Posted on: January 12, 2015

Tale of Musharraf’s Coup in 1999

March 24th, 2013
Parvez Musharraf, ex-Dictator, landed in Karachi today, amid much fanfare(and while wearing a suicide jacket). He was ousted democratically on 18th August, 2008 and left the country. Pakistan has successfully completed transition from an elected government to a caretaker setup without direct intervention of the Military for the first time in its history. This does not mean we forget the history of military interventions and the disastrous consequences. To commemorate the arrival of Musharraf, we are posting account of his coup in 1999, in the spirit of the great Urdu Poet, Momin.
(Hamain Sab hai yaad zara zaraa, tumhen yaad ho kay na yaad ho)
This is an excerpt from Owen Bennet-Jones’ excellent book “Pakistan: Eye of the Storm”
On the morning of 12 October 1999, Nawaz Sharif finally made up his mind. His army chief would have to go. Like many Pakistani leaders before him, Sharif had surrounded himself with a tightly woven cocoon of sycophants. Family relatives and business cronies filled the key posts of his administration. The chief of army staff, General Pervez Musharraf, did not fit in.
Sharif had appointed Musharraf in October 1998 and quickly came to regret the decision. He regarded his army chief with distaste. The origin of the antagonism, which was mutual, lay in the snow-clad, Himalayan peaks of Kashmir. In the spring of 1999 Musharraf gave the final order for Pakistani troops to cross the line of control that separates the Indian and Pakistani armies in Kashmir. The soldiers, posing as divinely-inspired Islamic militants, clambered up the snowy passes that led to one of Kashmir’s most strategic locations: the dusty, run-down town of Kargil. Having caught the Indians off guard, the Pakistani troops made significant territorial gains. Tactically, the operation was a success. Politically, it was a disaster. As India cried foul, Sharif found himself in the midst of a major international crisis. And while General Musharraf had sent the troops in, Prime Minister Sharif was left with the unenviable task of getting them out. For three decades the Pakistani people had absorbed a steady flow of vitriolic propaganda about the Kashmir issue: Sharif ’s decision to withdraw seemed incomprehensible and humiliating. As the man who had defied world opinion and tested Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, Sharif had been acclaimed as a national hero.

As the man who pulled out from Kargil, he was denounced as a supine coward. Sharif ’s sense of resentment was acute. General Musharraf, he complained, had marched his men to the top of the hill without considering how he would get them down again.
The generals, though, were also unhappy. By deciding to pull out of Kargil without negotiating any Indian concessions in return, they argued, Sharif had squandered a militarily advantageous position and caused a crisis of confidence within the Pakistan army. After the Kargil withdrawal Musharraf faced a surge of discontent within the army. As he toured a series of garrisons he repeatedly faced the same question: ‘If Kargil was a victory then why did we pull back?’ Musharraf told his men that it was the prime minister’s fault and that the army had had no choice but to obey his order. It was a disingenuous response. Musharraf had been fully consulted on the withdrawal order and had raised no serious objection to it.
Sharif was never in any doubt that removing Musharraf would be a high-risk exercise. In 1993 Sharif ’s first government had been forced out of office in part because the military high command lost confidence in him. He was determined to avoid a repeat performance. Indeed, from the moment he took over as prime minister again in 1997, Sharif had devoted himself to making his political position impregnable.
On 8 and 9 September 1999 Sharif and Musharraf travelled together to the Northern Areas. They were to preside over a ceremony to reward the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) for its role in the Kargil campaign. Previously a paramilitary force answerable to the Ministry of Interior, the NLI was to be inducted into the regular army. The trip got off to a bad start when Sharif noticed the absence of the commander of the 10th corps, Lt. General Mehmood Ahmed. In the previous few weeks Sharif and Musharraf had undertaken two other trips to the Northern Areas and on both occasions Mehmood had been present. On this third occasion his absence was especially striking as the Northern Light Infantry was to be transferred to his command. Sharif knew that Mehmood would be a key figure in any coup against his government. Clearly, he should have attended the induction ceremony. As far as Sharif was concerned, there was only one explanation for Mehmood not being present: Musharraf was afraid he might be arrested by Sharif and wanted Mehmood away from the scene so that he could organise a response if the need arose.
On the evening of 8 September Sharif revealed his anxiety. General Musharraf was in the lobby of the Hotel Shangri-La outside Skardu showing off a new Italian laser-guided pistol to the information minister, Mushahid Hussain. As Musharraf was explaining how the pistol could never miss its target, the prime minister walked into the lobby. Aware of his fondness for high tech gadgets, Mushahid Hussain called Sharif over. ‘Have you seen this new pistol?’ he asked Sharif. ‘It’s remarkable.’ Uncharacteristically, Sharif did not ask how the pistol worked, but he did put one question to the army chief. ‘General’, he asked, ‘who are you aiming it at?’
As he considered the possibility of mounting a coup, Musharraf realised he would not be able to move without the support of all his corps commanders. He called them together in mid-September and raised the question of Sharif ’s competence. Although there was wide agreement that Sharif was not performing well, the generals decided that the army could not move without clear justification. But if Sharif tried to sack Musharraf, the corps commanders agreed, then they would act: to lose two army chiefs in the space of a year would be unacceptable. With this qualified backing Musharraf went back to Sharif and said he wanted to be given the full chairmanship of the joint chiefs of staff (at the time he was only acting chairman) and, to demonstrate his seriousness, he put the 111 Brigade on standby. It was an unmistakeable signal. 111 Brigade had been used for carrying out every previous coup in Pakistan. Three hundred troops, with a squadron of tanks, were posted at the army’s GHQ in Rawalpindi, just 10 miles from Islamabad. The troops were outside the normal chain of command and answerable only to General Musharraf himself.

