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General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was the President and military ruler of Pakistan from July 1977 to his death in August 1988 He was appointed Chief of Army Staff in 1976 General Zia came to power after he overthrew ruling Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on 5 July 1977 He initially ruled as Chief Martial Law Administrator, but later assumed the post of President of Pakistan in September 1978
Zia was born in Jalandhar, British India, in 1924 He was commissioned in the British Indian Army in a cavalry regiment on 12 May, 1943 and served during World War II After Pakistan gained its independence, Zia joined the newly formed Pakistan Army as a major He was trained in the United States in 1962 1964 at the US Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Zia was stationed in Jordan from 1967 to 1970 as a Brigadier, helping in the training of Jordanian soldiers He leading the training mission into battle during the Black September operations as commander of Jordanian 2nd Division
He was then promoted as Lt Gen and was appointed commander of the II Strike Corps at Multan in 1975 On 1 March 1976, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto approved Zia-ul-Haq as Chief of Army Staff, ahead of a number of more senior officers, most likely because both of them are from the Arain tribe
On 8 January 1977 a large number of opposition political parties grouped to form the Pakistan National Alliance Bhutto called fresh elections, and PNA participated in those elections in full force Due to various administrative problems, the elections turned out to be a big failure that resulted in civil disorder
As a result of intense civil disorder, Bhutto and members of his cabinet were arrested by troops under the order of General Zia on July 5, 1977 After assuming power as Chief Martial Law Administrator, General Zia promised to hold National and Provincial Assembly elections in the next 90 days and to hand over power to the representatives of the nation.
Nusrat Bhutto, the wife of the deposed Prime Minister, filed a suit against General Zia's military regime, challenging the validity of the July 1977 military coup The Supreme Court of Pakistan decided that given the dangerously unstable political situation of the time, General Zia's overthrowing of the Bhutto government was legal on the grounds of necessity The judgment tightened the general's hold on the government
President Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry was persuaded to continue in office as a figurehead After completing his term, and despite General Zia's insistence to accept an extension as President, Mr Chaudhry resigned, and General Zia also assumed the office of President of Pakistan on 16 September 1978. Thus his position was cemented as the undisputed ruler of the country
On 4 April 1979, the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged, after the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence as passed by the Lahore High Court. The hanging of an elected prime minister by a military man was condemned by the international community and by lawyers and jurists across Pakistan. Today it is widely accepted as a politically motivated judicial murder. People believe that Bhutto was framed into the case.
On 17 August 1988, General Zia and five of his generals visited a test site to observe a demonstration of the M1 Abrams main battle tank, which the US was trying to persuade Pakistan to buy. He and his entourage flew to Bahawalpur, about 330 mi (530 km) south of Islamabad in the president's C-130 Hercules aircraft, then flew to the test site by helicopter. Afterwards, they returned to Bahawalpur for lunch, then boarded the C-130 for the return flight to Islamabad.
The aircraft departed Bahawalpur early, ahead of a storm The president's C-130 had been fitted with an air-conditioned VIP capsule where Zia and his American guests were seated It was walled off from the flight crew and a passenger and baggage section in the rear.
The plane was packed with Pakistani army officers, including General Akhtar Abdur Rehman, chairman of the Pakistani Joint Chiefs of Staff American Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel and General Herbert M. Wassom, the head of the U.S. Military aid mission to Pakistan were also present in the same very plane.
Shortly after takeoff, the control tower lost contact with the aircraft Witnesses cited in Pakistan's official investigation said that the C-130 began to pitch "in an up-and-down motion" while flying low shortly after take-off before going into a "near-vertical dive", exploding on impact, killing all on board.
Washington sent a team of USAF officers to assist the Pakistanis in the investigation, but the two sides reached sharply different conclusions.
Mrs Ely-Raphel and Brigadier-General Wassom's widow were both told by US investigators that the crash had been caused by a mechanical problem common with the C-130, According to US investigating team a similar incident had occurred to a C-130 in Colorado which had narrowly avoided crashing. Robert Oakley, who replaced Arnold Raphel as US ambassador following the crash and helped to handle the investigation has also expressed the same point of view
He has pointed out that 20 or 30 C-130s have suffered similar incidents He has identified the mechanical fault as a problem with the hydraulics in the tail assembly Although USAF pilots had handled similar emergencies, the Pakistani pilots were less well equipped to do so, lacking C-130 experience and also flying low
Some weeks after the crash, a 27-page summary of a secret 365-page report was produced by Pakistani investigators In that report they said that they had found evidence of possible problems with the aircraft's elevator booster package, as well as frayed or snapped control cables
Analysis by a US lab found "extensive contamination" by brass and aluminium particles in the elevator booster package But the report said "failure of the elevator control system due to a mechanical failure... is ruled out It cited the aircraft-maker Lockheed as saying that "even with the level of contamination found in the system, they have not normally experienced any problems other than wear"
The report concluded that the contamination of the elevator booster package might at worst have caused sluggish controls leading to over-control but not to an accident In the absence of a mechanical cause, the Pakistani inquiry concluded that the crash was due to an act of sabotage.
