THE COUNTER COUP – IN THE LINE OF FIRE – BOOK
THE COUNTE RCOUP
The counter coup for there can be no other word for it-began at five PM, when the news of my removal was announced on television, and it took only three and a half hours. It would be over by eight thirty PM, when Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, commander of the Rawalpindi Corps, entered the prime minister’s house and took Nawaz Sharif into custody.
Just after five PM the army swung into action in the cities of Rawalpindi (where GHQ is located), Islamabad (some nine miles, or fifteen kilometers, away), Karachi, and Lahore, and later in Nawabshah when my aircraft was diverted there.
The action in Islamabad was the most tense and dramatic, though Karachi also witnessed high drama. More than once, officers and soldiers of the countercoup came eyeball-to-eyeball with the armed personnel of the coup. It was only by their presence of mind and the grace of God that a bloodbath was averted.
At five PM offices were closed and the high command of the army was either back home or involved in evening recreational activity. The chief of general staff, Lieutenant General Mohammad Aziz Khan, and Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed were playing tennis in an army club in Chaklala, about three miles (five kilometers) from army head-quarters. Two commanding officers, lieutenant colonels Shahid Ali and Javed Sultan, belonging to the crack Triple One Brigade of the Rawalpindi Corps, were playing squash at the same club.
On hearing the news, they abandoned their game and rushed to the
tennis courts to give the news to Generals Aziz and Mahmood. But those two had also already heard, and had hurried back to headquarters.
The director general of military operations (DGMO), Major General Shahid Aziz, had just gotten home and was sitting on his bed untying his shoelaces. When the news reached him, he retied his laces and rushed back to headquarters, telling his wife on the way out that he did not know when or if he would be back. He already sensed what he had to do. He also knew that the next few hours would be spent on the razor’s edge. As his car drove out, he was disgusted to see his neighbor’s wife distributing sweets at the gate of her house. The neighbor was none other than Lieutenant General Ziauddin; his wife was celebrating her husband’s illegal elevation to the top army post.
Aziz an, Mahmood, and Shahid Aziz had not the slightest doubt that Nawaz Shard’s coup had to be thwarted. Enough was enough. They would lead the countercoup.
Consider the cast of actors and their relationship to me. Apart from being their chief, I played squash with the two commanding officers, Shahid Ali and Javed Sultan. Mohammad Aziz an was my appointee. The commander of the Rawalpindi Corps, Mahmood Ahmed, had been my regimental commanding officer when I was in charge of an artillery brigade in 1986-1987. The DGMO, Shahid Aziz, is my relative. The commander of the Triple One Brigade, Brigadier Sallahuddin Satti, was my brigade major when I was a brigadier. The officers critical to the countercoup in the other cities, Lahore and Karachi, were also my appointees. Only the head of our premier security service, the ISI, Lieutenant General Ziauddin, was close to Nawaz Sharif-but Ziauddin did not command any soldiers. The deck was stacked against the prime minister.
The DGMO-in this case Shahid Aziz-is the officer on whose orders the army moves, for his advice is regarded as orders from the chief Thus the countercoup would be controlled by his office, which soon took on the appearance of a war room. The first decision was to issue orders to the Triple One Brigade, stationed in Rawalpindi, to take action. Part of the duties of the two commanding officers who were playing squash was to ensure security at the prime minister’s and pres-
ident’s houses-Lieutenant Colonel Shahid Mi was responsible for the former and Lieutenant Colonel Javed Sultan for the latter. Lieu-tenant General Mahmood Ahmed ordered them via the commander of the Triple One Brigade to seal both houses and not allow anyone to enter or leave. He also told them to secure the television and radio stations. Orders were also issued that Ziauddin was to be denied entry to headquarters and to Army House (my official residence). My aged parents lived at Army House with us, and there was no denying that Ziauddin or someone from his staff might go there and cause them unnecessary worry.
