Was former Pakistan president Zia-ul-Haq killed at the behest of the Americans or the Chinese or was a rogue pilot, as suggested by a report in Sunday Times of London, responsible for his death? The report appears to be in variance with a view in the intelligence and security community that feels that Zia was killed to thwart an accord on Siachen that was about to be inked between Islamabad and New Delhi.
In fact, shortly before he was assassinated in Sriperumbudur in May 1991, Rajiv Gandhi, who was to sign this accord with Zia, made a startling revelation to Barbara Crossette of New York Times and Neena Gopal of the Gulf News. The revelation was about the motive behind Zia’s death, something which had continued to puzzle most people, given that the US Ambassador to Islamabad Arnold Raphael also died in the C-130 aircraft that crashed killing all on board in Bahwalpur on August 17, 1988.
Replying to a query on the Kashmir problem, Rajiv had stated, ``But I know who would have solved these problems with us. General Zia. We were close to finishing an agreement on Kashmir; we had the maps and everything ready to sign. And then he was killed.’’ He went on to say that there was evidence that Zia was murdered implying that it was no ordinary crash. Asked as to which super power could have been behind it, he had ruled out the Soviet Union’s role because of its pre-occupation with its internal problems. Could it be the CIA, he only smirked, leaving the reporters to draw their own conclusions.
Contrary to the prevalent view when Rajiv was the Prime Minister, it became evident that both Zia and Rajiv got along fabulously. They were working towards an agreement on Siachen and the Pakistan President had even got his corp commanders on board. Zia was killed at the behest of someone who did not want the accord to go through. It could have been CIA, as was initially suspected or even the Chinese.
Former R&AW chief A.K.Verma also subsequently wrote in an article in rediff.com stating that Pakistan had agreed to a line going northwards from point number NJ 9842 roughly along the heights of Saltoro to the Chinese border as the continuation of the LAC, giving up all claims to any territory east of it. The agreement made the Saltoro range the effective border between J&K and Pakistan occupied territories of the State. This meant giving up points occupied to the West of the glacier but that involved no tactical or strategic loss since the commanding heights would continue to remain in India.
The progress achieved through interlocutors who met at neutral locations received a jolt when Zia died and Pakistan went back to its earlier position. In fact, the negotiations were enabled through the good offices of a very senior government leader of a Muslim country who first put out a proposal on behalf of Zia.
The Sunday Times report tries to suggest that the pilot Wing Commander Mash’ood Hassan, who flew sorties carrying centrifuge equipment at the behest of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the rogue nuclear scientist to Hanzhong in Central China, may have deliberately brought down his plane to kill Zia. The pilot, according the report, was upset with the Pakistan president for ordering the killing of a local religious leader.
Earlier reports had suggested that Zia suspected that the Americans wanted him dead and had virtually dragged the reluctant US Ambassador into his aircraft on the pretext that they would talk enroute and discuss important matters. As mentioned earlier, the Ambassador too died. Reports had also suggested that there was a bomb in the plane that went off shortly after it took off.
Even Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination remains shrouded in mystery with a lot of questions being unanswered. Intelligence officials here would not comment on the Sunday Times report and merely said that Zia’s death is a big riddle.
An interesting aspect of Zia’s death is that he had been told that he would die on 8-8-88. When nothing happened on that day, the President believed that he had survived. But as fate would have it, he died nine days later on August 17. Numerologically, 17 adds up to be 8.