Nasir Jamal speaks to the author about the timing of his book, his relationship with Nawaz Sharif and the events of that fateful day in October, 1999...

Why did you decide to publish your book at this time?

An unusual event took place on October 12, 1999 the military ousted the prime minister on the charge of hijacking an aircraft (carrying the army chief). A lot of hue and cry was raised on political issues related to the case but the legal issues involved in it did not attract much public attention.

Once Nawaz Sharif left the country (to live in exile in Saudi Arabia as a result of a deal with Gen Pervez Musharraf), legal issues were erased altogether from public memory. Basically, this book is an attempt to explore the legal issue upon which the whole case (against Sharif) was based.

And what is that issue?

Can you hijack an aircraft from the ground? It was this issue that I wanted to explore. Initially, the military claimed that the aircraft had run out of fuel and would have crashed.

Then it said it was a heartless thing to do on the part of the prime minister (because the aircraft carried many children and civi-lians). Media hype was created before the issue moved towards hijacking.

The real issue was lost somewhere. Many questions remained unanswered Was the prime minister a terrorist? Was the incident (of hijacking) the result of a conspiracy? Why weren't the police asked to investigate the charges? Why did the military choose to investigate the matter itself? Why did it take the military government 28 days to lodge an FIR? Why didn't a passenger (of the plane) go to the police for registering an FIR? Why was the anti-terrorism law amended retrospectively to include hijacking in the list of crimes the law can deal with?

To many people your book is an attempt to exonerate Sharif from the responsibility of the events of October 12, 1999. Some suspect you might use your book as a stepping stone to join politics...

(The book) is purely an academic exercise to find answers to unanswered questions. It does not have any ulterior or selfish motive.

As far as the impression that it is an attempt to vindicate Mr Sharif is concerned, he didn't need me to disprove the charges against him. The Supreme Court has already acquitted him and overturned the decisions of the anti-terrorism court and the Sindh High Court. I just want to start a debate on the issue.

Why did it take so long to write the book if that is your only purpose?

Frankly, the country had been under the military rule until very recently. In addition to that, the matter was still in the courts and I did not want to venture before the court issued a final verdict. After the Supreme Court made its decision in favour of Sharif, it was easier for me to write on the topic.

'As far as the impression that it is an attempt to vindicate Mr Sharif is concerned, he didn't need me to disprove the charges against him.'

Also, I did not have access to relevant court records related to the case. It took me three years to collect all the records and documents pertaining to the case and to study international civil aviation laws. I also had to go out of the country to study and gather information for my project.

What were the findings of your research?

The results were quite interesting. Pakistani definition of hijacking is different from the international definition. It is possible in Pakistan to accuse any one of hijacking an aircraft from the ground because we have not altered our domestic civil aviation laws to comply with the international civil aviation conventions despite having ratified them. It is a violation of the Vienna Convention as well as of international aviation laws.

Why weren't domestic laws changed according to international aviation laws?

I think it is purely because of (official) oversight.

How do you describe the events of October 12, 1999, if not as hijacking?

It was basically a diversion order. And the prime minister has the authority under section 6 of the Civil Aviation Authority Ordinance 1960, to order diversion of a plane if he fears civil disorder.

I have studied the law and I know that the prime minister can order the diversion of any flight. Let me also tell you that the (Karachi) airport was shut down on my orders.

The prime minister had not issued any such orders. But, strangely, Sharif denied in the anti-terrorist court in Karachi that he had ordered diversion of the flight. He, however, changed his position when the case was taken to the Sindh High Court after the anti-terrorism court convicted him.

Probably, he changed his stand because he had a different defence counsel (Azizullah Sheikh) representing him at the Sindh high Court. Before the Sindh High Court and later before the Supreme Court he acknowledged that he had given the orders to divert the plane.

You were considered very close to Sharif. But when Gen Musharraf removed him you became an approver against him? Why?

An approver is someone who refutes the evidence of the main accused in a case. I did not do that. I never said the aircraft was hijacked. I just said before the anti-terrorism court that the prime minister had directed me to divert the plane.

I also never said in my deposition that the prime minister had given any unlawful orders.

I remained in the army's custody — in solitary confinement — for one and a half month (after the coup) and was under tremendous pressure. I'm not a politician; I'm a civil servant. We are not trained for the kind of psychological pressure I was subjected to.

My family was not allowed to contact me or provide my medicines. A brigadier used to visit me daily to press me to sign one paper or the other.

Have you met Mr Sharif since his return from exile?

No. I did not want to meet him until my book was published. I didn't want to give the impression that Mr Sharif had influenced the book. The last time I met him was in Malir prison in Karachi towards the end of 1999. During my meeting with him at that time I found him to be confused.

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