RAWALPINDI: Initially the government had two options to get Dr Tahirul Qadri to Lahore once he had arrived at Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) on Monday morning – either use a Fokker ATR27 aeroplane to airlift him to Lahore or a helicopter of the Punjab government.
However, both these options were ignored when Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq suggested that the flight not be allowed to land at BBIA and be diverted to Lahore, sources said.
However, before Rafiq’s suggestion was made and accepted, as many as 175 Elite Force commandoes along with 17 female commandos in plainclothes were brought to the airport at around 3am on Monday.
The Elite Force, which was formed in 1997-98 by then chief minister Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif, was led by DSP Rana Shahid and DSP Raja Taifoor. They took positions on the apron of the airport (where the Emirates flight was to land); the Fokker and the helicopter were also parked nearby.
According to a security official, the Fokker ATR27 was to be used if Dr Qadri agreed to be transported to Lahore but if he resisted then the plan was to bundle him on to the helicopter.
The Pakistan International Airlines Fokker, which was to be used for airlifting Dr Qadri to Lahore, was scheduled to fly to Skardu on Monday but the flight was cancelled to free the aircraft.
“In case he did not agree, Dr Qadri was to be picked up by the Elite Force commandos and put in the helicopter,” a security official revealed on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the media.
But as is now well known, this plan was changed at the last moment.
Commissioner Rawalpindi division and Regional Police Officer were both present at the airport to monitor the situation.
Dawn has learnt that the railways minister suggested the diversion plan.
As a result, the pilot was not given clearance for landing at BBIA; PML-Q leaders and the PAT workers waiting for Dr Qadri were not aware of what was happening till 8.50am when the flight’s diversion to Lahore was announced.
In the meantime, the aircraft remained in the air.
Once it was told to fly to Lahore, the airport authorities said that the plane was diverted for security concerns.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2014