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All hell broke loose. It went dark

THE events of December 2003 put me in the front line of the war on terror and are part of my reason for writing this book now, while I am still fighting.

On December 14, I landed from Karachi at Chaklala Air Force Base, about 2.5 miles from Army House in Rawalpindi, six miles from Islamabad.

My aide-de-camp met me with two pieces of news: Pakistan had beaten India in a polo match, and Saddam Hussein had been caught. I made my way home to Army House. I was talking to my military secretary when I heard a loud, though muffled, thud behind us.

All four wheels of my car left the road and we shot quite some distance up in the air. Though the sound of the explosion was muffled by the armour plating of the car, I knew instinctively that it was a bomb. I knew too that it was a huge bomb, because it had lifted the three-ton Mercedes clean off the road. I looked back and saw a pall of smoke, dust and debris on the bridge that we had just sped over.

When I entered Army House, about 500 yards away, I found my wife, Sehba, and my mother sitting in the family lounge. Sehba saw me and started to ask what the explosion had been about. My mother’s back was to the door, and she didn’t realise that I had arrived. I put my fingers to my lips and motioned to Sehba to come out of the room, lest my mother hear and become terribly upset, as any mother would. In the corridor, I told Sehba that it had been a bomb meant to kill me.

People had barely stopped chattering about this assassination attempt when — on December 25 — there was yet another one.

After addressing a conference, I left for Army House at about 1.15pm. My chief security officer, Colonel Ilyas, and my aide-de-camp, Major Tanveer, were in the lead car of my motorcade. Next came the escort car. I was in the third car with my military secretary.

We crossed the fateful bridge, which was still under repair after the bomb blast, and reached a gasoline pump on the right. In front of the pump there was an opening in the middle of the two-way road for U-turns. The oncoming traffic had been blocked. There was a policeman standing at the opening.

I noticed that though all the oncoming traffic was facing straight toward us, a Suzuki van was standing obliquely, as if to drive into the opening to get to my side of the road.

Reflexively, I turned and looked over my right shoulder at the van, as one does when one sees something odd. Then I looked straight ahead.

It all took a split second. Hardly had I turned my head back when there as a deafening bang and my car was up in the air again.

All hell broke loose. There was smoke; there was debris; there were body parts and pieces of cars. Vehicles had been blown to smithereens, human beings ripped to pieces. It turned dark, and we couldn’t see anything. It was the middle of the afternoon, but it seemed like dusk.

Jan Mohammad, my admirable driver, reflexively put his foot on the brake. I shouted to him in Urdu: “Dabaa, dabaa” — “drive, drive.”

He floored the accelerator but had gone only about 100 yards when we came to another gasoline pump. Again there was a horrendous bang. Again all hell broke loose. The first explosion had come from our right rear; this one came straight on from the immediate right front.

Something big and very heavy hit the windshield. I don’t know what it was, but it made a big dent in the bulletproof glass.

Once again my car took off. Again there were human parts, car parts, debris, smoke and dust — and a lot of noise. Again it went dark. It seemed as if midnight had come at noon.

My car’s tyres had blown. Again I shouted: “Dabaa, dabaa. Hit the accelerator. Let’s get out of here.” The car lurched forward on its rims and got us to Army House.

Sehba had heard the horrific explosions and had run out. When she saw the first car — spewing smoke, filled with holes and plastered with human flesh — she started screaming. She screamed and screamed. I had never seen her do that before.

It was understandable hysteria but I think it helped to get the shock out of her system. It also diverted my mind and the minds of others with me. I took her inside. I sat with her and told her: “Look at me, I am all right, everything is all right.”

All in all, I was told, fourteen people had been killed. Three of our people had been injured. The poor policeman standing at the gap between the two roads had come in front of the first suicide van and been blown to bits. A police van had stopped the second suicide bomber from hitting my car by ramming into his vehicle. The van had blown up, killing all five policemen.

The first suicide bomber had hit the nine-inch-high divider between the roads and rolled back, probably because he had made a cold start with a heavy, bomb-laden vehicle. If the police hadn’t blocked the oncoming traffic, God alone knows how many more would have been killed.

We later discovered that there was supposed to be a third suicide bomber to attack me frontally. For some reason he didn’t materialize.

© Pervez Musharraf 2006

Extracted from In The Line of Fire, published by Simon & Schuster at £18.99.


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