They found no conclusive evidence of an explosion on the aircraft, but said that chemicals that could be used in small explosives were detected in mango seeds and a piece of rope found on the aircraft They also added that "the use of a chemical agent to incapacitate the pilots and thus perpetuate the accident therefore remains a distinct possibility"
Barbara Crossette, bureau chief of The New York Times in South Asia from 1988 to 1991 has written that, "Of all the violent political deaths in the twentieth century, none with such great interest to the U.S. has been more clouded than the mysterious air crash that killed president (and Army Chief General) Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan in (August) 1988, a tragedy that also claimed the life of the serving American ambassador and most of General Zia s top commanders"
No evidence has come to light to prove a conspiracy, although several theories do exist. The United States, India, followed by Afghanistan and the Soviet Union have all been suspected In addition, Zia had enemies at a high level within Pakistan's own government
A common suspicion within Pakistan, although with no proof, is that the crash was a political assassination carried out by the American CIA or by the Soviet KGB One theory had it that the CIA had spiked mangos with VX gas to eliminate Zia because of his unreliable commitment to a more democratic government and his loyalty to Afghan Mujahidin
Another theory, also with little supporting evidence, is that the KGB was involved, as retaliation for the US-Pakistani support for the Afghan insurgency against the USSR throughout the 1980s. Considerable evidence exists that the Soviet Union knew about the US-Pakistan support for the Mujahideen, and the KGB might have seen this as an opportunity to punish both Pakistan and the United States The existence of a motive, however, is not sufficient to prove KGB involvement
General Hameed Gul, the head of Pakistan s Inter Services Intelligence agency at the time, suggested that the US might be responsible, even though the US Ambassador and military attaché were also killed He told The Times that the Pakistani President was killed in a conspiracy involving a "foreign power"
Early reports suggested that Raphel had only been summoned to join the flight at the last minute, which fueled conspiracy theories blaming the US However, Raphel's widow has stated that her husband always planned to join General Zia on the aircraft, and that it was General Wassom who was added at the last minute.
Some have suspected the anti-Zia group al-Zulfikar, led by Murtaza Bhutto, brother of Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani politician who would ultimately gain most from Zia's departure General Zia's son Ijaz-ul-Haq told Barbara Crossette a year after the crash that he was "101 percent sure" that Murtaza was involved. Benazir Bhutto suggested that the fatal crash might well have been an "act of God"
She was also accused of having rejoiced at Zia's death, because Zia had ordered her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto hanged. People have also pointed to some senior dissatisfied generals of the Pakistan Army itself General Mirza Aslam Beg, who became Chief of Army Staff following General Zia's death, witnessed the crash from his aircraft, which had just taken off.
Instead of returning to Bahawalpur he instead headed for Islamabad This action later caused controversy and led some to allege that he was involved in the incident since he had reportedly been scheduled to fly with Zia in the flight, but had changed his plans at the last minute He was later accused by Zia's son Ijaz-ul-Haq as being behind the attack
It was mentioned in a piece in The Sunday Times on 24 August 2008 that the pilot of the C-130, Wing Commander Mash'hood Hassan, had previously confided to an associate of Abdul Qadeer Khan that he hated Zia, and held him responsible for the murder of a local religious figure, saying that "The day Zia flies with me, that will be his last flight"
In the Fall 2005 World Policy Journal, John Gunther Dean, a former US ambassador to India, blamed the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, for orchestrating Zia's assassination in retaliation for Pakistan developing a nuclear weapon to counteract India, and to prevent Zia, an effective Muslim leader, from continuing to influence US foreign policy.
It has also been postulated by some sources that Gen.Zia's mysterious death benefited the then Top brass of Pakistani Military,especially the person who became the head of the Pakistani military after the death of Gen Zia. The role of chief of first armored division, Maj Gen Mehmood Ali Durrani, remains suspicious who persuaded/tempted Gen Zia to watch over the tank exercise at Bahawalpur.
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