Dawn News

‘You shuffle, I’ll deal’

CERTAIN anniversaries subside without a trace. The events of Oct 12 1999, 13 years ago, were one such non-occurrence. It was the day, it should be recalled, that the prime minister of our country hijacked the chief of the army staff of our army.

The flight itself was routine. PIA’s commercial flight PK 805, carrying about 200 passengers and originating from Colombo, neared its destination Karachi. Orders were issued to the pilot from prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad via the director general, Civil Aviation, Aminullah Chaudry at Karachi to prevent it from landing at the city’s Jinnah International Airport. The pilot of the plane was told that he could not land at either Karachi or at its standby alternative Nawabshah. He was free to proceed to Muscat or Abu Dhabi, or Mumbai or Ahmedabad. The unwelcome passenger on board that aircraft was Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Eventually the trucks blocking the runway at Karachi airport were removed and the plane was allowed to land with seven minutes of fuel to spare.

Years after the event, each of them published his own Rashomon version of that eventful day. Gen Musharraf’s recollections appeared in his memoir In the Line of Fire (2006). Nawaz Sharif recalled his in a series of interviews given to a journalist and published under the title The Traitor Within: The Nawaz Sharif story in his own words (2008); Aminullah Chaudry’s account Musharraf, Nawaz and Hijacking from the Ground: The bizarre story of PK 805 appeared in 2010. Truth was made to pass through the prism of their eyes.

Aminullah Chaudry’s explanation repeated a line heard all too often at the Nuremberg trials. He was simply obeying orders. He was “duty bound to carry out the orders of the elected chief executive of Pakistan, if the rules so permitted, and as long as no threat was posed to human life or property”.

For Nawaz Sharif, the removal of Gen Musharraf as the chief of army staff whom he had also appointed as chairman joint chiefs of staff was his constitutional prerogative. “When the value of constitutional posts is reduced,” he explained, “it is inevitable either to quit or to take the risk.”

He took the risk, as US president Truman did in 1951 when he removed Gen Macarthur, who was commander of UN and US forces in the Far East. Nawaz Sharif, however, gambled and lost. Unlike the US army, the Pakistan Army moved swiftly to protect its chief, and removed the prime minister.

In any other country, it would have been considered a military coup. Musharraf’s Prussian-style justification contended that it was in fact a civilian coup by Nawaz Sharif against the army. The army had simply mounted a counter-coup in defence of its chief. “I did not take over,” Musharraf claimed later. “I was handed over the government.” He made it sound like a duty-free giveaway. He grabbed it. Which self-respecting PIA passenger wouldn’t?

By 2007, after eight years in power, Musharraf’s control was no longer tenable; the return of democracy and of Benazir Bhutto no longer avoidable. Today, the beneficiaries of the deal struck between Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf are claimants to the very presidency which Musharraf sacrificed his “second skin” — his military uniform — to retain.

Asif Ali Zardari is now the president and is prepared to sacrifice everyone else’s skin to remain so. Nawaz Sharif is a president-in-waiting in Lahore, and Musharraf is a president-in-waiting in London. Will that configuration stand altered after the next general elections, whenever they might be called?

It seems unlikely. The advantage President Zardari enjoys is that of an incumbent. He is already at the crease. His opponents are still in the nets. He can decide when, if at all, he wishes to give the other side a chance to bat. For the time being, understandably, he does not wish to be hurried into declaring.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must be viewing Zardari’s position with a tinge of envy. He has reshuffled his cabinet “for the last time” before the next Indian election, all too conscious that he is now a lame-duck octogenarian prime minister. He has decided to pass the torch to a new generation of Indian politicians, the most significant of whom for Pakistan must be Mr Salman Khurshid, who takes over as foreign minister from the octogenarian S.M. Krishna.

Mr Khurshid’s credentials are impeccable. Academically, he is a graduate of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and then Oxford University. Genetically, he is the grandson of Dr Zakir Hussain, India’s first Muslim president. Politically, he began his career with Mrs Indira Gandhi and has remained a Congress Party loyalist ever since.