Next, Shahid Aziz started calling corps headquarters in three of our four provincial capitals-Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar-to assess the situation. There was no point in calling TP, the commander of the Quetta Corps-his loyalty lay elsewhere. But Shahid Aziz did call his second in command, and was told that all was well.
Lahore, about 270 miles (430 kilometers) from the capital, is home to the Fourth Corps. It is an important and sensitive city, as it is the capital of Punjab and a cannon’s shot away from the Indian border. The Lahore Corps commander, Lieutenant General Khalid Maqbool, was in Gujranwala, about forty miles (sixty-four kilometers) from Lahore.
In his absence, the senior officer in Lahore was Major General Tariq Majeed. He was at home in his study when his wife shouted for him to come to the television room and hear the news about my dismissal. Livid, he telephoned headquarters and asked Shahid Aziz for orders. Shahid told him to detain the governor of Punjab and take over the two family estates of the prime minister, the television and radio stations, and the airport. He also told Tariq Majeed to secure every entry and exit point to the city
Tariq Majeed called his brigadier, who commanded the Internal Security Brigade, and gave him his orders.
By five thirty Pm lieutenant colonels Shahid Mi and Javed Sultan were making their way to Islamabad. They were under instructions to detain the prime minister and certain of his ministers and associates. When they arrived on Constitution Avenue, a wide double-lane boulevard leading to the prime minister’s house and the television station, they
found it teeming with well-armed police, looking as if they were expecting a mob. There were armored personnel carriers and three turret cars-the sort that have an opening in the roof-with the heads of crew members sticking out. Cement blocks and steel barriers had been placed on the road to slow down unfriendly or unidentified vehicles and prevent their entry into any sensitive building. It was a fairly awe-some show of force that would normally deter anyone, or at least make anyone think twice. It was the best that Nawaz Sharif could muster, since he could not command any army units to do his bidding. But to the surprise of Shahid Ali and Javed Sultan, the police just stood aside and did not try to prevent them from proceeding. The police were being eminently sensible, for they knew that even if they overpowered the commanding officers and their soldiers, they would be no match for the stronger force that would inevitably arrive later. Perhaps they were also fed up with Nawaz Shard’s misrule.
When Ali and Sultan had left Rawalpindi, Shahid had called the major who headed the guard at the prime minister’s house to tell him to seal it. But the major’s wife said that he was out for a jog. Luckily, he was jogging on the grounds of the prime minister’s house and was quickly contacted. He sealed the house immediately, informing the army guard there about what had happened and what was expected of them. He also told them that their chief had been treated unjustly and apprised them of the conduct of the impending operation, which he pretended was taking place under their chief’s orders.
Similarly, the major in charge of presidential security was ordered by Javed Sultan to first seal the president’s house and then go to the television station a short distance away and take it under his control. The president’s house was sealed without resistance.
It was five forty PM in Karachi when the Karachi Corps commander, Lieutenant General Muzaffar Usmani, was called by Lieutenant General Aziz an and told to secure the airport and receive the chief when he landed there. Things started moving very fast after that, as Usmani issued rapid-fire instructions.
He ordered Brigadier Tariq Fateh, the director of Karachi Airport, to take over air traffic control and coordinate his actions with Brigadier Naveed Nasar, the commander of airport security. It will remain my abiding regret that all Tariq Fateh did was to go to the airport and sit inert in the office of the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority. This was a man whom I had helped considerably to get ahead in his career, but when the time came for him to stand up and be counted, he remained seated, waiting to see which side of the fence I would fall on-the winning side or the losing side.
By five forty-five PM troops were on the move in Lahore. They were split into four units: one went to the governor’s house to detain Governor Sardar Zulfiqar Ali Khosa; the second went to the television station; the third went to the prime minister’s family compound; and the fourth went to the prime minister’s new family estate at Raiwind.
The governor was in his office, preparing to address a gathering of some 200 people. When two soldiers approached his room, the governor’s private guards tried to stop them, but they were brushed aside. The commander entered the governor’s office and asked the governor to accompany him to brigade headquarters. The governor accused the commander of insubordination and warned him of grave consequences.
