The 17th of August would be the thirtieth anniversary of the demise of the Passing away of General Ziaul Haq who holds the record of serving the longest tenure as the head of the state and de-facto ruler of Pakistan. Hailing from a humble family Gen Zia joined the army in 1943 commissioned in the Guides Cavalry graduating from Officer Training School Mhow. After Pakistan came into being he became part of Pakistan army as a captain and gradually progressed in his profession.
Zia was promoted to a three-star general in 1975 after 32 years of service and was posted as Commander II Strike Corps in Multan where he invited PM ZA Bhutto to Multan and got Blue Patrols of the Cavalry specially stitched for him. Bhutto made Zia Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in 1976 convinced that he was apolitical by nature and in the process superseded six lieutenant generals (Akbar Khan, Aftab Ahmed, Azmat Baksh Awan, Ibrahim Akram, Abdul Majeed Malik, Ghulam Jilani Khan) and promoting the senior most, Muhammad Shariff as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Zia’s rise was unprecedented but it did stop there but he rose further when he toppled ZA Bhutto’s government in July 1977 and imposed martial law in the country. After hanging ZA Bhutto in 1979 Zia progressed to manage the government as a powerful ruler who ran things according to his choice. He was aided in keeping reins of government in his hands owing to the desperate Soviet dash in Afghanistan in 1979 in an apparent bid to implement Brezhnev Doctrine prepared on the pattern of Truman Doctrine but was used at the wrong place and at a wrong time.
Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan gave a prolonged lease to Zia to rule and he dictatorially lorded over for 6 more years before conceding to allow civil government to return but severely curtailed by non-party elections and the civilian head of the government of his choice. The war in Afghanistan gradually tapered off but Zia wanted an end to it according to the expected results he framed as Pakistan’s goals. The civil administration did not agree with his perception and went ahead to sign Geneva Peace Accords in 1988 ending conflict in Afghanistan.
Zia was livid and took the desperate action of sacking his hand-picked government without thinking about the consequences. His intransigence went against the will of the Western Alliance that had succeeded in mortally wounding the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and wanted to terminate the conflict. The pressure on Zia was obvious as he was told to abide by the Geneva Accords but he declined to.
After sacking the government of his handpicked Prime Minister Junejo in May 1988 Zia stood isolated and he was repeatedly warned that many quarters were active to harm him. He was advised not to travel outside Rawalpindi and barring a brief visit to Lahore he limited his movement to the federal capital area.
He was however invited to witness the demonstration of US M1 Abrams tank in Khairpur Tamewali in Bahawalpur. The invitee was Maj Gen (Retd) Mahmood Ali Durrani who had served as Military Secretary to Zia from 1982 to 1986 and in 1988 was serving as GOC 1st Armoured Division in Multan. Durrani had earlier served as Military Attaché in Washington between 1977 and 1982. Gen Zia was conscious of the lurking dangers but could not ignore the persistence of his former MS who also was from the armoured corps, the arm Zia himself belonged to. Moreover as COAS it was his duty to witness the demonstration of the tank.
Zia took exceptional steps to ensure his personal safety and invited the US ambassador Arnold Raphael and Gen Herbert Wassom, head of US military mission in Pakistan to accompany him. He also took the precaution of taking Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Akhtar Abdul Rahman who was recently elevated to a four-star general and was widely known as the architect of the defeat of Soviet Union in his capacity as DGISI. Zia also asked Lt Gen Mian Afzaal, Chief of General Staff to come with him back to Rawalpindi who also died in the accident. Incidentally Gen Aslam Baig, Vice Chief of Army Staff was invited by Zia to come with him for return journey but he excused himself by saying that he was going to Lahore to attend to some work.
Zia’s C-130 took off from the airstrip and after wobbling for sometime crashed killing all 31 people on board. Conditions surrounding the tragedy had given rise to many conspiracy theories indicating that the US, India, Soviet Union or Mossad were involved in it. They also conjecture that Pakistan’s internal elements also had some role to play. The board of inquiry concluded that the most probable cause of the crash was a criminal act of sabotage perpetrated in the aircraft. It also suggested that poisonous gases were released incapacitating the crew and the passengers explaining the lack of Mayday signal. The Black Box or flight recorder was not located after the crash. TW