That night of September 20, 1996 bodies, blood and empties lay scattered across what is normally a peaceful stretch of Karachi’ s main Clifton road. On the road and in the vehicles 13 men lay in pools of blood. Amongst the wounded was Mir Murtuza Bhutto, yet another Bhutto, who later died in a private hospital. Of course, everyone knew what was coming. For the past several weeks, people had been expecting some kind of drastic action from the President.
The allegations and juicy stories of corruption within government circles, the allegations of misrule at the highest level, the allegations of involvement of Asif Zardari in numerous highly lucrative business deals, the criminal mismanagement of national economy were being planted with a consistent pattern. Thus a case was being built for public consumption against the government.
It did not come as a surprise that her government had been dismissed by the President under article 58 2 (b) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
The interim government was installed under the Stewardship of Mr. Mairaj Khalid, with a promise of accountability and fresh polls within 90 days (in that order!), which was a contradiction in term.
As required under the Constitution the elections were held. The Muslim League (Nawaz) swept the polls, routing all the major players, including PPP, JI and JUP etc. The so-called mandate was unprecedented, over whelming and an obvious farce. Be that as it may there was no stopping Mian Nawaz Sharif.
The governments at the Federal and in the provinces were formed in coalition with ANP, MQM, BNP, BNM, JWP, JUP (Niazi), and JAH etc. The opposition was nowhere in sight except in the province of Sindh, where PPP had significant presence.
Simultaneously with the formation of the government and first convening of the Parliament, Mian Nawaz Sharif went for the KILL.
The West, particularly USA was highly upbeat. They thought that with this mandate Mian Nawaz Sharif would fulfill his tall promises and prescription to with the same lightening speed. Wait and behold!
Between November 1988 and February 1997, the troika comprising the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff ruled the country, reflecting the reality of a power-equation that in practice was not very stable. Despite the system’s parliamentary façade, it was understood that the armed forces would have a decisive say in the matters of defense and foreign policy, including Pakistan’s, then, clandestine nuclear program and its agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Self deceptively, intoxicated with what was referred to as a “heavy mandate”, given in the elections of February 1997; Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif transgressed the limits imposed on his power by the informal system of troika.
His government introduced the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that. In one go, he did away with article 58 2 (b), the sword of Damocles. He clipped the powers of the President in relation to the appointments of Services Chiefs, the floor crossing law was inserted in the constitution, harnessing the elected members, rather gagging them permanently, no room for dissent was left and over night the Parliament was castrated and maimed. All this was achieved with the whole hearted cooperation of the elected representatives of the people. What an ominous start!!!
Perhaps, without taking the General Head Quarters (GHQ), (the most important element of the TROIKA), into full confidence, Nawaz Sharif, intoxicated by his, ‘heavy’, mandate, proceeded, in haste, to improve relations with India, creating a big media hype on Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpee’s bus yatra to Lahore in early 1999. The Lahore Declaration made on the occasion was projected as a major breakthrough towards the normalization of relations with India, including progress on the Kashmir issue. It was a non-starter.
It appeared that in contrast to the policy of rapprochement with India, Pakistan, under Nawaz Sharif, went for the Kargil adventure during which the Mujahideens and some elements of Para-military forces of Pakistan, occupied a number of strategic mountain peaks and established heavily armed posts across the Line of Control (LoC), resulting in a mini India- Pakistan war in the region in May-June 1999.
As an all-out confrontation with India appeared imminent, Nawaz Sharif, rushed to the United States to seek President Bill Clinton’s intervention and agreed to withdraw Pakistani troops without any quid pro quo, without having any regard to the sacrifices given by the hundreds, if not thousands.
In the midst of the crisis the serious differences between the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff became publicly known with General Musharraf asserting, rightly so, that Nawaz Sharif was aware of the plan to cross the LoC.
After the Kargil war, the relations between Nawaz Sharif and General Pervez Musharraf (read the Defense Establishment) were damaged beyond repair.
Although Nawaz Sharif appointed General Musharraf as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), obviously to dispel negative impression. Informed people knew that beneath the surface things were not normal.
Nawaz Sharif had earlier sent President Mohammad Farooq Leghari, Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and COAS General Jehangir Karamat home; and the Armed Forces rightly anticipated that he might attempt to remove General Pervez Musharaf any time.
Over-confident, reckless by design, in extremely bad taste, Nawaz Sharif, in the late afternoon of 12 October 1999, announced, the dismissal of General Musharraf as the COAS, precisely knowing that the COAS Pakistan Army was about to board or was already on board a PIA aircraft on his return journey from Colombo where he had represented Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharif intended to appoint his hand picked and trusted man, Lt. General Zia ud Din, then incumbent chief of ISI, as the COAS. It is another matter that the incumbent, as DG ISI, failed, misread or deliberately misled Nawaz Shareef, into his last, immature, hasty, rather foolish and suicidal act.