Sharif ’s fears were confirmed by one of his few allies in the army leadership, the corps commander from the Baloch capital Quetta, General Tariq Pervez. The two men knew each other well: the general’s cousin, Raja Nadir Pervez, was Sharif ’s communications minister. A few days after the corps commander’s meeting, General Tariq Pervez warned Sharif that if he moved against Musharraf, the army would strike. Thoroughly unnerved, Sharif sought the help of his most trusted political ally, Senator Saif ur Rehman. The energetic senator had organised the triumphant corruption investigation into Benazir Bhutto and had blackmailed and bullied countless other government opponents. He now concentrated his efforts on Musharraf, putting a tap on his phones and monitoring his movements.
Sharif was furious that his few allies in the military were being sacked and demoted. It was now just a question of timing. The prime minister knew that Musharraf was due to be out of Pakistan in October to attend the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Sri Lanka’s army. The army chief was due to return on 12 October; since he would be airborne for four hours, Sharif calculated, the army would be caught off-balance and left unsure how to react to his sacking. By the time Musharraf touched down, his removal would be a fait accompli and a new army chief would have taken his place. Sharif was relying on the element of surprise and felt constrained by his fear that he was being bugged. On 10 October he arranged a flight to Abu Dhabi ostensibly for a meeting with Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Nahyan. He took a very limited group consisting of his son Hussain Nawaz, his speechwriter Nazir Naji and the man he wanted to succeed Musharraf, the ISI chief General Ziauddin. Confident that any conversation on the plane could not be overheard, Sharif spent the entire flight talking to Ziauddin: the final plot was being hatched.
On the fateful day, Sharif knew he had to give the appearance of conducting business as usual. At 10.00 a.m. on 12 October he left Islamabad to make a routine political speech in the town of Shujaabad, near Multan. Before leaving, Sharif gave instructions that he wanted his defence secretary, Lt. General (Retd.) Iftikhar Ali Khan, to meet him on his return. He also scheduled an appointment with President Rafiq Tarar for that afternoon, giving instructions that the meeting should not be reflected in his official programme for the day. The prime minister again took a small group with him: Hussain Nawaz, Nazir Naji and the chairman of Pakistan Television (PTV), Pervez Rashid. When the plane landed in Multan, Sharif told Nazir Naji that he should remain on board for a discussion with his son and Pervez Rashid. All the crew, Sharif said, had been told to leave the plane and they could talk in confidence. Once the aircraft door was closed the three men sat down and Pervez Rashid asked Nazir Naji for his mobile phone. Sharif, he explained, could not afford any of the information he was about to divulge to be leaked. Naji was then shown a speech written in Hussain Sharif ’s handwriting that his father planned to give on television that evening. Although the punch line – the dismissal of Musharraf – was not included in the draft, it was clear that the speech would announce that decision. Naji then worked on the draft, translating it into Urdu.
Two hours later the prime minister’s plane was heading back towards Islamabad and when he touched down at the military airbase at Chaklala his defence secretary, as arranged, was there to meet him. As the two men were driven to the prime minister’s residence, Sharif declared his hand. The sacking of Lt. General Tariq Pervez, he said, ‘has started creating the impression that there is a gap between the government and the army which is not good for the security of Pakistan . . . I have decided to appoint a new army chief.’ The defence secretary was shocked: he could guess the army’s likely reaction. He suggested that the prime minister might want to discuss the issue with Musharraf but Sharif was adamant. ‘The time for this discussion’, he said, ‘is over.’
As the prime minister’s car drew up outside his official residence in Islamabad his principal secretary Saeed Mehdi was, as ever, on hand to greet him. Mehdi was already aware of the prime minister’s plans and Sharif now told him to prepare the official papers for the handover of military power. As he walked into his office, the prime minister confirmed that the new army chief was to be none other than the man he had wanted to appoint twelve months before, Lt. General Ziauddin.