Religiously, he is the first Indian Muslim to occupy a post that will place him inevitably and insidiously under the microscope of public scrutiny. If he is too conciliatory towards Pakistan, he will be criticised for being too soft on terrorism. Too tough, and he will be accused of being more patriotic than he need be.

Perhaps the best guide the new foreign minister can have is the performance of a previous Indian foreign secretary, his fellow Muslim Salman Haider. Mr Haider spent just over two years between March 1995 and June 1997 in the post, under three foreign ministers. He maintained such a fine balance of credibility that whatever he achieved as foreign secretary has been cemented by his role in the twin-track dialogue that runs unobtrusively like some underground confluence between the Ganges and Indus, irrigating fresh ideas.

Meanwhile, interestingly, two absentee heirs — Rahul Gandhi and Bilawal Bhutto — wait for their political harvest to ripen.

The writer is an author. www.fsaijazuddin.pk

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (9) Closed

surrinder gill USA
Nov 01, 2012 10:21pm
It is grave disrespect to peoples of pakistan to say that removal of mussharaf was a civil coup against army. It is government which runs a army and not a vice versa. It is really sad that in Pakistan it is totally opposite. Army appoints the PM and not the elected government control the army appointments. In India minorities occupy high post on merits and not religion (as in pakistan). A Sikh who are just 2% of total Indians can become PM, Army Chief Or President. Same is case of Muslims. 3 foreign ministers, presidents and present vice president are Muslims. That is blessing of secularism and not a country claims to based on only one faith for its followers only. Be educated to create peace on earth.
Nov 01, 2012 05:21am
Pervez Musharraf is not welcome to politics in my opinion.
Prakash Rao
Nov 01, 2012 05:43am
Religiously Mr. Salman Khurshid is not the first Muslim to be Foreign Minister of India. Mr. M.C Chagla (Justice Mohmmad Currim Chagla) was first Muslim to be foreign Minister of India during the time Jawahar Lal Nehru was the Prime Minister. By the way, in India ministers and civilian administrators are not appointed based on their religion but on the basis of their suitability for the job on hand. As far as Mr. Khurshid is concerned, he is very polished, polite, articulate and is ideally suitable for the job given to him.
Nov 02, 2012 02:42pm
Today's world is not 8th Century nor Pakistan is a caliphood nor was Nawaz Sharif Ameer ul momeneen (although he tried to become one). He was a incompetent politician who had destroyed country's economy by his inability to govern. When it Comes to running and saving the Country in today's world, it is not merely who is right or wrong. It Comes down to one criteria, who is working for security of the state and Progress of the People and it is pretty much evident to anybody with Basic understanding of economy and world politics that who did the Job well from both Nawaz Sharif and Gen Musharraf.
Nov 01, 2012 09:08am
It all works the same way. Military coup initiated to control national or political chaos, followed by a short respite, ending in the same disarray it was initiated to assuage. And the cycle goes on.
Sehrish Amber
Nov 01, 2012 10:55am
During the period of early islam, pious caliphs dismissed the commanders during battles. General Musharaf should be penalised for deviating from the constitution and intruding into the prerogative of an elected prime minister.
Sunder Lal Dua
Nov 02, 2012 12:58pm
Salman Khurshid is a gem of India and most suitable for the job, FM. In due course of time, Pakistan will come to know.
Nov 01, 2012 05:57pm
'Religiously, he is the first Indian Muslim to occupy a post that will place him inevitably and insidiously under the microscope of public scrutiny' Hardly.. we have had three Muslim presidents, multiple foreign ministers.. and literally dozens of other cabinet ministers of similar religious orientation. Am sure the level of public scrutiny was similiar then and on them. I dont think in that sense there is anything 'first Indian Muslim' about him at all.
Nov 01, 2012 07:53am
Salman Khurshid is actually the third Indian Muslim External Affairs Minister. The first two were MC Chhagla and Sikander Bakht.