Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The (political) planes of Pakistan

Sept 10, 2007...Islamabad airport....Musharraf forcibly deported Sharif to Saudi Arabia...April 14, 2005....Zardari was taken into custody from inside the aircraft when he landed at Lahore airport...Oct 12, 1999.....PIA’s commercial plane carrying Gen Musharraf was denied landing permission at the Karachi airport 

While all South Asian nations enjoy a bit of drama-bazi, it seems that in Pakistan things move at a higher plane...so to speak. It is a real musical chairs fun and games, Sharif trying to thwart Musharraf, Musharraf trying to stymie Benazir, Musharraf  stifling Sharif, Sharif sabotaging Qadri...the airports are where the action is. 
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Monday’s diversion of Dr Tahirul Qadri’s plane from Islamabad to Lahore is the latest addition to a list replete with the political role of aeroplanes in the country’s history.


Dr Qadri is not the first political figure to have refused to disembark from an aircraft without seeking some guarantees. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari had also had to negotiate with the administration inside their planes when they landed in Pakistan during the rule of Gen Pervez Musharraf. The retired general himself had taken over the government in a bloodless military coup after a plane hijacking drama in 1999.

The latest scenes at the Islamabad and Lahore airports refreshed the memories of the people who had witnessed similar events six years ago when Mr Musharraf forcibly deported Mr Sharif to Saudi Arabia after the latter attempted to return to Pakistan from London and end his seven-year exile.

The Musharraf regime had taken the plea that the Sharif brothers should not return to the country because they had gone to Saudi Arabia under an agreement that they would stay away from politics for 10 years.

However, Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif declared that they would return to the country, come what may, after the Supreme Court ruled on Aug 23, 2007, that they were free to come to their homeland.

On Sept 10, Nawaz Sharif left London on a PIA flight with a team of journalists and some PML-N members, but only to be deported again to Saudi Arabia in a special plane.

And two days before his planned return to the country, Lebanese politician Saad Hariri and Saudi intelligence chief Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz had come to Islamabad to take him back to Saudi Arabia in the special plane hours after landing at the airport here.

Mr Sharif later returned to Pakistan on Nov 25, a month after then PPP chief Benazir Bhutto landed at Karachi airport after ending her self-exile.

In April 2005, former president Zardari was taken into custody from inside the aircraft when he landed at Lahore airport to lead the PPP in the absence of his wife Benazir.

The PPP workers were not allowed to receive Mr Zardari at the airport and even the journalists who accompanied the leader from Dubai were manhandled by security personnel.

The plane crash of former president and army chief Gen Ziaul Haq in August 1988 in Bahawalpur and the denial of landing permission to the aircraft carrying former president Musharraf in Karachi were the two main events that changed the political scenario.

It was after the death of Gen Zia in the mysterious military plane crash that the country saw a real democratic transformation and four elections were held within nine years -- from 1988 to 1997.

On Oct 12, 1999 then prime minister Sharif removed Gen Musharraf from the post of chief of the army staff when he was on his way back to Karachi from Colombo, where he had gone to attend the Sri Lankan army’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

PIA’s commercial plane carrying Gen Musharraf was denied landing permission at the Karachi airport. The plane remained in the air till the time military commanders on the ground toppled the government and arrested Mr Sharif, who later faced a trial on charges of hijacking.

During the last days of Gen Musharraf’s rule after the 2008 elections, there were rumours that a special plane was parked at the Islamabad airport to take him abroad. He denied the presence of any such plane, but later left the country after resigning as president in the wake of a no-confidence motion against him and started living in self-exile in the UK.

Just two months before the general elections in May last year, Mr Musharraf returned to Karachi to take part in the polls from the platform of his newly-formed All Pakistan Muslim League.

On April 1, Gen Musharraf departed for Islamabad from Karachi in a chartered plane. This time again, his plane was diverted to Lahore, but only because of bad weather.

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Link: http://www.dawn.com/news/1114707/political-role-of-aeroplanes-in-pakistan/

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regards