As Sharif ’s officials got to work, General Musharraf had already completed his official programme in Sri Lanka and was preparing to board flight PK 805 which would take him back to Karachi, along with 197 other passengers and crew, including the pilot, Captain Sarwat Hussain. Because the army chief was on board there were extra security checks and the plane took off forty minutes late at 4.00 p.m. At the very moment Musharraf ’s plane was climbing into the sky, the man who confidently expected to replace him was reaching the prime minister’s residence. By the time Sharif went to see him at 4.20 p.m., Saeed Mehdi had completed drafting the official notification. It stated that:
“It has been decided to retire General Pervez Musharraf, Acting Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of the Army Staff with immediate effect. Lt. Gen. Ziauddin has been appointed as the Chief of Army Staff with immediate effect and promoted to the rank of General. Before orders to this effect are issued, President may kindly see”.
By 4.30 p.m. Sharif had signed the document. The deed was done.
He told Ziauddin to assume his command and went to the president’s residence to show him the notification. Perhaps aware that the army might not accept the change, and that Sharif ’s days might be numbered, Tarar displayed some of the political cunning that had enabled him to achieve high office. Rather than writing the word ‘approved’ on the notification, he employed the more neutral term ‘seen’ and signed it. With the formalities completed Sharif told Pakistan Television (PTV) to broadcast the news of Musharraf ’s sacking. It did so on the 5.00 p.m. bulletin. PTV was also told to take pictures of Ziauddin receiving his badges of rank.
Ziauddin was now the de jure army chief, but he knew that to become the de facto leader as well he would have to move fast. Rather than waste time by driving back to the ISI headquarters, he stayed in the prime minister’s residence and started making phone calls from there. He thought two men, the chief of general staff Lt. General Aziz Khan and the commander of the 10th corps Lt. General Mehmood Ahmed, were likely to offer him the stiffest resistance. Both were Musharraf loyalists who, within army circles, had been outspoken in their criticism of Sharif. Ziauddin decided to remove both of them. He called an old engineering corps friend, the quarter-master general Lt. General Akram, and offered him the job of chief of the general staff. Excited by his promotion, Akram said he would come straight round to the prime minister’s house. Ziauddin then called the man who had recently been removed by Musharraf, General Saleem Hyder. Hyder was playing golf and was not immediately available. Eventually the two men spoke and Hyder was offered General Mehmood’s job: 10th corps commander.
Having sorted out the two key posts, Ziauddin called round other corps commanders. Most were non-committal. They were in an awkward position: they did not want to repudiate the new army chief but were also aware that Musharraf loyalists might resist him.
While Ziauddin was trying to shore up his new position, the two men best placed to stop him, Lt. Generals Aziz and Mehmood, were playing not golf but tennis. They realised that there was a problem when both their mobile phones started ringing on the side of the court. The man who called them was the Peshawar-based Lt. General Syed uz Zafar. As the longest-standing corps commander, he was serving as the acting chief of army staff in Musharraf ’s absence. Consequently, Ziauddin had called him to tell him about his own elevation and Musharraf ’s sacking. But rather than simply accept Ziauddin’s statement as a fait accompli General Syed uz Zafar called Aziz and Mehmood in Rawalpindi. The second they were told what was happening Aziz and Mehmood held a brief conversation and decided to act. As one eyewitness put it, ‘I have never seen two senior officers move so fast.’ They sped to GHQ and, as they changed out of their sports kit, considered their options. One thing, they decided, was beyond doubt: they could not permit a change of army chief while Musharraf was out of the country. The first priority, then, was to get the news off PTV. The two generals dispatched Major Nisar of the Punjab Regiment, together with fifteen armed men, to the PTV building in Islamabad. He was ordered to block any further announcement about Musharraf ’s sacking. As the major set off, Aziz called a meeting of all available corps commanders and other senior officers at army headquarters in Rawalpindi. Some already knew what was up: they had received the telephone calls from Ziauddin. And with Mehmood and Aziz determined to resist Ziauddin’s appointment, the corps commanders decided to implement the decision they had taken in principle in September: Sharif had to go. Within minutes, the infamous 111 Brigade was ordered to do its job.