By now all the initial action to thwart Nawaz Sharif’s coup had commenced in Rawalpindi, Karachi, and Lahore. Shahid Ali and Javed Sultan had reached Islamabad. In Lahore Major General Tariq Majeed had issued orders to arrest the governor of Punjab, take the two estates of the prime minister as well as the television and radio stations, and seal Al entry and exit points to and from the city In Karachi, where distances are larger, troops were on the move.
After sealing the president’s house, Javed Sultan’s troops proceeded to the television headquarters, less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away, and took it under their control. At six PM the English-language news began-without the announcement of my dismissal, which should have been the lead story. Alarm bells rang in the prime minister’s house, where Nawaz Sharif and his associates were huddled together, glued to a television set.
The prime minister’s military secretary, a brigadier, pulled rank and managed to get out of the prime minister’s house. He rushed to the television station, where he pulled rank again on the major in charge, and asked him to stand down. For a few seconds there was a standoff, but the sensible young major realized that there was no point in resisting, because a stronger force would soon arrive to retake the station. The military secretary disarmed the major and his guard and locked them in a room. Just before the newscast finished, the anchorwoman was handed a piece of paper. She nervously read out an announcement that General Pervez Musharraf had been dismissed as chief of the army staff and had been replaced by Lieutenant General Ziauddin, who had been promoted to the rank of four-star general. But the nation, watching at home, sensed that something was amiss. The military secretary returned triumphantly to the prime minister’s house.
At the beginning of the newscast the prime minister had panicked. My plane would land in Karachi in less than an hour, and the army would have its leader back. Any chance of defeating the countercoup would evaporate. I think it was at this point that Nawaz Sharif came to the conclusion that I must be prevented from landing in Pakistan.
He telephoned his adviser for Sindh, Ghous Ali Shah, who was stationed in Karachi. Sindh is our southernmost province, and its capital is Karachi, a cosmopolitan city of over 12 million-our largest commercial and financial center and main port city.
The prime minister instructed Shah to go to the airport immediately with a heavy police contingent to ensure that my plane did not land there. And in case its landing could not be prevented, the aircraft was to be parked in an isolated place-a “dumble,” as it is called-and refueled immediately and sent out of the country.
Ghous Ali Shah was the de facto chief minister of the province. He had replaced the elected chief minister; this replacement was one in a long list of Nawaz Shard’s many undemocratic actions. He left for the airport accompanied by a strong police parry and some of his provincial ministers and officials.
Next, the prime minister telephoned the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority in Karachi with the same instructions: don’t let Pervez Musharraf’s plane land anywhere in Pakistan at any cost. Force it to go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it goes out of the country.
Five minutes later the prime minister repeated the same instructions to the chairman of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), telling him to order his pilot to leave Pakistan. The chairman of PIA heard the instructions but remained neutral. As they were talking, my flight established initial contact with air traffic control at Karachi and informed the controllers that our estimated arrival time was six fifty-five Plot.
At six ten the Karachi corps commander, Lieutenant General Usmani, ordered Major General Malik Iftikhar Ali an, the person who spoke with me in the plane from the air traffic control tower, to send the Immediate Reaction Group to Karachi Airport to ensure that my flight would be able to land there.
Restless and tense, the prime minister called the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority again, and instructed him that my flight should be diverted to Muscat or Abu Dhabi, but not to Dubai. The director general called air traffic control to ask about the progress of my flight, discuss the procedure for closing the airfield, and deny our aircraft landing permission unless he gave the clearance personally.
Just minutes later, Major General Iftikhar contacted air traffic control and gave contrary orders. The controllers were not to divert my flight. They were to allow it to land in Karachi. He was told, in response, that he should contact the office of the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority. Iftikhar smelled a rat and immediately issued orders to his brigadier, Jabbar Bhatti, to go to Karachi Airport and take over the air traffic control tower. Tariq Fateh was also told to get to Karachi Airport immediately and use force if necessary to ensure the safe landing of PK 805. But as I said, Tariq Fateh did nothing.
