3: Of all the violent political deaths in the twentieth century,
none with such great interest to the United States has been more
clouded than the mysterious air crash that killed President Mohammed
Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan in 1988, a tragedy that also claimed the life
of a serving American ambassador and most of General Zia's top
commanders. The list of potential malefactors has grown as the years
have passed, compounding the mysteries buried in this peculiar,
The one unarguable fact is that no serious,
conclusive, or even comprehensive inquiry into the crash has been
undertaken in the United States, although one of its top diplomats,
Arnold Raphel, and an American general were killed–and in an
American built aircraft. Congress held a few hearings, but the FBI
was kept away from the case for a year. No official report was made
public. Indeed, a file in the National Archives containing about 250
pages of documents on the event is still classified secret.
The undisputed facts about the crash of the Pakistani president's
specially outfitted Lockheed C-130 aircraft on August 17, 1988, are
not many. Even some of those "facts" are still in dispute and can be
called up to stoke suspicions of the United States in South Asia.
In her insightful article in the World Policy Journal, Barbara
Crossette who was the New York Times bureau chief in South Asia from
1988 to 1991 struggles to uncover some of these "facts" - related to
Zia's murder but in the process has added more pertinent questions
which will perhaps remain unanswered due to national security
reasons affecting both the USA and Pakistan.
Absent any formal inquiry completed and reported by USA regarding
Arnold Raphel and an American Brigadier-General's untimely death
alongside President General Zia, Barbara's article is apparently the
closest it gets to the reality through the words of Dean sans the
If she is to be believed, the infamous Israeli secret agency
Mossad (whose motto is "with clandestine
terrorism we will conduct war") most probably killed Gen Ziaul Haq,
suspects John Gunther Dean, who was the American ambassador to India
Barbara Crossette interviewed ex-ambassador Gunther Dean before
writing her article.
as Daily Times editorial says " Why was the State Department
reluctant to take Mr Dean seriously, given that the assessment was
coming from its top diplomat based in one of the most sensitive
listening posts? Why did the State Department, perhaps fearing that
Mr Dean would not relent, decided to sideline him on psychiatric
grounds? Is there a smoking gun here? Why did the US government not
launch a thorough inquiry into the incident even though the crash
claimed the life of its ambassador and a general? Why was the
Federal Bureau of Investigations not allowed a thorough probe into
the crash? We know from Ms Crossette’s account that when Mr Dean was
ambassador to India, various pro-Israel Congressmen and other US
policymakers constantly asked him why he wasn’t cooperating with the
Israelis to thwart Pakistan’s nuclear program and demonize Pakistan.
Mr Dean was also under pressure to persuade the Indians to be more
pro-Israel. Mr Dean also alleged on the record that the Israelis
tried to kill him in 1980 when he was US ambassador to the Lebanon
because he disagreed with Israeli policies."
When Mr Dean expressed his views to the State Department at the time
and insisted on a thorough investigation of the Israeli-Indian axis,
he was accused of mental imbalance and relieved of his duties, Dean
Dean was a distinguished diplomat who has garnered more
ambassadorships than most envoys. He had strong opinions and years
of valuable experience. As an independent thinker, he often had
problems being a good “diplomat”.
Dean believes that the Israelis wanted to stop Pakistan’s military
from making nuclear weapons. They had attacked Iraq’s nuclear
facilities at Osirak in 1981 and believed Gen Zia when he declared
in 1987 that Pakistan was a “screwdriver’s turn away from the bomb”.
Dean, now 80, has remained silent for nearly 20 years but is now
collecting his papers and is ready to share his thoughts. He was
declared mentally unfit for demanding an investigation into the
crash. He lost his medical clearance and security clearance because
of his views and was forced to seek retirement in 1988. After he
made the charge following the air crash in which the then US
ambassador to Pakistan, Arnie Raphel was also killed, he was sent to
Switzerland to “rest” for six weeks and only then allowed to return
to New Delhi to pack his bags and quit. He is now opening the case
because he wants to clear the charge of “mental imbalance” and ask
the questions that have long remained buried about the air crash
that killed Gen Zia.
