Copter Escorting Musharraf Crashes
By SALMAN MASOOD | October 9, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Oct. 8 — Four people were killed and five others injured today when one of the three helicopters escorting the Pakistani president to the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir crashed, military officials said.
The president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was traveling by helicopter to the region to honor the second anniversary of an earthquake that devastated Kashmir. He safely reached Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistani-controlled part of the Himalayan region, 60 miles northeast of Islamabad.
Maj. Gen Waheed Arshad, the spokesman for Pakistan’s military, ruled out the possibility of an assassination attempt, attributing the crash to a technical problem. General Musharraf, an important ally of the United States in its campaign against terrorism, has survived several attempts to kill him.
On Saturday, after months of political crisis stemming from his dual role as political and military chief, he won re-election from Parliament and the provincial and national assemblies. But the Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether he was in fact eligible to run.
In July, unidentified gunmen fired on his plane as it took off from the garrison city of Rawalpindi as government forces laid a siege on a mosque complex in nearby Islamabad, where Islamic militants were holed up. The general escaped unhurt. The helicopter that crashed today, a Puma operated by Pakistan’s Military Aviation, tried to make an emergency landing at 11:15 a.m. near Garhi Dopatta in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir but caught fire, according to a military news release.
Villagers gathered around the debris of the helicopter after the crash.
“The helicopter was burning,” said a local resident, Tayyab Shah, 25, who reached the scene five minutes after the crash, according to Agence France-Presse. “We were worried because we knew the president was to visit Muzaffarabad and we did not know who was on board. We dragged several injured people out and they were taken away by the Army.”
Those killed in the crash included a brigadier, Zahoor Ahmed; two soldiers; and a cameraman for state-run television.
Among the injured was Rashid Qureshi, a retired major general who is currently the spokesman for General Musharraf. He and the four others injured were taken to the military hospital in Muzaffarabad.
The 2005 earthquake killed more than 70,000 people, some in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir but most in the Pakistani-controlled portion, and left hundreds of thousands homeless high in the mountains in brutal winter. Today, General Musharraf inaugurated a park in Muzaffarabad and said the government had converted the challenge posed by the earthquake into opportunity, local news media reported.
In Rawalpindi today, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the newly appointed vice chief of the Pakistani military assumed charge of his office at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
General Kayani, a trusted Musharraf ally, headed Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence, before being nominated as a successor by General Musharraf.