Unaware of the growing crisis, PTV continued to put out the news of Ziauddin’s appointment. The station’s managers first became aware of a problem when Major Nisar and his men rushed past the guards on the gate and stormed into the control room. The major ordered the PTV staff to block the news of Musharraf ’s dismissal. ‘Take it off ! Take it off !’ he yelled. Faced with fifteen armed men and a screaming major, the staff complied. At 6.00 p.m. Nawaz Sharif was sitting in the TV lounge of his official residence waiting for the news bulletin. But when it came on, he was dismayed that there was no mention of Musharraf ’s sacking. He told his military secretary, Brigadier Javed Iqbal, to go straight to the TV headquarters and find out what was going on. Sharif was now convinced that he had to prevent General Musharraf ’s plane from landing. Ziauddin agreed. He advised Sharif that if Musharraf were kept out of the country the army would have to accept his removal.
The prime minister picked up the phone and made a desperate attempt to save his administration. First he spoke to Aminullah Choudhry, the Karachi-based director general of the Civil Aviation Authority. A classic civil servant, Choudhry could be relied upon to execute the prime minister’s orders without hesitation. Sharif told Choudhry that flight PK 805 should not be allowed to land in Pakistan. Choudhry immediately called the air traffic control tower at Karachi: ‘Which international flights do you have coming in at this time? Is there any coming in from Colombo?’ he asked. Having learnt that PK 805 was due to land within an hour, he ordered the closure of Karachi airport. Minutes later, the runway lights were switched off and three fire engines were parked on the landing strip – one at each end and a third in the middle. Choudhry also ordered the closure of PK 805’s alternate destination, a small rural airport in Nawabshah, 200 miles east of Karachi.
Back in Islamabad, Sharif ’s military secretary, Brigadier Javed Iqbal, an excitable man at the best of times, was manically preparing for his mission to the TV station. As he left the prime minister’s residence, he noticed a group of men from the Punjabi Elite Police at the gate. They were Shahbaz Sharif ’s personal bodyguards. He took the men with him and made the short journey to PTV headquarters. He arrived at 6.15 p.m. and went straight to the control room where he found Major Nisar with his fifteen men. ‘Disarm yourself immediately!’ the brigadier yelled.12 Major Nisar refused. The brigadier then drew a pistol and pointed it at Nisar’s chest. The Punjabi Elite Police and the Punjabi Regiment were moments away from a shoot-out. Nisar blinked first. He handed his gun to the brigadier and told his men to lay down their weapons. Within minutes the major and his men were locked in a room with an armed guard at the door. The jubilant military secretary ordered the Elite Police to shoot anyone who offered resistance and headed back to report his success to the prime minster. (Later, Brigadier Iqbal was to rue his actions. On 13 October he was arrested and charged with drawing a pistol on a fellow officer.)
With the TV station back under civilian control, the news about Musharraf ’s retirement was rebroadcast at the end of the 6.00 p.m. bulletin. Encouraged by this turn of events, Sharif renewed his efforts to keep Musharraf out of the country. He called a long-time political ally, the chairman of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Shahid Abbasi, and repeated his order that PK 805 should not land in Pakistan but be sent to Muscat or anywhere else in the Middle East. He did not give a reason but, having just seen the news bulletin, Abbasi wasn’t in much doubt about the prime minister’s motivation.
Both Choudhry and Abbasi, though, soon realised that a disaster was in the making. Officials at PIA’s operations department told Abbasi that the plane was 50 miles away from Karachi and lacked sufficient fuel to reach the Middle East. Choudhry’s staff at the Civil Aviation Authority had already reached the same conclusion. The plane would have to land in Pakistan. Aminullah Choudhry called the prime minster and told him.But, Choudhry subsequently claimed, Sharif was adamant: the plane must not land in Pakistan. Back at PTV headquarters, Major Nisar and his men were still being held under armed guard. When army officers at GHQ saw the news of Musharraf ’s sacking being replayed at the end of the6.00 p.m. news bulletin, they realised something had gone wrong. A second army unit was despatched to PTV.At 6.45 p.m. another major, this time with five armed soldiers, asked the guards at the gate if they could enter the building. With the Punjabi Elite Police breathing down their necks, the guards refused to let the major through. Half an hour later, the major returned with a truckload of troops. Again he was refused entry, but this time he would not be denied. With a flick of his wrist the major ordered his men to clamber over the PTV gate. Journalists who had gathered at PTV filmed the pictures that within hours were leading news bulletins all over the world. The Elite Police, realising they were outnumbered and outgunned, offered no resistance; some even put their weapons on the ground and sat on them. By 7.15 p.m. PTV was off-air. By then the coup was well underway. The first soldiers to reach the prime minister’s residence had arrived at around 6.30 p.m. Having secured the gatehouse, a major took fifteen men over the extensive lawns an and headed for the building’s main entrance. As the porch came into view, the major saw General Ziauddin on the steps with six plain clothes ISI officers. The major ordered the ISI men to lay down their weapons. They refused and General Ziauddin tried to persuade the major to back down. The major started trembling. He was, after all, disobeying an order from the duly appointed army chief. Beads of sweat poured down his forehead. ‘Sir’, he threatened Ziauddin, ‘it would take me just one second.’ Ziauddin, recognising that resistance was futile, told his men to lay down their weapons.
Once inside the prime minister’s residence, the soldiers soon found all the key figures of Sharif ’s administration. The prime minister, realising that he was about to be ousted, had gone to his private quarters to shred some documents. That done, he gathered with his brother Shahbaz and his son Hussain Nawaz to await their fate. General Ziauddin, his new chief of staff Lt. General Akram and other Sharif allies were also there. Having heard about Musharraf ’s sacking, Sharif ’s trusted ally Saif ur Rehman had gone to the residence. So had his brother, Mujib ur Rehman, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, who had turned up with his young son to congratulate Sharif on getting rid of Musharraf. With the residence secured, Lt. General Mehmood himself arrived and confronted Nawaz. ‘I was praying and hoping’, the general said, ‘that it wouldn’t come to this.’