As the major at the television station had predicted, it was not long before a stronger detachment of troops headed by a young captain of the Four Punjab Regiment arrived at the television station, scaled its walls, and retook it without resistance. The television broadcast was switched off altogether. Screens across the country went blank. Soon a pink rose appeared, accompanied by martial music. By now people had
guessed that a countercoup was in progress and that it would not be long before the second reign of Nawaz Sharif passed into history. The defense secretary, watching television in his ministry, realized it too. I wonder what Nawaz Sharif and his cohorts thought when they saw their television screens go blank, and then when the pink rose appeared. Knowing him, I think he would have been just a little upset.
Celebrations began. An expectant crowd gathered outside the television station. There were people from every walk of life-rich and poor, executives and laborers, men and women. Everyone was fed up with the regime and impatient to be rid of it. Many ambassadors and diplomats drove to the television station and got out of their cars to join the excited throng. No one was worried about violence. Soon, the crowd grew to such proportions that traffic came to a standstill. People started shouting slogans against Nawaz Sharif, and distributing sweets and sherbet. None of us in the hijacked aircraft knew any of this, of course. We were fast running out of fuel and trying desperately to land somewhere before we crashed.
Soon after the defense secretary saw the pink rose, a young major from Military Intelligence arrived at the Ministry of Defense and invited him to the Military Operations Directorate. When the defense secretary arrived there, the three leaders of the countercoup were waiting for him. He understood at once. They told him that they had no problem with him or his brother, who was one of Nawaz Shard’s ministers, but requested that he remain with them. They also told him that they knew he had not had lunch and that they had arranged a “very nice” dinner for him. Now there was no way the defense secretary could issue the notification of my replacement.
Until and unless the defense secretary signs the notification of the removal of an army chief, the chief still remains in his job. Officially and legally, even after the announcement on television, I was still the chief of the army staff. The Supreme Court later said as much in its judgment in a case brought against me: “General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Commit-tee, is a holder of [a] Constitutional post. His purported arbitrary removal in violation of the principle of audi alteram partem was ab initio void and of no legal effect.”
When Nawaz Sharif was sending my aircraft to India, was he not committing treason?
After retaking the television station, Lieutenant Colonel Javed Sultan proceeded to the president’s house. Lieutenant Colonel Shahid Ali and his troops headed toward the prime minister’s house. I am still glad that Shahid Ali did not know what Nawaz Sharif was trying to do to my plane, because had he known, he would have seen red. Anything might have happened. But Al that he had been told was to apprehend the prime minister along with certain of his accomplices.
On the way, Shahid Ali received a call from Lieutenant General Saleem Haider, whom Nawaz Sharif had just nominated as commander of the Rawalpindi Corps in place of Lieutenant General Mahmood. He was in a rage because even though he was in uniform, the guards had stopped him at the outer gate of the prime minister’s house and were not allowing him to enter. He had warned them of dire consequences, but to no avail. Shahid Ali politely but firmly told him that he should not insist on entering because as far as the guards were concerned Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed was still the Rawalpindi Corps commander. If he persisted, they were under orders to confine him.
The major had already sealed the prime minister’s house, but Shahid Mi left some of his soldiers to guard the main gate at the outer perimeter before proceeding to the main building with about five other soldiers. There was another gate at the inner perimeter, with ten policemen guarding it. Shahid Mi shouted to them to lay down their arms. They complied promptly, every one of them. They knew that they were no match for the army’s firepower, but any one of them could have been hotheaded or gotten skittish and started firing, causing casualties or even a bloodbath. They were placed under an armed guard, which took them to the main entrance, where they were made to sit aside with the other policemen who had already been disarmed.
