Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mystery of General Zia’s death


President Zia-ul-Haq, who died in a plane crash in 1988. It is said the Americans had become unhappy with the man who had served them so well and had come to regard him as a petty client grown too big for his boots, pretty much as they are said to have come to regard Musharraf now.


In an appearance on ARY TV channel on the 17th August anniversary of General Zia-ul Haq’s death in an air crash in 1988, his son, Ijaz-ul Haq, once again raised the question of “wilful neglect” of investigation into his father’s death. He spoke of the Justice Shafiur Rehman Commission, whose damning report came out in 1993 complaining that the then army chief, General Aslam Beg, had acted in a strange manner after the air crash in Bahawalpur.

He referred to the now-secret Shafiur Rehman Commission Report — whose copy was quietly sent to him by a member of the Commission — and pointed to instances of a “cover-up” that could not have been mounted without the consent of the military high command.The same TV discussion had two other inputs.

The ex-ISI chief General (Retd) Hamid Gul was of the opinion that the Americans killed Zia after they had “used him” and because he was going to set up a true shariat-based Islamic state in Pakistan. He said the Americans killed off leaders after using them and referred in this context to the assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto. The other input came from an officer who was not ready to speak in the programme but wanted to see Mr Haq separately to tell him what had actually transpired on August 17, 1988.

The Shafiur Rehman Commission Report is today classified as secret but when it was submitted to the government in 1993 a copy of it was received in some newspapers too and at least one newspaper published an Urdu translation of it.

The contents bear out what Mr Ijaz-ul Haq says. The Commission called its work “inconclusive” because it was not allowed by the army to investigate the Bahawalpur crash fully. It was convinced that the air-crash was an act of sabotage. It noted that the evidence was destroyed by the quick removal of debris and by an equally quick burial of the dead bodies without post mortem. The army refused to hand over the back door of the aircraft which had a hole in it.

(This door was noted in the photographs that were appended to an earlier Air Force inquiry.) The Commission complained bitterly about the fact that army loaders, who had placed some special cargo in the cockpit, were allowed to appear before it only after great resistance and that during their appearance in the court they were accompanied by army officers as “minders” who obstructed testimony by their presence.Mr Haq also referred to the efforts made by army chief General Asif Nawaz to get at the truth but he was soon embroiled in a tussle with some sacked ISI officers like Brig Imtiaz Billa employed in the Nawaz Sharif government and died of a heart attack. Mr Haq also referred to a much more incriminating investigation that appeared or was planted in weekly Takbeer whose editor had presented a copy of his journal to the Shafiur Rehman Commission. The editor was later assassinated.

The Commission considered the allegation that the Americans had killed Zia and ended up actually praising the US for holding an inquiry in the Senate while Pakistan had failed to do so.As for the allegation that the US kills people it has used who are no longer useful, one has to consider the fact that Zia was America’s man in the tussle that was emerging next door to Pakistan between the Arabs and Revolutionary Iran.

He was deeply indebted to Saudi Arabia for the assistance he had received at a time when the coffers in Islamabad were empty. The sectarian war that was relocated to Pakistan as a result of this rivalry found the state standing behind the Saudi-mandated madrassa-based, zakat-financed Islamic order. But there was an anti-American element in the military secretariat of General Zia and the central player in it was General Aslam Beg, his vice chief of staff.

In a dossier on Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation released by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in 2007, it was found that Dr AQ Khan showed a tendency to proliferate in favour of those states that defied the United States in particular and the West in general. Other sources report a close relationship between Dr Khan and Gen Zia’s then vice chief, Gen Aslam Beg. General Zia had reprimanded Dr Khan for boasting about his enrichment activity in 1984 and 1987. The IISS dossier says that Dr Khan made his first sale of nuclear documents to Iran in 1987 in Dubai and that General Zia was about to be informed about it in 1988. After his death, General Beg as army chief went to Iran and negotiated a deal there on “nuclear cooperation” without informing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, about which the latter complained publicly.

The case continues to be murky and Mr Ijaz-ul Haq is certainly justified in his plaint that his father’s death was not properly investigated. This was borne out again this year in the book on the Pakistan army, Crossed Swords: Pakistan its Army and Wars within by Shuja Nawaz, a brother of General Asif Nawaz, who writes that the Bahawalpur corps commander commented on Gen Zia’s death in a most suspicious manner after the crash on his watch. *Second Editorial: For and against “safe exit”Most people celebrating the ouster of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf insist that he should be given no “safe exit”, meaning that he should stand trial and be punished, which could even be death under Article 6 of the Constitution. They mourn the fact that no military ruler was ever punished and they want to begin with General (retd) Musharraf.

They say he should be made an “example” so that there will be no military dictator in the future.They also allude to the fact that those who don’t want this to happen want the Taliban terrorists to be dealt with an iron hand, implying an inconsistency in the argument against punishment.Both arguments are plain wrong. The former argument of exacting General (retd) Musharraf’s head is not likely to deter another army takeover in the future because army coup-makers are guided by compulsions and ambitions and situations that are not deterred by personal considerations of safety. Indeed, personal safety rarely matters to soldiers who are trained to risk their life where the nation’s interest in their opinion is concerned. The only thing such blood letting ensures is more blood letting.

Indeed, if there had been a tradition of putting coup-making generals to the sword in Pakistan, then coup-making generals would have struck first and put politicians to the sword instead of arresting them and giving them A class facilities or exiling them to palaces in Saudi Arabia or Dubai or London. In fact, General Zia’s execution of Z A Bhutto still haunts this country just as the execution of a Turkish prime minister by the Turkish military many years ago haunts it.

It should also be recalled that there is much hypocrisy in the demand by the PMLN to lynch President (retd) Musharraf. After all, General Zia-ul Haq was also given indemnity by parliament and his 8th Amendment was supported by politicians like the Sharifs who propped him up in power and didn’t dislike too much what he had done to the country.The second argument is stupid. It can be countered by asking why those who want to punish General (retd) Musharraf remain the biggest sympathisers of the Lal Masjid terrorists and are constantly advocating peace deals and truce with the Taliban who are killing innocent people and security forces with impunity in the tribal areas. In fact this argument of being hard on generals and soft on terrorists is designed to undermine the state and play into the hands of the anti-Pakistan forces. *

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