Real Life Drama In The Air
(Remembering 12th October, 1999)

October, 1999 Capt Sarwat of Pakistan International Airlines Airbus-300, an old buddy, and I had gone to Colombo, Sri Lanka for Airlanka Golf classic tournament.

On the 10th October, after returning from the 18th hole (towards the finish of the game) that I saw General Pervez Musharraf (chief of Joint staff and Chief of the army staff) teeing- off with the Bangladeshi COAS for a friendly match. Gen Musharraf had gone to Colombo to represent Pakistan on the 50th anniversary of Sri Lankan armed forces. On the 12th October we were to return back to Pakistan and our flight route was Colombo-Male (Maldives)–Karachi. The flight time between Male and Karachi was almost three and a half hours. Capt. Sarwat was Commander of the flight PK/805 and I was traveling as a passenger in the club class but being cockpit crew of PIA I could visit the cockpit with the consent of the Capt. of the flight. The First officer of the flight was Mr. Shami {who was on his first clearance check flight to Sri Lanka} and the flight engineer Mr. Amir. Gen Pervez Musharraf boarded the plane with his wife and two of his personal staff officers. Gen. Musharraf and his wife were seated in the front extreme right hand side seats and the PSO’s occupied the last two seats on the same side. There were a total of 198 persons aboard that flight out of which almost 50 were children from the American school with six foreign teachers.

The flight to Male was bumpy due to rain and clouds. At Male, which was a transit stop, Gen. Musharraf, his wife and the PSO’s disembarked to see the strange looking island which had nothing but just a runway strip. At Male, Capt. Sarwat after getting the weather information of Karachi and Nawabshah decided to refuel the aircraft, keeping Nawabshah airfield as an alternative (Nawabshah airfield is almost 110 nautical miles north east of Karachi). It meant that the aircraft could reach Karachi and in contingency could divert to Nawabshah and keep flying in air for another 45 minutes before landing at Nawabshah which is normally the fuel policy of the airlines throughout the world.