It was just after this, when the Triple One Brigade had entered the prime minister’s house and disarmed the policemen stationed at the gates, that our pilot radioed that he had only forty-five minutes of fuel left and could go only to Nawabshah if he could not land at Karachi. The charade of reaching the prime minister and getting his reply began. Instead of realizing that all was lost Triple One was already on the grounds of his official residence and it would only be a matter of minutes before he himself was arrested and his government fell-Nawaz Sharif remained adamant and issued categorical orders that my flight had to be diverted out of Pakistan. He cannot be faulted for a lack of optimism.
By six thirty PM the Karachi runway was closed, its lights were switched off, and three firetrucks were parked across it. All domestic flights were diverted to other airports in the country, and international flights were held outside Pakistan.
Now the real action began. It was the closest that the two sides came to violence. Shahid Ali and his two or three soldiers reached the main porch of the prime minister’s house. They were surprised to find it crowded with perhaps seventeen people. Nearby was a black car with four stars affixed to its plate, indicating that it belonged to a full general. Obviously, before arriving at the prime minister’s housc Ziauddin had arranged the paraphernalia of an army chief for himself. “General” Ziauddin, in uniform, stood on the porch with a major and two army commandos belonging to the elite Special Services Group.
There were also troops from the police’s elite force and the protection escort of the director general of Inter Services Intelligence. Also present was Lieutenant General Akram, who was my quartermaster general but whom Nawaz Sharif had just made chief of general staff in place of Lieutenant General Aziz Khan. Akram too was in uniform. Next to him was Brigadier Javed, the prime minister’s military secretary. There were also the director general of the prime minister’s security, a retired major general; and Shard’s principal secretary, Saeed Mehdi.
Shahid Ali deployed his few men around the porch. He approached Ziauddin. The military secretary warned him that if he did not keep his troops away, the prime minister’s guards would open fire. If a firefight had started, God alone knows where it would have ended, or who would have been killed. It could have led to a rift in the army if soldiers had killed generals; and even the prime minister may not have survived it. As I have said, it was pure luck that neither Shahid Ali nor any of his soldiers knew that the prime minister had hijacked my plane.
A struggle to disarm each other’s guards ensued. Shahid Ali asked Ziauddin to order his guards to lay down their arms. Ziauddin asked
him to withdraw his troops instead and let Ziauddin proceed to army headquarters to take charge of his new office. When Shahid Ali refused, Ziauddin demanded to know whose orders he was following. Showing great presence of mind, Shahid Ali replied that he was operating under my direct instructions, that we had spoken only a few minutes earlier, and that I would soon be in Pakistan. Ziauddin retorted that orders from me were not valid, as I was no longer chief of the army staff and was, in any case, not present in the country because my plane had been diverted outside Pakistan. But Shahid Mi refused to listen.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Akram introduced himself in a commanding voice as the new chief of general staff He ordered Shahid Ali to withdraw his troops immediately, at the same time threatening him with dire consequences if he did not comply. Akram desperately wanted Ziauddin to be allowed to go to headquarters and take charge of his new office. Ziauddin was simultaneously trying to seduce Shahid Ali to his side by making him all kinds of fantastic offers. In a movie it might have been hilarious; in real life it was deadly serious. At this critical juncture, Ziauddin and Akram also attempted to persuade Brigadier Sallahuddin Satti (both by coercion and bribery) to withdraw his troops from the TV station and the prime minister’s house.
Bluffs and counterbluffs began. Akram pompously announced that troops from Mangla (about seventy miles, or 112 kilometers, away) and from Peshawar (about 105 miles, or 170 kilometers) had reached the outskirts of Rawalpindi and would soon reach Islamabad. Shahid Ali replied that as he spoke, and while these troops were still trudging toward Islamabad, tanks and armored personnel carriers were being deployed outside the prime minister’s house. at neither Akram nor Ziauddin knew was that Shahid Aziz had taken the precaution to block troop movement from Peshawar and Mangla and was in constant touch with the two commanding officers.) Just then, a reinforcement of twenty-five soldiers of the Triple One Brigade arrived. Shahid Mi ordered their immediate deployment and told them to get ready for action.
