Crash, Culprits, and Cover up
`Zia’s death must have been an act of God.’
Benazir Bhutto, Daughter of Destiny, 1988.
When the camouflage-painted Pakistan Air Force C-130 transport aircraft hit the ground it did so at an angle of 65 degrees. It was nose-diving, flaps up, wings level, landing gear up and locked, with all four engines functioning normally. It impacted at 190 knots. After a brief moment a monstrous ball of orange flame consumed it as the fuel tanks exploded. Both clocks in the flight deck later showed 3.51 pm exactly on a clear, bright day, a few miles north of the small garrison town of Bahawalpur. Precisely five minutes earlier it had lifted off at the start of its 70-minute flight to Islamabad. After some two minutes of terror all on board had the merciful relief of instantaneous oblivion.
It was 17 August, 1988. Moments before Hafiz Taj Mohammad, who was walking towards his field near the village of Dhok Kamal, near the Sutlej River eight miles north of Bahawalpur, heard the roar of engines and looked up. He watched incredulously as the lumbering plane, which was still rising steadily through 5000 feet, suddenly dropped its nose to fly almost straight at the ground, before, with some superhuman effort, it climbed again. Then, as though its strength had finally gone, it plunged down to extinction. To the man below there was no outward reason, no missile, no mid-air explosion, no fire, no engine trailing smoke, nothing to forewarn of such a disaster.
Dead were the President of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq, and the man who might have succeeded him had he survived, General Akhtar Abdul Rahman Khan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Gone were the two most powerful men in Pakistan, the head of state and the man who, for eight years until 1987, had headed the ISI. At a stroke the Afghan resistance fighters, the Mujahideen, had lost their two most influential champions. Dead were the US Ambassador, Mr Arnold Raphel, who had known the President for twelve years, and Brigadier-General Herbert
Wassom, the US Defense Attaché in Islamabad. Dead also were eight Pakistani generals with their staff, and the crew — thirty-one persons in all.
Disquietingly, neither President Zia nor General Akhtar should have been aboard the plane. Both had been persuaded against their wishes to attend a demonstration of a solitary American M-1 battle tank, which the US was keen to sell to the Pakistan Army. It was not a function that required their presence. Such a comparatively low-level event would normally have been handled by the Vice Chief of Army Staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg. It was the first time Zia had left the heavy security of his official residence since he had dismissed the government of Prime Minister Junejo three months before.
It was only on 14 August that Zia had finally given in to the pressure from his former military secretary and Defence Attaché in Washington, Major-General Mehmood Durrani, now commanding the armoured division. He insisted that the President’s presence was diplomatically desirable, and would give added weight to the Pakistani delegation. After all Zia had retained the post of Chief of Army Staff. Against his better judgement he agreed to go.
Similarly, General Akhtar had no intention of going to Bahawalpur until a mere twelve hours beforehand. His change of mind was brought about by the persistent phone calls of a former director in ISI, to the effect that Zia was about to make some controversial changes in the military hierarchy about which Akhtar should know. Akhtar consulted with the President, asking for an urgent meeting. Zia, who was then committed to the tank demonstration trip, suggested Akhtar accompany him as they could discuss things on the aircraft. The fate of both was sealed.
The callsign of the President’s plane was PAK 1, but the actual aircraft he would use was not selected until shortly before the flight. Usually two of the C-130s based at the Air Force base at Chaklala, a few miles from Islamabad, were earmarked. Then, once the decision was taken, the VIP passenger capsule could be rolled into the aircraft and secured shortly before take off. This was a 21-foot-long by 8-foot-wide plywood and metal structure weighing 5000 pounds, which was fitted out to give some comfort, including an independent air conditioning and lighting system, to an otherwise notoriously uncomfortable aircraft interior. The second aircraft, PAK 2, would follow PAK 1 as a backup. There was a routine security search of both planes prior to departure. For this flight there was a problem. The airstrip at Bahawalpur was small and could only accommodate one C-130, so PAK 2 would land 150 kilometres away at Sargodha. Once the President left Chaklala there was no possibility of his changing aircraft.
There would, however, be two other smaller planes on the airfield. The first was the Cessna whose task was to circle the vicinity of the airport as a precaution against missile-armed terrorists. This had been routine practice
since an unsuccessful missile attack six years earlier. Then there was the eight-seater plane of General Beg who, as the official host, had to get to Bahawalpur in advance of the demonstration. The US military attaché’s small jet that would take him and the ambassador south would be parked at Multan. If the crash was sabotage the two Americans were not part of the target.
