Musharraf’s 1999 coup d’état turns 19 | Pakistan Today

Musharraf’s 1999 coup d’état turns 19

On October 12, 1999, it took then army chief General Pervez Musharraf just 17 hours to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and replace him with himself.

After the prime minister fired the army chief on that Tuesday afternoon, the army chief struck back with a swift and apparently bloodless coup hours later. Troops surrounded the PM’s home, closed all airports and shut down the state-run television and radio stations for several hours.

Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf at Keil sector near Rawlakot on the Line of Control, February 1999 | AFP

Events began when Gen Musharraf, on a visit to Sri Lanka, received a word that Nawaz and intelligence chief General Ziauddin, who met in Islamabad, were to move against him that very day.

The sacking would be presented as a “retirement” and Gen Ziauddin would step into the most powerful job in the military.

In response, Gen Musharraf raced to Colombo airport boarding a Pakistan International Airlines flight to Karachi.

Back in Islamabad army chiefs loyal to Gen Musharraf began to mobilise troops stationed in nearby Rawalpindi.

Nawaz formally appointed Gen Ziauddin as the new head of the military at his official residence in Islamabad that afternoon. But from the start it appeared things were not going to plan – with every senior officer reportedly refusing to accept his command.

Suspecting that something was up, Nawaz and Gen Ziauddin realised they had to prevent Gen Musharraf from returning.

At about 1600, the prime minister’s office announced Gen Musharraf’s retirement.

It was the excuse the army high command needed to react, and an hour later troops from 111 Brigade of the 10th Corps were on their way to Islamabad.

Soldiers stood guard outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad during Oct 1999


As troops poured onto the streets of the capital, the 111 Brigade stormed the state television station in Islamabad and shut down the signal.

Army men climb over the main gate of PTV HQ in Islamabad during the military coup of 1999.

At Nawaz’s residence, troops disarmed the guards and entered the home.

Then PM refused to resign or rescind his orders to sack the army chief of staff, so he was escorted from the building and placed in a guest house close to the airport.

Soldiers fanned out across the nation, taking control of administrative buildings in every province and placing Sharif loyalists and the cabinet under house arrest.

But one man was still needed to complete the coup, and he was still in the air.

Gen Musharraf’s flight approached Karachi airport at about 1830. But air traffic control refused permission for the plane, holding some 200 passengers, to land.

According to charges later laid against Mr Sharif, air traffic controllers ordered the flight to Nawabshah in Sindh province where, it is believed, the prime minister had despatched his own jet and security team to take the general into custody.


Smelling a rat, Gen Musharraf apparently ordered the pilot to ignore the order and continue circling Karachi, despite the fact that fuel was running low.

The general is said to have personally spoken with air traffic controllers, demanding the right to land.

The controllers initially refused, but as soldiers surrounded the control tower they allowed the plane to land, with Gen Musharraf finally reaching home soil at 1947.

Gen Musharraf later said the plane had only seven minutes of fuel remaining.


As the general was whisked away from the airport, officers across the nation reported that the coup was virtually complete.

They controlled the TV stations, administrative buildings, the power and communications infrastructure – and had the entire cabinet under guard.

At 2215 the army restored television broadcasts and minutes later an announcement ran across the bottom of the screen stating that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been dismissed.

At 0250 on Wednesday morning Gen Musharraf addressed the nation in a pre-recorded message, bringing the Sharif era to a close.

Dawn Oct 13 edition

Declaring himself the new chief executive of Pakistan, Musharraf justified the coup as the last resort to “prevent any further destabilisation”.

Within the same month, the chief executive suspended all assemblies and Senate, and placed Constitution in abeyance. Musharraf then announced his plans of holding a referendum to legitimise his rule.


The PML-N will observe Black Day on October 12 (Friday) throughout the country in a protest against the seizure of power in the bloodless coup.

In this context, the PML-N will hoist black flags on the party offices while the workers will wear black bandages on their arms.

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