The departure from Male was uneventful. The airplane started cruising at 29000 feet, I was sitting in the cockpit jump seat and occasionally would stand up to stretch and walk in the cabin. During the flight, the air guards and the cabin crew requested Gen Pervez Musharraf for individual and group photographs. Capt Sarwat also came to the club class from the cockpit to greet the VIP.

After two and half hours of flight and now cruising at 33000 feet, we established contact with Karachi air traffic controller. The first thing the Karachi radio controller asked was how much fuel was on board? What was our alternate airfield? And how many passengers were on board? I was standing behind the flight Engineer’s seat and listening to the whole conversation through the cockpit speakers. On hearing this I did point out to Capt. Sarwat “Isn’t it strange for Karachi to be asking this?” to which he nodded “yes”. It was a clear night and probably the third of moon was out but we could later on see Karachi very clearly. The initial approach given to us was direct Marvi (shortest route) but after a while Karachi changed the clearance via Nansi (the longer route) and gave us descent clearance to 10000ft. As the airplane reached almost within 60 miles the Karachi tower said “PK /805 you are not cleared to land at Karachi”. “Can we proceed to Nawabshah?” Capt Sarwat asked ATC after pondering for a little while as to what must be going on down below. “Nawabshah is also closed” came the reply. “But Nawabshah is our alternate!” said Capt Sarwat forcefully. Karachi ATC said “you will land at your own risk you cannot land in Pakistan. All airfields are closed”. “We do not have fuel for any other airfield!” Capt. Sarwat replied but once again but there was complete silence from the ATC.

The Karachi ATC was questioned thrice but all in vain —- there was no answer. During the ATC conversation it seemed quite obvious that someone behind the controller was passing the instruction because more than three or more persons could be heard in the background of the reception. A KLM flight which was somewhere in air and listening to this conversation also shouted, “Karachi why don’t you give the reason to the PK 805″. While the commotion was on, Capt Sarwat assumed that perhaps it may be due to the VIP sitting aboard. Sarwat knowing my air force background asked me and the other crew “Partner what do you think, should I tell the general about this?” I butted in and said why not, let’s get whatever help we can!”

Capt called the purser and asked him to inform the personal staff officers of the general. Both the PSO’s were informed and they came rushing into the cockpit. After listening to the Capt. they went to inform the General. Meanwhile Capt Sarwat asked the flight engineer as to how much fuel was left, and if we could make it to Muscat. “No way, we have only five and a half tons of fuel left at this 10000 feet altitude” he calculated. Meanwhile General Musharraf had entered the cockpit. During the discussion between the flight crew members, two other alternate airfields for diversion were considered. Chahbahar in Iran and Ahmedabad in India. After a little discussion with the flight engineer regarding remaining fuel and new airfield and night landing facility, Chahbahar was not considered as an alternate airfield. “Do we have the approach and landing information on Ahmedabad? Please open and consult Jeppesen (the flight crew bible} immediately” Sarwat asked the co-pilot.

General Musharraf was listening to the conversation and he asserted “We will not go to India, that is not an option”, to which Capt Sarwat said “okay General as you say.” Now the Gen said that he wanted to talk to the Corp commander Karachi, immediately. After a while the PSO gave the mobile telephone number to the flight engineer and wrote the land telephone number of the Corp. Commander. Karachi. The flight engineer Amir tried many times to dial the telephone but there was no dial tone. In this hurry and in presence of the general, the flight engineer mishandled his flash light and broke its glass. The flight engineer Amir said we are not getting the connection through and it seems as if the telephone lines have been cut. The general then asked as to why we couldn’t speak on the long range radio- the high frequency. The flight engineer tried to establish contact through company high frequency phone patch but it was all quiet, and no answer was received.

The other airplanes flying in Karachi vicinity were instructed by the Karachi ATC to divert because Karachi airport was closed. An aircraft of Pakistan Air Force which was in inbound to Karachi from Islamabad was instructed by the Karachi air traffic controller to land at Nawabshah, immediately. But the PAF Captain was not willing to accept this order and asserted that the PAF flight would go back to Islamabad. While the argument between the PAF aircraft and Karachi ATC were going on the Capt Sarwat changed the radio frequency. However later on I investigated about the PAF flight and I found out that it was a Boeing 737 VIP aircraft, which was on routine maintenance trip to Karachi but was forced to land at Nawabshah airfield. The police at Nawabshah, with special instructions was waiting for the two engine jet aircraft. Since it is difficult for a common man to distinguish between a Boeing 737 and an Airbus A-300, therefore Nawabshah police cordoned off the aircraft after parking. But as the doors were opened Pakistani Army soldiers rushed to the aircraft and shouted at the police to buzz off otherwise they would be shot at. The Police dispersed and now the army took charge of the aircraft. An Army officer entered the aircraft. To their dismay, they found the wife and children of the PAF Capt sitting inside, “Where is the General?” inquired the army officer. “What General?” asked the crew? PAF crew told them that they were going to Karachi from Islamabad. “But we were told that you are coming from Colombo” said the officer surprised