Two of the prime minister’s guards who were commandos knew me as one of their own. Suddenly, they surrendered their weapons and changed sides. It was a turning point. Seeing them, the other guards of the prime minister and of Ziauddin started laying down their arms too.
Oblivious that his world was crumbling around him, Ziauddin was still clinging to his cell phone, giving instructions and also taking congratulatory calls. Shahid Ali on orders of his Brigade Commander stepped forward and snatched the phone from him. He ordered Ziauddin, Akram, and the others to go inside the house to be placed in protective custody. Ziauddin’s last question was to ask Shahid Ali how many troops were involved in the operation. Shahid Ali bluffed: a battalion-size force had surrounded the main building of the prime minister’s house, and three more battalions were deployed outside, he said. The police were completely disarmed. On hearing this, Ziauddin, Akram, and the military secretary looked very nervous and moved into the building immediately.
The worst was over in Islamabad. But my plane was still up in the air, running out of fuel, and going to what I thought was an uncertain finale in Nawabshah. It was well past seven PM by now.
While all this had been going on at the prime minister’s house, many things started happening together in Karachi. Lieutenant General Usmani, along with his personal escort and the military police, reached Karachi Airport. Five minutes later, troops from Karachi’s Malir Garrison also arrived. It was precisely at this time that air traffic control informed our pilot that Nawabshah Airport-like all the airports in Pakistan-was closed to our aircraft. And it was after this that the pilot called my military secretary, Nadeem Taj, into the cockpit to tell him about the unbelievable situation.
Back in Lahore, at about six forty-five PM, a company of some seventy soldiers reached the prime minister’s family compound in a suburb called Model To. They found a very heavy contingent of police deployed outside the boundary wall, on the roofs of the houses, and all over the lawns. When the police were told to surrender, they replied that they would await orders from Islamabad. The army deployed its recoilless rifles in a straight line, as if intending to blast the building in front of them. On seeing this, the police surrendered. No member of the immediate family was present in any of the houses.
At the same time, about 150 troops from the Lahore Corps reached the airport. Despite the fact that the police’s elite force was already there, by seven thirty PM the airport was surrounded and secured without resistance.
There was no resistance at the Lahore television station either. The people on duty complied with instructions, and the Lahore station was the first to go off the air.
By this time, all entry and exit points to and from Lahore had been secured. One of our cell phone companies with the largest number of sub-scribers at the time was Mobilink. A unit of troops was sent to the Mobilink tower to switch it off. I have to hand it to the engineer on duty there. He resisted, and with considerable spirit, for which I admire him, because he was not a fighting man. He had to be controlled with some effort.
The takeover of Lahore was complete by seven thirty PM. When our pilot informed air traffic control at about six forty-eight Plot that he could not go to Muscat, owing to his critically low fuel, the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority asked his air traffic controller an amazing question: could my plane go to Bombay? I have seen idiots and more idiots, but this question was beyond belief. The controller replied in the negative. So the director general instructed air traffic control to make it clear to our pilot that Karachi and Nawabshah airports were closed for “operational reasons” and that he should seek orders from his own authorities-that is, from the airline-to proceed further. The pilot said that his company had cleared him to land at Nawabshah, but the controller reiterated that Nawabshah was not available. It was ridiculous, but absolutely true. Our pilot replied that he had no option but to hold over Karachi and then declare an emergency and land or take a direct route to the nearest airfield. at happened next remains one of the mysteries of that day. An air traffic controller elsewhere in Karachi, at Faisal Air Base, run by the Pakistani air force, asked the controllers at Karachi Airport about the estimated arrival time of an Air Force Boeing 737 VIP flight inbound from Islamabad. The controllers at Karachi Airport could not confirm the flight’s arrival. I wonder what that was all about. Who was to come in on that flight? Or was it sent to take me somewhere in case I landed in Karachi despite the best efforts to keep me away?
