Pervez Musharraf had plans to oust the elected government of Nawaz Sharif a year before he actually led a military coup in 1999, says a retired general whose appointment as army chief served as the catalyst for the former military ruler's action.
"I do know personally that he had some such plans since October 1998 when he assumed the office of the (army chief)," said Lieutenant General (retired) Ziauddin Butt, who was nominated as army chief by Sharif and also served as chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Butt was nominated as army chief by then premier Sharif on October 12, 1999, and this triggered the events that led to the military coup by Musharraf the same day.
Butt was stripped of his rank and kept in solitary confinement for two years at the headquarters of the 111 Brigade, the Rawalpindi-based formation that has traditionally played a key role in coups. He claimed that the plan to topple the elected Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government was not a secret in the days leading up to October 12, 1999."We were aware that General Musharraf and his cronies would take over," he said.
Butt described Musharraf as a "friend of mine" but refused to divulge more about the planning behind the coup in an interview with the Dawn newspaper.
As Sharif was aware of Musharraf's intention to take over, he decided to remove him from the post of army chief, Butt said. The government went into action when, on October 12, Sharif was about to visit Shujaabad in Multan and received a telephone call from a "reliable source".
This call prompted Sharif to remove Musharraf as army chief. "To date Mian Nawaz Sharif has not disclosed who the caller on the other end was," Butt said.
Butt said that despite heading the ISI, he was kept out of the loop by the rest of the military in the run-up to the coup. One of his junior officers, Major General Ghulam Ahmed, was secretly reporting to Musharraf, he claimed.
Butt also said he felt ineffective and helpless despite heading the powerful intelligence agency. After the military took over in 1999, Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed visited Butt and suggested that he denounce Musharraf's removal but Butt refused.
"I refused to become party to the unconstitutional act carried out by the fellow generals," he said.
Butt held Musharraf, Mahmud Ahmed, Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Aziz Khan, Vice Chief of General Staff Major General Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai and Director General of Military Operations Major General Shahid Aziz responsible for the coup.
He said differences between the PML-N and the military emerged after the Kargil conflict of 1999. Siding with Sharif, he claimed that Musharraf started the conflict without the prior approval and knowledge of the elected government. "Even the corps commanders and principal staff officers were kept in the dark," he claimed.
After the conflict, relations deteriorated rapidly and Musharraf began abusing Sharif in private gatherings. Sharif learnt this because he was given an audio tape by the Intelligence Bureau in which Musharraf was heard using insulting language against the premier.
Butt further claimed that Musharraf was all set to be removed by former army chief General Jahangir Karamat because the latter received some pictures and evidence implicating Musharraf for "immoral activities" but for some reason this did not happen.