to Pakistan to run again for President, a job you left in 2008. Why?
For the sake of Pakistan. I am very comfortable. I go around the world lecturing, and they pay me well. But there is a cause bigger than the self. I governed the country for nine years — successfully. So I don't have to reinvent the wheel. And I know Pakistan is suffering. I know there is a vacuum of leadership. Therefore the cause of Pakistan pulls me toward my destiny. Maybe it's a call of destiny much more for the nation than for myself.

You stepped down at the behest of the people. We've also seen Tunisia's Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak step down at the people's demand. How would you advise Muammar Gaddafi?
I would like to seriously object to the comparison. I left peacefully through my own volition. So please don't compare me to those two. However, you have spoken about Gaddafi. The will of the people should reign supreme. It's almost a civil war there. A political situation must be found.

Do you see any good leadership in Pakistan that will shift the country from the grip of religious extremists?
That is why I want to go back.

So how do you combat the rise of the religious right?
You have two choices: succumb to circumstances or do something. I know the people of Pakistan are moderate. It's unfortunate when the government itself and the leadership appease the religious groups and extremists by turning a blind eye.

Which is more of a threat to Pakistan — extremism or India?
At the moment, it's extremism and terrorism. But you can't compare. Let's not think this is a permanent situation. The orientation of 90% of Indian troops is against Pakistan. We cannot ever ignore India, which poses an existential threat to Pakistan.

Is Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world?
It is very dangerous, yes, I will have to admit. But the most dangerous is Afghanistan.

But Afghanistan doesn't have nuclear weapons.
Yes, we have nuclear weapons, and we are proud of it. Nuclear weapons are the pride of every man, woman and child walking in the streets of Pakistan. Why are we nuclear? Because of India.

What is preventing Pakistan from becoming the modern, progressive state you envisioned when you took power?
The condition of the region. In 1979 we launched a jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets. Who was the spearhead of the fight? The religious militant groups. In effect we introduced religious militancy by design in Afghanistan, and then [the U.S.] left the place high and dry. The responsibility lies with the West. The U.S. encouraged it all, and we suffered. This is what we face. It comes from history.

But you can't lay all the blame on history.
Yes, we have to take the lessons we have learned. We have to be careful not to create another blunder. The U.S. is declaring that it will quit in 2014. The Taliban are seeing that people are running away.

So the decision to pull out in 2014 is not a good one?
I know [what] public opinion is in the West and the U.S. But real leadership comes when you need to change public opinion, not go with it, because it's not in your interest or the world's interest. This is the reality in Afghanistan at this moment.