Islamabad, July 6: Shots were said to have been fired at President Pervez Musharraf’s plane as it took off from a military base today, adding the latest chapter to a familiar tale involving Pakistani dictators, planes and assassination bids.
“It was an unsuccessful effort by miscreants to target the President’s plane. They fled quickly,” a senior security official said about the shooting, which comes 19 years after President Zia-ul Haq’s alleged mid-air assassination.
Security forces quickly surrounded a house in Rawalpindi, south of the capital. Officials said the shots were fired from a sub-machine gun fitted with a telescope on the rooftop, where two anti-aircraft guns were also seen, but insisted Musharraf’s plane was out of range.
TV footage showed a large gun (in picture) pointing skyward next to a satellite dish. A resident, Mohammed Asif, said he heard two loud bangs about “a minute or less than a minute” apart and then saw a man firing an AK-47 from an off-white Suzuki passing by his home.
“A small plane was flying at that time,” the fruit seller said. Other reports spoke of a rocket attack, which the government denied.
A plane carrying Zia, too, was fired at as it overflew the same neighbourhood. Many believe that his subsequent death in an August 1988 air crash was plotted by his enemies in the military.
Musharraf’s 1999 coup itself was triggered by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s alleged refusal to let his plane land in Karachi so that it would run out of fuel and crash.
State-run Pakistan Television said Musharraf today landed safely in Turbat, a southwestern town where he inspected flood relief efforts.
The Rawalpindi house lies under the flight path of the main runway used by both the Chaklala Air Base and the adjoining Islamabad airport. Officials said the house owner was being questioned and they were looking for a couple who rented the property this week.
The shooting comes with Musharraf in the middle of a showdown with radicals holed up in an Islamabad mosque. The general has survived three bomb attacks, two of them in Rawalpindi, by militants and army dissidents.