By S M Hali
Even 29 years after the death of General Ziaul Haq, there is little clarity as to who was behind the incident that claimed his life. General Ziaul Haq had perished along with 30 other people when the C-130 Hercules aircraft he was flying in crashed on August 17, 1988 at Basti Lal Kamal. The casualty list besides the then President, included then Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Akhter Abdur Rehman, US Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel, one Lieutenant General, three Major Generals, five Brigadiers including Brigadier General Herbert M. Wassom, the head of the US military aid mission to Pakistan and numerous service personnel.
Two separate inquiries were conducted, one by Pakistan Air Force (PAF), which concluded that possible foul play had caused the crash of the ill fated aircraft while the Washington investigators determined the crash was the result of mechanical malfunction, noting that a number of C-130s had experienced similar problems, especially with hydraulics in the craft's tail assembly. Then-US Secretary of State George Shultz ordered the FBI not to probe the crash, even though two Americans had died.
Despite the fact that General Ziaul Haq's son, Ejazul Haq and General Akhter Abdur Rahman's son, Humayun Akhter have been members of the National Assembly and federal ministers, they have failed to pursue the inquiry for finding the offenders responsible for their father's demise.
Hence nearly three decades later, the mystery of who killed Ziaul Haq remains unsolved. There have been numerous conspiracy theories because General Ziaul Haq's totalitarian regime ushered an era of fundamentalism, barbarity in doling out harsh punitive measures in the name of Islam, like public flogging, chopping of arms and stoning to death. Zia's Hudood Ordnance has been instrumental in locking up thousands of women for adultery after they accused men of raping them without producing four Muslim witnesses as required under strict Sharia law. Similarly, religious minorities like Hindus and Christians have been lynched or incarcerated for 'insulting Islam' under the 'blasphemy' laws that were hardened under Zia's rule. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down 23 years later for recommending revisiting of the controversial blasphemy laws.
Many analysts blame Ziaul Haq's rule of 11 years for proliferating jihad and extremism. Ziaul Haq was initially shunned internationally for toppling the democratically elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and sending him to the gallows on a trumped up charge but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 gave his authoritarian regime much needed adrenalin.
US State Department reached out to Ziaul Haq, who became complicit in training, arming and launching volunteers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and a number of other Islamic countries to wage jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. By 1988, the Soviets had been routed from Afghanistan but Pakistan continues to suffer from the aftermath of jihadist spirit imbibed in Pakistani youth, which has wreaked havoc in the shape of extremism and terrorism.
Coming back to the earlier issue of naming Ziaul Haq's killer, a number of proponents have been named. In light of the Latin phrase 'Cui Bono' meaning who gains from the crime, the family of Zulfikar Bhutto is prominent. Benazir Bhutto, who became the Prime Minister after Ziaul Haq's demise, called his crash 'an act of God'.
The list of possible perpetrators comprises a wide array of international suspects, who had good reasons to want Zia dead, including the Indians, the Russians, the Iranians and - perhaps most intriguingly -Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency. Some analysts believe since Ziaul Haq had outlived his utility for the US and was becoming a liability, he may have been bumped off by CIA. The then US Ambassador and Military Attaché were also killed in the crash because they had traveled separately to Bahawalpur and were invited at the last moment by Ziaul Haq to fly with him on the presidential aircraft.
Russians are a possibility because of Zia's role in supporting the Afghan Mujahedeen in routing the Soviets. The Indians fit the bill because of his purported support to Sikh separatists.
The Iranians were considered probable culprits because Ziaul Haq had given a freehand to Sunni extremists to target Shias. Allama Ariful Hussaini, who was a companion of Imam Khomeini during the latter's exile in Iraq, was brutally assassinated in Lahore. Iranians and Pakistan's Shia community were seething with anger at his elimination and held Zia responsible for the murder.
A shocking revelation is attributed to then-US Ambassador to India John Gunther Dean, who pointed the finger at Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Dean proposed that Israel feared Zia was developing a nuclear bomb and the possibility that he would share it with other Muslim nations or enemies of Israel. Zia had called his nuclear project an 'Islamic bomb'.
Perhaps we may never know who killed Zia like Kennedy's assassin's true identity is still enshrouded in mystery.
Daily Times, August 19, 2017