In the air at the very same time, the first officer of the aircraft saw two blips on traffic collision avoidance system and shouted “We are being intercepted; probably there are two fighter aircraft”.

The conversation in the cockpit our plane had become tense and was blended with other actions in the cockpit, which had become rather twice demanding. I noticed that at no point any of the crew or the VIP lost their cool. The general insisted several times that we land at Karachi. He also inquired as to why we couldn’t land at the air force runways at Karachi. But probably due to the fighter aircraft and no knowledge as to what was happening below on ground, with no runway lights landing at PAF Airfields was considered as the last option. If we could not land at Karachi or at Nawabshah due to runway blockade with tractors and bulldozers etc then Shahrah-e-Faisal or Masroor was the last option anyways. At this point Capt Sarwat changed to PIA company radio channel. Sarwat was asked about the remaining fuel. Someone at the company channel directed PK805 to proceed and land at Nawabshah, then refuel the airplane with 30 tones of fuel and once again get airborne and wait for further instructions.

After a few minutes, the Karachi ATC came on air and cleared PK805 to divert to Nawabshah. . Capt Sarwat then heaved a sigh of relief and said “Let’s go to Nawabshah”. The Airbus climbed like a missile to 20000 feet in no time since there was hardly any fuel left in the aircraft and it was rather light. At about 60 miles north of Karachi PK805 was redirected to come and land at Karachi by the Karachi ATC. A quick turnabout and descent was initiated. Someone from the ATC asked to speak to the general. Capt Sarwat gave his microphone to the general and said, “Sir please speak”.

“This is Pervez Musharraf, who is there?” the general inquired very assertively. “I am Gen. Iftikhar sir, your retirement was announced two hours before but we are in control. Please land at Karachi “Where is the Corp Commander?” the general questioned “He is in the next room waiting for you “was the reply. Both the PSO’s were listening and the younger PSO (a Major) said” Sir, ask him the name of his dog”. Probably he wanted to be sure in recognizing the GOC, but the general who had kept his cool all along said confidently, “He is my man, don’t worry!”(Later on this officer on ground happened to be a friend of mine who told me that General Musharraf had given him two puppies and that’s how the PSO wanted to determine his identity)

Meanwhile he plane was reaching for its final approach. Suddenly the low fuel warning light of right wing fuel tank came on with an audio chime. The cockpit was dead silent and everyone was waiting to feel the touchdown as soon as possible. We had waited almost one hour and ten minutes in the air. The remaining fuel of 1.2 ton in the wing tanks, if reliable, was only available for approximately ten minutes of flight time. At twelve miles short of landing, the left wing fuel tank warning light also appeared with chime.

After touchdown PK 805 was asked to park at the remote area (Bay 66) and was informed that no other person than the VIP will come out of the aircraft. After the engines shut down, the army soldiers who were almost two hundred cordoned-off the aircraft. The General was looking from the cockpit window and seemed relaxed. Before disembarking from the aircraft the general shook hands with all of us and said, “Thank you, don’t worry all is well, he’s my man.” And he immediately passed his very first order through his PSO, “Tell them I don’t want anyone to leave the country.”

The General, his wife, who was trying to control her tears, and the two PSO’s disembarked from the plane and were greeted by the Corp. Commander and the GOC with salutes from the soldiers. They all went inside a building for a short conference, which took almost 15 min after which the whole contingent drove away very fast. PK805 was not allowed to start the engines perhaps because of the security and almost no remaining fuel and was thus towed to the international arrival side (Bay 23). During the whole episode I was the quietest and the closest observer in the cockpit and was thoroughly impressed to watch total professionalism from Capt Sarwat and his crew. Not to mention the way General carried himself and remained confident and totally composed throughout the whole episode.

Capt. Tariq

1 Response to "MUSHARRAF’S COUP"

A sad story of terror and treason in the country of pure.SHW

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