Dean says that when he was ambassador to India, various pro-Israel
Congressmen and other US policy makers constantly asked him why he
wasn’t cooperating with the Israelis to thwart Pakistan’s nuclear
program and demonize Pakistan. He says he was asked to persuade the
Indians to be more pro-Israel too. He is on record as having alleged
that the Israelis tried to kill him in 1980 when he was US
ambassador to the Lebanon because he disagreed with Israeli
policies. He was accused of being “pro-Palestinian” in the Israeli
The US did not allow the FBI or any other agency to carry out a
full-fledged investigation into the crash.
reports coming out after General Zia’s death testify, writes Daily
Times, there were many conspiracy theories. General Zia was a man
wanted dead by any number of actors. Was he killed by the Al
Zulfiqar, the underground terrorist organization set up by Zulfikar
Ali Bhutto’s son, Mir Murtaza Bhutto to avenge his father’s hanging?
Was he killed by elements within the Pakistani military? On this we
have the accusation of General Zia’s son, Ijaz ul Haq, who alleged
that his father was killed by General Aslam Beg. (In fact, the
government set up the Justice Shafi ur Rehman Commission to look
into the issue. The Commission’s report was inconclusive, saying
that the army had not cooperated with it and did not allow many
witnesses to depose before it.) Another theory related to the
Iranian/Shia factor because of General Zia’s Deobandi policies and
his close connections with Saudi Arabia. Yet another theory saw the
American hand in the incident on the grounds that Zia had
double-crossed the Americans by fast-tracking Pakistan’s nuclear
program and taking control of the Mujahideen the US had helped put
in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets."
Many still believe this particular theory.
"Still another theory accused the Ahmadiya community of
masterminding General Zia’s end." writes Daily Times. "At the time,
and until now, there was no mention of the Israelis."
"Now we have Mr Dean’s account. We do know that Israelis have never
shied from taking illegal and pre-emptive actions on foreign soil
whenever Tel Aviv has considered it vital for Israel’s security.
Israel attacked and destroyed Iraq’s Osirak reactor on June 7 1981;
it is known to have kidnapped foreigners and brought them in; and
Mossad is also notorious for assassinations.
In theory, the Israelis could have done it; at least they would have
had no qualms about doing something like this if it meant enhancing
Israel’s security. As for the State Department cover up, we have the
incident of USS Liberty which was attacked by Israeli gun-boats in
1967. Thirty-four US servicemen were killed in the attack witnessed
by a US spy plane. However, the US launched a massive cover-up
campaign to keep the truth under wraps. According to one account, a
former Navy attorney (retired Capt Ward Boston) who helped lead the
military investigation of the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty
said in an affidavit that former President Lyndon Johnson and his
defense secretary, Robert McNamara, had ordered that the inquiry
conclude the incident was an accident."
"We now have a lead; it would be interesting to see where it leads."
If history is to be followed, Zia's death story will probably remain
as mysterious and inconclusive as any "big game" and as murky
as any cold war period James Bond 007 type plots minus its
ravishing, seductive fairer sexes of course!
(“Institute” in Hebrew) is the government intelligence agency tasked
with collecting information, analyzing intelligence, and performing
special covert operations beyond Israel’s borders. Its full name is
Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks.
The Mossad is based in Tel Aviv and was formed in 1951 by then
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
The identity of the Mossad director was kept secret until 1996, when
the government announced the appointment of Major General Danny
Yatom to replace Shabtai Shavit. Current director Meir Dagan was
appointed in September 2002.
Israel's most celebrated spy, Eli Cohen, was
recruited by the Mossad during the 1960s to infiltrate the top
echelons of the Syrian government.
Other successes attributed to the Mossad
include the 1960 capture of Nazi war criminal
Adolph Eichmann in Argentina, the 1986 abduction in Rome of Israeli
nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed state secrets to a
London newspaper, as well as a series of assassinations in the 1970s
of Arabs connected to the Black September terrorist group behind the
1972 attack on the Israeli Olympic team in Munich.
Mossad agents are also said to have played a pivotal role in the
1988 assassination in Tunis of top Palestine Liberation Organization
figure Abu Jihad.
The Mossad has also experienced setbacks. In 1974, agents killed an
Algerian waiter they mistook for a terrorist believed to have
masterminded the 1972 Munich attack. In 1997, Mossad operatives in
Jordan were captured after attempting to assassinate top Hamas
figure Khaled Mashal by injecting him with poison. In a bid to save
relations with Jordan and free the Mossad men, Israel provided the
antidote and released several Palestinian prisoners, including
former Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.