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National

Mazhar Abbas
October 13, 2017

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Inside story of Oct 12

Inside story of Oct 12

Who had ordered military takeover on Oct 12, 1999 in the absence of the then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf? Gen Aziz or was it all pre-planned by the former president himself before he left Pakistan for Sri Lanka, as he apprehended former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif's plan to sack him. A retired Lt-Gen revealed the inside story of this most unprecedented coup.

Gen Aziz, who was second in command, ordered the action and Rawalpindi Corps Commander Gen Mahmood executed the plan, while Karachi Corps Commander Gen Usmani took over control of the metropolis, where Musharraf's plane finally landed.

These three generals had been briefed by Musharraf prior to his departure, while retired Lt-Gen Khalid Maqbool was also aware of the plan, a retired general, who was holding an important position, exclusively told me on the condition of anonymity. One of the reasons why Musharraf apprehended action from the PM was his meeting with Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar a few weeks before the takeover, in which he had warned, "I am not Jahangir Karamat”.

“Yes, these four generals were well aware of the plan and I came to know when I got a call from Mahmood on that day and when I inquired how could we takeover in the absence of the chief, I was told that the chief's consent is there,” he disclosed.

Later, Gen Mahmood moved took the 111 Brigade to arrest Sharif and also Gen Ziauddin Butt, just hours after the PM appointed him as army chief –a decision rejected by the military.

“Both Aziz and Mahmood were at a tennis court, when they received the news the sacking of Musharraf and the appointment of new chief. They rushed to GHQ's operation room to execute the plan,” he added.

On ground, the order for takeover was given by Gen Aziz after the senior commanders decided not to accept the new chief or sacking of Musharraf. All this made this coup unprecedented as on the one hand they refused the PM's constitutional order and, on the other, also took the risk of not accepting the new chief, which created confusion within the army for few hours.

The three main generals – Aziz, Mahmood and Usmani – had never spoken on the issue unlike some other generals, some of whom had even written books on their love and hate relationship with Musharraf.

The former general further said, “The treatment meted out to Gen Butt in the presence of Gen Mahmood really surprised me as the two were once very close to each other. Gen Butt later told me that he never expected him to be so insulting towards," he said.

Gen Butt later faced solitary confinement and court martial and suffered a lot. What happened to Sharif is now history. But between 1999 and 2000, the thinking within the establishment was to enhance his sentence from life imprisonment to death. In a way, some wanted to make him a horrible example. A Saudi intervention rescued him and was given asylum after a 10 years deal.

The former Lt-Gen confirmed that there was a lot of confusion within the military establishment after the PM’s decision, but the top commanders followed Aziz and Mahmood's instructions. "When I got a call from one of the officers who told me that Gen Butt had contacted him and issued certain instructions, I told him to ignore it,” he stated.

The general also disclosed that what happened at the PM House and the story he heard from fellow officers reflects a sorry state of affairs. Irrespective of right or wrong decision of the PM, he should not have been humiliated the manner in which he was and that too by one of the senior officer.

“It was also shocking for some of us the way Gen Butt was treated and put in an army jeep like prisoner. Even the military secretary to the Prime Minister was insulted,” said the general.

Whatever happening on that day was unprecedented because it was neither martial law nor any change of federal as well as provincial governments. In 1958, 1969, 1977 the then generals had imposed martial law, abrogated the Constitution. But in the case of 1999 coup, the government was very much in place and there was no unrest in the country.

It was also for the first time that the army had refused appointment of the new chief and perhaps both Sharif and Gen Butt misread Musharraf who about a month before the coup told Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar, when reports of tension between the PM and COAS were circulating, that he was not Jahangir Karamat, who silently resigned.”

The message was clear and sent to the PM through two senior leaders who played a key role in recommending his name to the PM for army chief.

When Musharraf finally got in touch with the control tower which by that time was in army's control, he was not 100 per cent sure of the ground situation. Thus he took sometime during the conversation with the army officer and used some code to confirm that his men had taken over and the Sharif government was removed.

It took him a few hours to get first hand information during which he was briefed by Gen Usmani and later he got in touch with Aziz and Mahmood.

When Musharraf decided to address the nation and went to PTV, he faced an awkward situation: in what capacity he should address. A senior PTV official Athar Viqar Azeem asked, "Sir! How can we play national anthem before your speech." Musharraf asked: “Why? What is the problem” and he was informed that since he is not holding any position like president, prime minister or even chief marshal law administrator, the national anthem can't be played.

“He agreed and for the first time national anthem was not played before any radio broadcast of the man in control," the general told me.

Later, Musharraf on the same night contacted late Sharifuddin Pirzada who coined the term 'chief executive' till the time he elevated himself as president. Pirzada also advised him not to impose martial law.

When Musharraf returned to Islamabad and presided over a meeting at the GHQ, some generals opposed martial law or long military rule. Instead, they suggested that an interim government should be constituted with elections held within six month. "Some of them were even surprised over his first address in which he had even laid down his seven reforms agenda," he said.

“But Gen Mahmood had other ideas and he and few others wanted to punish Sharifs and Zardari. They had a long-term plan," he said.

Had there been any high-level inquiry into Oct 12 coup and had the Supreme Court in Zafar Ali Shah case not given legitimacy to the coup, the real face behind the episode would have been exposed.

The retired general personally believes that the October 12 looked like a conflict revolving around personal ego between Sharif and Musharraf, but the later actions of Musharraf clearly indicate that he came with a plan to rule and in the process also sidelined the coup partners like Mahmood, Aziz and Usmani.

Later, Musharraf unfolded his long-term strategy and his team managed judiciary and anti-PML politicians.

Another retired Lt-Gen and once Musharraf's close friend, who live near his house in Karachi, described him in these words. "He first used to listen to his close friend and execute things accordingly. Later, he started doing things on his own but still respected our views and then he even stopped listening and as a result lost some of his old friends.”

When 10 of Musharraf's friends issued a joint letter, critical to his rule combined with few advices, the government reacted in a strong way and even one of my talk shows with some of them were not allowed on TV.

While Pakistan's mainstream political parties like PML-N and PPP demanded trial of Musharraf for his action on November 3, 2007 'Emergency Plus’, injustice has been done to this nation for not letting the real story of the actual coup on October 12th, 1999 ever come out as what exactly happened and who ordered the military takeover in the absence of the then chief who was on a flight from Colombo to Karachi on that day.

No wonder why democracy remain fragile in this country and distrust exist between civil and military establishment time and again despite improvement like army's decision not to interfere in political matters, closure of ISI's Political Cell. Yet when something like the 2014 dharna held or the procedure of dry cleaning of politicians emerged in Karachi's context, it only created uncertainty within the political system.

It is important to let the civilians learn from their mistakes and the generals also need to learn their mistakes, if we really want to move forward and not repeat the past mistakes.

Once the former army chief, retired Gen Waheed Kakar, reportedly said – when he was advised to takeover in 1993 after the Supreme Court restored Sharif's government and former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan refused to accept him as PM, “Military takeover or martial law are no solution to the problem. Let politicians fight and learn and they will learn."

This is the lesson of the last coup that occurred some 18 years back. Let’s bury the past and look for better future.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang  

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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