Musharraf’s Dictatorship, Episode 1: PPP’s gullibility, Kulsoom Nawaz’s struggle, and Indian plane hijacking
By Abdul Majeed Abid
On October 12, Musharraf, mooching a uniform from a commando, addressed the nation at 2:30 am. With this speech, another decade of democracy in Pakistan came to a halt. In the beginning, like every military dictator, Musharraf too criticized corruption, claiming to confront it. Earlier, Ayub, Yahya and Zia had also played the same card. Instead of renouncing the unconstitutional measure, political opponents of PML-N lauded it. Human rights activists, who are incessantly maligned by media, mullah and many so-called educated ones, were the only ones to take a principled stand against the coup. History will bear witness that the day when PPP and Imran Khan were celebrating the fall of Sharif Government, Joint Action Committee led by Asma Jahangir came out vociferously against this coup d’état.
Hijacking case on Nawaz Sharif and Persecution of PML-N
Cases of murder and hijacking were registered against Nawaz Sharif and top leadership of his party. NAB was established to ‘dry-clean’ politicians. The details of this ‘transparent process’ are available in Shahid Aziz’s book. Those who were booked under NAB Ordinance could be kept in custody for unspecific period. Many arrested civil servants and politicians were kept in Attock Fort. In his book, ‘Yes, I am a Rebel’, Javed Hashmi writes,
“Our homes were surrounded by troops, and our movement was curtailed. It was my first arrest in Musharraf regime.” Siddiqul Farooq was kept in solitary confinement in Karachi for many months. NAB apprehended 132 persons till June 2000. Mushahid Hussain and Chaudhary Nisar were detained for one year.
The role of PPP on the eve of Musharraf’s coup d’état
In the beginning, PPP conceded to join Interim Cabinet of Musharraf but when Musharraf Government declared Benazir Bhutto a proclaimed absconder, PPP showed deep resentment. After his arrest, Nawaz Sharif was kept in Malir Jail, Karachi. Ameenulllah Chaudhary, the head of Civil Aviation, agreed to be an approver against him. Later, Mr Chaudhary wrote in his book that he was tortured, and though he was a heart patient, he was not provided medical facility. So, he fell to the forced co-operation with intelligence agencies. It should be remembered that Nawaz Sharif established anti-terrorist courts, and, what an irony of fate, he was tried before them. Moreover, prior to Musharraf era, Pakistani law was silent on hijacking offence.
Massive act of terrorism ensued Musharraf regime as Indian plane was hijacked
Musharraf regime was barely two months old when a plane of Air India flying from Kathmandu was hijacked. The plane had 178 passengers, mostly Indian nationals. Hijackers ordered the pilot to take the plane to Pakistan. The pilot argued that the plane couldn’t go there due to shortage of fuel. One of the hijackers having basic training of aviation, suspected that the pilot was lying. Meanwhile, Pakistani government refused to allow the plane to use its airspace. It had to land at Amritsar. After getting fuel from Amritsar, the hijackers took the plane to Lahore. At first, the airport administration switched off all the lights, but landing was allowed in the end. Then the plane was taken to UAE (twenty seven children, women, injured passengers and a killed one were offloaded here), and then it flew to Kandahar. Taliban armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers welcomed the hijackers at Kandahar Airport. The passengers were served tea, and smokers were allowed to smoke at a specific place.
“Officers of Pakistani intelligence agencies were at Kandahar Airport to help the hijackers”
According to Indian intelligence officer Ajit Doval, who was a part of Indian negotiating team, officers of Pakistani intelligence agencies were at Kandahar Airport to help the hijackers. Hijackers demanded the release of 36 Pakistani militants from Indian jails and 20 million US dollars in return for the passengers. Masood Azhar and Umer Saeed Sheikh were among the militants whose release was demanded. Earlier, many efforts were made to free Masood Azhar who was arrested in 1994. Umer Saeed Sheikh had kidnapped four foreigners from Delhi to bargain the release of Masood Azhar but the plan failed. In another attempt, a tunnel was dug to escape from the jail but Masood Azhar failed to enter it due to his obesity. When Musharraf took up the office, Masood Azhar, declaring him the Servant of Islam, paid him tremendous homage. After negotiations spanning over six days, Indian government decided to release Masood Azhar, Umer Saeed and Mushtaq Zargar. Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh escorted the prisoners to Kandahar and then the passengers were set free.
On March 10, 2000, Iqbal Raad, the lawyer of Nawaz Sharif, was shot dead in his office. On April 5, ATC awarded Nawaz Sharif death sentence for hijacking and terrorism.
Unprecedented struggle of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz
On May 12, the Supreme Court of Pakistan rectified unconstitutional measures of Musharraf under Doctrine of Necessity in Zafar Ali Shah case. Musharraf was given the legislative authority, and government was directed to hold the elections within three years. The bench comprised of Justice Irshad Hasan Khan, Iftakhar Chaudhary and Rana Bhagwandas. In July 2000, Begum Kulsoom Nawaz decided to hold a rally from Lahore to Peshawar to protest against death sentence of Nawaz Sharif. But the government thwarted her, and on one occasion, her car was lifted and taken to a police station where she was detained for many hours.
‘We knew that the oppressor would have to retreat, and this is what happened’
Earlier that day, dozens of political workers were rounded up in the whole country. According to Javed Hashmi, “the government had surrounded her home from all sides, but she broke away. Chaudhary Safdar Rahman, the ex MNA was driving her car. Tehmina Doltana and I were with her. When police were unable to stop her car, traffic was blocked and her car was lifted and taken to a police station. Begum Kulsoom didn’t give in. The pictures of her crane-lifted car were published in the international media.” Kulsoom Nawaz told Suhail Warriach about this incident later on, “I was not cowered, our spirits were high, and we knew that the oppressor would have to retreat, he would fall back, and it happened in the end.”
(To be continued)