It was at seven ten PM that controllers finally allowed our pilot to land at Nawabshah. It took five more minutes for us to be cleared for landing.
Nawaz Sharif didn’t realize that with the army on the move in such force, it would all be over very soon-unless my plane crashed. I sup-pose he wanted to send me to Nawabshah on the assumption that the police could arrest me there without interference from the army. How-ever, some army elements were in Nawabshah, helping Pakistan’s largest electric utility collect bills and perform other tasks. Of course headquarters and the Karachi Corps remembered this and ordered the soldiers in Nawabshah to go to the airport and disarm the police and take me to safety in case my plane landed there. As it happened, things started moving so fast in Karachi that it was not necessary for my plane to land in Nawabshah. But the soldiers did get to Nawabshah airport and did disarm the police.
At seven eleven PM, a minute after our plane was allowed to land in Nawabshah, Brigadier Jabbar Bhatti of the Karachi garrison arrived at the wrong air traffic control tower at the old airport terminal building in Karachi. When he discovered his mistake, he made some controllers take him to the correct tower at the new terminal.
When he got to the correct tower, the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority was informed that Brigadier Jabbar Bhatti and his troops had arrived in the tower and were ordering the controllers to bring the aircraft to Karachi. On hearing this, the director general asked if “the person,” meaning me, was to be off-loaded. Air traffic control replied that it knew only that my flight was to be brought back to Karachi. At that point the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority gave permission to allow my plane to land in Karachi. The runway was cleared and its lights were switched on.
A few minutes later Major General Iftikhar arrived in the air traffic control tower. The rest is history.
After the scuffle on the prime minister’s porch, Lieutenant Colonel Shahid Ali and some of his soldiers entered the house and went to the private area, which is called the family wing. In the living room there, he saw Nawaz Sharif sitting with Ziauddin, Akram, Nawaz Sharif’s son Hussain (who had gone with him to Abu Dhabi and Multan), Saeed Mehdi, and Saifur Rahman-the dreaded chairman of the Accountability Bureau, who had hounded many opponents of Nawaz Sharif. In the gallery, Shahid Ali saw someone rushing forward with a message from the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority that the aircraft was short of fuel, could not be diverted out of Pakistan, and might crash if not permitted to land. Later, it was discovered that this was the third such message that went unheeded.
Shahid Ali entered the room and placed everyone-under arrest. “Has martial law been declared?” asked Nawaz Sharif plaintively. Shahid Ali said that he did not know Saifur Rahman started crying. Nawaz Sharif looked dazed.
The prime minister’s brother Shahbaz Sharif was nowhere to be found. Shahid Mi was told that he was in the bathroom. He asked Shahbaz to come out. Shahbaz shouted his acquiescence but did not come out for an inordinate amount of time. So Shahid Mi forced the door open to find Shahbaz Sharif standing in front of the toilet, flushing down the speech that Nawaz Sharif was to deliver after his coup had succeeded. Shahbaz was, in turn, flushed out of the bathroom. He insists to this day that he knew nothing of the coup plan. The prime minister’s speechwriter, on the other hand, insists that Nawaz Sharif took no important action without first consulting his brother. God alone knows the truth.
By seven forty-five PM the countercoup had defeated Nawaz Shard’s coup throughout the country. My plane landed in Karachi at seven forty-eight PM. At eight thirty Pm Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, commander of the Rawalpindi Corps, arrived at the prime minister’s house and held discussions with the captives for about an hour. Then they were taken to different army messes and confined there.
Back in corps headquarters in Karachi, we were somewhat dazed. We decided not to do anything precipitate. at was needed first and foremost was to reassure a bewildered nation, but without making any rash promises until we understood what we had gotten into. I started writing my speech by hand. When it was complete and met the approval of those present, I borrowed a flak jacket from an SSG commando, for I was in civilian clothes. The table hid my trousers as I spoke to my people at the unearthly hour of two thirty A vl. As I reached the end of my speech, the thought again came to me: “What have I landed in?”