March 7, 2003, Chandigarh, India
New Delhi, March 6
Change of pilot just about 20 minutes before the take-off and eyewitnesses’ account of a big blast before and after the crash as well as sighting of bullets and a Kalashnikov rifle from near the crash site are said to be some of the circumstantial pin-pointers, while the political reasons are far too many.
Pakistan’s Air Chief Mushaf Ali Mir, his wife and 15 others, including two Air Vice Marshals, Abdul Razzaq and Salem A Nawaz, were killed in the aircrash.
Air Chief Marshal Mir, who was a handpicked choice of General Musharraf, had superseded at least six Air Force officers. Of late, he had developed differences with General Musharraf as he was against airbase to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that had been conducting search operations in the NWFP.
The late Air Chief did not like FBI intervene on one issue or the other. He had even shouted at General Musharraf at the last meeting of Corps Commanders in December, 2002 when General Musharraf informed them that he has assured the Americans full support for their hunt to nab Al-Qaida cadres.
Air Chief Marshal Mir had also gone to the extent of questioning General Musharraf why he issued statement that Pakistan would be the next target after Iraq.
The Inquiry Committee headed by Air Vice Marshal KhalidChowdhury, which was constituted to determine the cause of the crash, has reportedly grilled number of Air Force officers, including the pilot who was changed 20-25 minutes before the ill-fated plane took off. Unusually, the plane had taken off from Chaklala airbase to Kohat which is not the practice even for ordinary flights, leave alone a special flight carrying the Air Chief.
Sources said reports gathered by the Board of Inquiry had also recorded the statements of villagers of Tulang Jadeed who saw a few bullets and one Kalashnikov rifle on the spot. Some villagers said they heard shots before and after the big blast. Surprisingly, a large piece of the crashed aircraft tail lay intact at the crash site.
“Truth is unlikely to come out ever in this incident just as the world still does not know how Gen Zia ul Haq’s plane crashed in the late eighties. Sabotage is a part of the Pakistan history,” Pakistan-watchers said.
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