Death of a President
The demand for a fresh probe into the death of former Pakistan President Zia-ul-Haq by his son, Ejaz-ul-Haq in a plane crash in August, 1988 has given rise to speculation as to whether the Americans were involved in eliminating him.
The demand comes in the wake of observations by Brig. Imtiaz Ahmed, former head of IB who has also served in the ISI that Zia was killed in a conspiracy hatched by the Americans along with some powerful people in Pakistan.
This thesis has been virtually endorsed by General Aslam Beg, former Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan. The Americans on their part have hotly contested this and have made it clear that they had no role in the crash of C-130 aircraft which had taken off with the former Pakistan President on Board from Bahalwalpur before going down.
The then US Ambassador Arnold Raphel and the ISI director Akhtar Abdul Rehman were also on board of the aircraft. They were present at Bahalwalpur for the show for which Zia had gone. Raphel was not to accompany the President but Zia who had an uncanny sixth sense had virtually forced him to come with him in his plane.
I saw the news on TV with a lot of interest since several conspiracy theories had come up when Zia was killed. Among them was that the KGB had got him. Another conjecture was that Afghan rebels were responsible for his death. Yet another assumption suggested an Iranian connection, something to do with supply of nuclear secrets by AQ Khan a year earlier.
And there was also this theory of the CIA getting him. Which one of them is true is something which is difficult to determine but I do recall that the motive behind Zia’s death had been stated by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in his last interview to two journalists—Barbara Crossette of New York Times and Neena Gopal, then with the Gulf news on the night of May 21, 1991. The interview was given while Rajiv Gandhi was on his way from Chennai to Sriperumbudur where he was killed by a human bomber at the venue of his public meeting.
While talking about Siachen (accord), Rajiv had stated that the “maps were ready’’ and everything had been done but “then they killed Zia’’. The interview to me was an eye opener since like most other Indians, I had thought that Rajiv and Zia did not get along well with each other at all.
However, underneath this seeming hostility on surface, the two had been working very closely to get an agreement reached on Siachen where both countries had been spending huge amounts of money in protecting their territories. Many soldiers would also die in this unfriendly terrain and the Accord would have helped in restoring peace to the area.
What I thought at the time when I read the interview was that someone who did not wish the Accord to go through had ensured this by killing Zia. This Accord could only have been stopped if either Zia or Rajiv were eliminated and Zia became the chosen one.
Siachen has also been long regarded by the CIA as a possible place where the next nuclear confrontation could take place. In the summer of 1989 or 1990, both the Time Magazine and the Newsweek had carried virtually identical stories on Siachen.
A former CIA director had also talked about the nuclear confrontation in Siachen. One does not know what Rajiv meant by “then they killed Zia’’. Who were “they’’ has always been the question but reports in Pakistan did suggest that the Americans had prevented a proper probe into the plane crash and were involved in the cover up. Whether this is true or not only the US state department or Pakistan government can reveal but Imtiaz Ahmed’s charge is one that is going to keep the speculation alive. A thorough probe at this stage also may not help in reaching the truth as it happens in most political assassinations.
A lot of speculation continues to be there about Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination though the blame was put on the LTTE. PLO Chief Yasser Arafat had warned Rajiv about a possible attempt on his life, which the former Indian Prime Minister apparently did not take seriously.
Similarly, Indira Gandhi’s death had raised more questions than answers and even Sanjay Gandhi’s Pitts-2 crash led to several conspiracy theories. Benazir’s death continues to be shrouded in mystery in Pakistan.
The short point is that political assassinations are always hard to prove since the cover up is planned before the execution of the plan. There are unanswered questions to the Abraham Lincoln killing as there are in the JFK assassination and later the assassination of his younger brother Robert Kennedy. People do often say that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the real killer and shots fired from behind the white picket fence killed JFK.
Oliver Stone’s movie did raise many doubts over the killing. In Robert Kennedy’s case, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan is serving the sentence in California but many feel that it was a shot fired from below which killed Bobby. But then who knows.
So far as Ejaz-ul-Haq’s demand is concerned, it is very unlikely that the present Pakistan government will order a fresh probe. The death will always remain a riddle.