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“We were aware that General Musharraf and his cronies would take over.” - File Photo
ISLAMABAD Eleven years after the fateful night that put an end to his military career, General (retd) Ziauddin Butt disclosed that General (retd) Pervez Musharraf had plans to topple the elected government since his inception as Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in 1998.

“I do know personally that he had some such plans since October 1998 when he assumed the office of the COAS,” said General (retired) Ziauddin in an exclusive but informal chat with Dawn at his residence in Lahore.

General Ziauddin was “appointed” army chief by then prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif on October 12, 1999, which triggered the series of events that led to the military coup later that night. The night proved to be no less tumultuous for Ziauddin; stripped of his military rank, he was kept in solitary confinement for two years at the headquarters of the 111 Brigade.

In perhaps what is his first extensive interaction with the media, the military officer claimed that Musharraf was a “friend of mine”.

At the same time, when pressed to talk further about the “plans” to carry out a coup, which dated back to 1998, the general refused to reveal anything else. He did, however, claim that the plan to topple the elected government was not a secret in the days leading up to October 12. “We were aware that General Musharraf and his cronies would take over.”

Ziauddin told Dawn that armed with this knowledge the prime minister too had decided to remove General Musharraf though he (Ziauddin) was not aware of the details of what Nawaz Sharif had in mind.

The government, he said, sprang into action when on October 12 Mr Sharif was about to proceed on a scheduled visit to Shujaabad, Multan. Shortly before he was about to leave the prime minister received a telephone call from a “reliable source”. This prompted the prime minister to remove General Musharraf. “To date Mian Nawaz Sharif has not disclosed who the caller on the other end was.”

Ziauddin also said that despite heading the ISI, he was kept out of the loop by the rest of the military in the run-up to the coup. He explained that one of his junior officers, Major General Ghulam Ahmed, widely known as GA, was secretly reporting to Musharraf. He said that in the ISI, most of the postings were done by GHQ and hence if the DG ISI did not enjoy the confidence of the chief of army staff, he was not just ineffective but also helpless despite heading one of the strongest intelligence agencies in the country.

He also disclosed that on the night of October 12, 1999, after the military had taken over, General Mahmud Ahmed visited him and suggested that he denounce the removal of Pervez Musharraf. Ziauddin refused and ended up in solitary confinement.

“I refused to become party to the unconstitutional act carried out by the fellow Generals,” said Ziauddin. He held General Musharraf; then corps commander General Mahmud Ahmed; chief of general staff General Aziz Khan; vice chief of general staff Maj-Gen Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai; DG MO Maj-Gen Shahid Aziz and others responsible for the coup.

Clad in a blue t-shirt with white trousers, General (retired) Ziauddin said that the differences between the PML-N and the military emerged after the Kargil war. Siding with Sharif, he too claimed that Musharraf started the Kargil conflict without the prior approval and knowledge of the elected government. “Even the corps commanders and principal staff officers were kept in the dark.”

After the conflict, the relations deteriorated rapidly; according to Ziauddin, Musharraf began abusing Sharif in private gatherings. Sharif learnt this because he was given an audio tape in which the chief of army staff was using insulting language against the prime minister. The tape was given to Sharif by the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

When asked about his reported close relations with the father of Sharif which is said to have led to his appointment as army chief in October 1999, Ziauddin could not help smiling before he answered that he had never met Sharif senior.

Ziauddin also claimed that his name as the successor to Musharraf was suggested by secretary defence; Sharif had asked the secretary as to who was the senior most general after Musharraf and this is when Ziauddin's name came up.

“On October 12 when I went to PM house I was taken by surprise when I was given the letter appointing me as COAS.”

He said that he was the senior most military officer on October 12, 1999. When asked about the reports which claimed that Ziauddin had no experience of commanding a corps, he said that he had commanded an infantry brigade and had been awarded the highest grade in the war course and that he had been personnel staff officer of COAS Aslam Baig for which the best brigadier of the army is selected. Besides this, he had also served as the Gujranwala corps commander. These reports about his previous military experience had surfaced after the coup, in a bid to highlight that Sharif's choice for COAS had been inappropriate also because Ziauddin lacked the requisite experience.

However, he claimed that this was not the first time his name had been considered for COAS. Even when General Jahangir Karamat's replacement was to be finalised in October 1998, Ziauddin's name was proposed along with those of Lt. General Ali Quli Khan and General Musharraf.

“But at that time then secretary defence, Lt. General (retired) Iftikhar Ahmed Khan supported Musharraf for the post.”

Ziauddin also claimed that Musharraf was all set to be removed by the former army chief General Jahangir Karamat because the latter had received some pictures and evidence implicating Musharraf in some immoral activities but for some reasons this did not happen.

Talking about his arrest, General (retired) Ziauddin said he was kept in custody for two years. He said that he was told by a junior officer that he (Ziauddin) had been removed from service. Later, he added, he was given a hand-written order that he was removed under section 16 of the Pakistan Military Law and Manual of Pakistan Military Law but he was never court martialled.

According to Ziauddin, the removal orders of any senior officer are to be signed by the prime minister or the president. But his dismissal orders, which were sent to the then president, Rafiq Tarar, were not signed by the latter. Evidently, the dismissal orders must have been backdated and signed by Pervez Musharraf once he took over as president, he conjectured.

Ziauddin said that Musharraf confiscated his property and deprived him of his retirement benefits. The retired ISI chief today lives in a one-canal house owned by his wife. He claimed that for most of Musharraf's tenure he lived under strict observation and surveillance and most of his former colleagues avoided meeting him.