However, his “appointee” was not allowed to take charge by the Army Commanders, as per anticipatory decisions taken earlier by the Armed Forces of Pakistan in the then prevailing and predictable environment, at GHQ Rawalpindi.
Nawaz Sharif panicked and ordered the diversion of the PIA plane, carrying General Musharraf, to some neighboring country even if it was to be India and subsequently, as a last resort, to Nawab Shah.
The high drama continued for hours, for whole of the country and the world to watch. Besides, the Chief of the Army Staff, other officials, 200 odd passengers of a regular PIA flight from Colombo. All these precious lives were, knowingly put at peril of certain deaths. A situation was created where state institutions were put to work at cross purposes and a confrontation course.
This was the height of abuse and misuse of powers, the powers, those were supposed to be a sacred trust from the people of Pakistan.
The Corps Commander of Karachi acted very swiftly to take the situation under his control, and General Pervez Musharraf landed safely at the Jinnah Terminal, Karachi.
Within a few hours, it was announced on Radio and Television that the armed forces had seized power and General Musharraf was in command.
In the early hours of 13 October 1999, General Musharraf addressed the nation and referred to the turmoil and uncertainty through which the country had lately passed. He charged that all the institutions had been systematically destroyed and economy was in a state of collapse; self serving policies were being followed which had rocked the very foundation of the Federation of Pakistan. His address was widely welcomed and people of Pakistan heaved a sigh of relief from the most agonizing and frustrating moments in its short history.
He accused Nawaz Sharif’s government of trying to politicize the army, to destabilize it and to create dissensions within its ranks. He also stated that Nawaz Sharif ordered to divert his PIA flight to some destination outside Pakistan, despite shortage of fuel, which imperiled the life of all the passengers. He assured the nation:
“Your armed forces have never and shall never let you down. Insha-allah, we shall preserve the integrity and sovereignty of our country to the last drop of our blood. I request you all to remain calm and support your armed forces in the re-establishment of order to pave the way for a prosperous future for Pakistan.”
(For full text see Pakistan Perspectives Karachi: Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi, July-December 1999, pp.147-149.
As one of its first steps, the military government made the Proclamation of Emergency on 14 October 1999 and, apart from that of CJCSC and the COAS, General Pervez Musharraf assumed the office of the “Chief Executive” of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
On 17 October 1999, General Musharraf addressed the nation and articulated his government’s aims and objectives, and future policy. He stated that the country had reached a stage where its economy had crumbled, its credibility was lost, state institutions lay demolished, provincial disharmony had caused cracks in the federation, and people who were once brothers were at each other’s throat.
He declared that he would not allow the people to be taken back to the era of “sham democracy” but to a true one. He promised that the Constitution had only been temporarily held in abeyance and that the armed forces had no intention to stay in charge any longer than was absolutely necessary to pave the way for true democracy to flourish in Pakistan.
General Musharraf was not extravagant in framing charges against the Nawaz Sharif government. Nawaz Sharif’s rule was stained by massive corruption, financial mismanagement and an insatiable lust for power and self-aggrandizement. He had converted the Parliament into rubber-stamp, browbeaten the press (Jang group of newspapers-a case in point) and had not even spared the Supreme Court whose sanctity was blatantly violated through physical assault.
Perhaps with the exception of people in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf was kept in Power by the then erstwhile judiciary, Defense Forces, our friends in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Turkey, Europe, UK and USA, politicians in power today and opposition for their respective interests or compulsions.
In the final analysis “It took him a decade to cede or shall we say the people to get, that democracy a decade. Now we do have Democracy. To say that the democracy, as we have today, is the out come of multiple, national, regional and international negotiations, deals, amnesties, reprieves, pardons, immunities to the incoming and out going rulers (one can’t say Statements or Leaders) would not be far from the truth.
It also is clear and becoming more clear that all those characters have assurance and guarantees, regional and international, that one will respect the rights of the other, I mean those coming and out going.
We do have that Democracy”. Better this than none still better late than never. Question is can our leadership practice it, unfortunately no.
Hypothetically, if Nawaz Sharif had not indulged in the act of sacking Pervez Musharraf, he, Nawaz Sharif, would have presided over the Pervez Musharraf’s long innings, the War on terror and would have been sustained with all its consequences, by erstwhile judiciary, Defense Forces, our friends in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Turkey, Europe, UK and USA, politicians in power today and opposition for their respective interests or compulsions. Lack of Far sight has its consequences. One hopes lessons are learnt.