Coup ’99: First Impressions

This article was penned on Wednesday, 13th October, 1999, a day after General Pervez Musharraf deposed the government in Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan: Yesterday, Tuesday, the 12th of October, 1999, was just like any other day. I came home from school, had lunch, and sat down to study for a Math exam. Afternoon went, evening came and my sister returned from swim practice. My mom was making mashed potatoes and chicken in the kitchen for dinner, and my sister and I were sitting in the living room reading, with the picture of a CNN newscaster in the background.

All of a sudden, an urgent “Breaking News!” sign flashed across the TV screen… and the headline appeared: “Military takeover in Pakistan!”

Spoons clattered, magazines dropped and a stunned silence fell over us as we listened keenly to Riz Khan’s booming voice.

Apparently, that Tuesday afternoon, while I was busy drowned in Math problems, the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had sacked the Chief of Army Staff, General Pervez Musharraf, and appointed a man of his own choice, Lt. General Ziauddin, as the new Army Chief. No sooner had the sun set that hundreds of armed soldiers swarmed into the cities of Lahore (where I live), Karachi, Peshawar, and the capital Islamabad, besieging all official buildings, invading the TV and Radio headquarters, surrounding all Airports, patrolling the capital’s streets, and most important of all, holding Nawaz Sharif and General Zia under house arrest.

That night, for the first time I’ve ever known, there was no 9 o’ clock news on PTV (Pakistan Television). There was a strange, disquieting evasiveness in the atmosphere – all they showed on local TV channels were Independence Day parades and speeches, and all they played on the radio stations were happy patriotic songs and national anthems.

Nobody had any real idea why the army would do such a thing. General Musharraf evidently had quite a large numbers of supporters in the military, while Nawaz Sharif obviously had none. There had, however, been a rift between Sharif and Musharraf over the issue of Kargil, and the army had been thoroughly disgusted at the “weakness” of the Prime Minister when he agreed to withdraw Pakistani troops from Kargil, giving in to pressure from the U.S., last summer. Sacking Musharraf just added fuel to the fire.

We could learn no more that night, and I went to bed reluctantly. This morning, Wednesday, 13th October, 1999, as soon as I woke up at 6am for school, I switched on CNN.

The Military Chief General Pervez Musharraf had now officially announced on television that he had taken control of the country and deposed the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He believed that Sharif had tried to “politicize” the Army and his acts had “severely rocked the country”. But Sharif’s “evil designs” had been thwarted, he said. One of these “evil designs” had apparently been a conspiracy to destroy General Musharraf completely – he was on his return journey to Pakistan from Sri Lanka yesterday evening, when the pilots made an abrupt announcement that they had been directed to land the plane in any country but Pakistan, for unknown reasons – in spite of the fact that the plane was dangerously short of fuel. And if this command had been carried out, not only Musharraf’s life but the lives of all the innocent passengers on the plane would have been threatened. Among these passengers sat my best friend Anushay’s parents.

Thus the Army felt compelled to move in to prevent further “destabilization” and “corruption” in the country.

My mom drove my sister and me to school this morning only to find out that there was no school at all till Monday.

I don’t know what’s going to happen now. But I know the last thing we want is another Martial Law. It’s true that the state of the country had become quite depressing lately, but we didn’t expect a coup.

Perhaps a coup was the only solution.

Perhaps a revolution is the only solution.

Nobody knows what Musharraf is going to do next. He’s promised that he will preserve the “integrity and sovereignty” of the country as soon as possible, but at the moment, we have no plan of future set-up and no constitution.

All the people have different views. Some say we are headed towards a civil war. Some say a dictatorship. All we, the citizens, want is peace and order in a country crushed by poverty and instability – even if it takes a revolution to attain it.

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