The actual demonstration, in front of so much Army brass, was a big embarrassment to the Americans. The much-vaunted Abrams tank failed to score many hits and the billion dollar deal evaporated in the enervating heat.
While the President and the senior officers ate lunch at the officer’s mess PAK 1 sat on the tarmac, baking in the sun. An armed military guard was on duty around the aircraft, but there had been a minor fault with a cargo door so the seven crew technicians worked on it. The pilot, Wing Commander Mash’hood Hassan, who had been personally selected by Zia, together with his co-pilot, navigator and engineer, arrived back at the plane for pre-flight checks in advance of the passengers. These four men would be seated on the elevated flight deck, which was separated from the VIP capsule by a narrow door at the top of three steps, on the left side of the aircraft.
Zia, with his party, arrived at around 3.30 pm, and knelt towards Mecca before saying his farewells. He had persuaded both the senior US officials to join him for the return flight. They did so with no apparent concern. General Beg made excuses when the President tried to prevail upon him to board PAK 1. He would use his own plane as he had business to attend to at Lahore. It was a known practice of Zia’s to fly with the maximum number of top generals or officials to minimize the risks of a sabotage plot. Shortly before departure two crates of mangoes arrived for the VIPs, which were loaded in the rear without any check, together with a case of model tanks.
Strapped into the sofa and easy chairs inside the VIP capsule were Zia, Akhtar, Afzaal (Chief of the General Staff), Raphel, Wassom, and the President’s military secretary, Brigadier General Najib Ahmed. Zia, Raphel and Akhtar sat close together so they could chat during the flight, although conversation is difficult as the C-130 is an excessively noisy aircraft. At 3.46 pm PAK 1 lifted off after the Cessna security plane reported nothing untoward. On the flight deck the take off routine had been uneventful, with clear communications to the control tower. The fact that the aircraft lacked either a black box flight recorder or a cockpit voice recorder would later be the subject of censure, but at lift off none of the crew or passengers had the slightest hint of the catastrophe that was little more than two minutes away. Mash’hood gave his arrival time at Islamabad over the radio as the plane pulled up into the sky and began to turn on to its correct course.
On the ground General Beg’s pilot was preparing to take off; at Sargodha PAK 2 was airborne, as was the Cessna. All were on the same radio frequency
as PAK 1, so all heard the ground controller request PAK l’s estimated position, and the response, ‘Stand by’. Then nothing, no mayday call, total silence, despite the increasingly frantic calls from the control tower as it was realized that something was radically wrong.
To the passengers the horror of the sickening plunge, with bodies hanging by their safety belts, unable to move, screams drowned by the uninterrupted roar of the engines, was indescribable. Then, the sudden, few fleeting moments of relief as the plane seemingly came under control and started to climb again, with the occupants lolling in the opposite direction or jammed hard back into their seats. But, finally, yet another terrifying dive as PAK 1 gave up the struggle to survive.
In judicial terms it was either misadventure or murder. When the news broke, the chances of finding any Pakistani who believed it was an accident were a million to one against. Zia was a man with umpteen enemies. There had been at least six previous attempts at assassination, including a near miss by a missile fired at his plane. Probably his most uncompromising opponents within Pakistan were the Bhutto family. Zia had, despite the international outcry to commute it, confirmed the death sentence on the present Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s father — this, to the man who, as prime minister, had personally picked Zia, then the most junior lieutenant-general, for promotion to Chief of Army Staff over the heads of his seniors. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had made a decision that, three years later, he would pay for with his head. On 4 April, 1979, he was hanged in Rawalpindi jail. Thereafter the family feud was unrelenting. Zia imprisoned Benazir Bhutto and her mother, banned Bhutto’s political party, and had his sons Shah Nawaz and Mir Murtaza convicted of serious crimes in absentia. In exile Mir Murtaza established an anti-Zia terrorist group named Al-Zulfikar (The Sword) in Kabul, where it shared offices with the PLO. From there, and Damascus, it carried out a campaign of killing and sabotage which, in 1981, included the hijacking of a Pakistan International Airlines passenger jet. Then, in 1985, Shah Nawaz died a painful death in sinister circumstances in Paris, it being rumoured that he had been poisoned by Zia’s agents. There was, and still is, an implacable hatred between these two families. Benazir Bhutto claimed the crash was ‘An act of God’, before going on to win the general election three months later, to become Pakistan’s first woman prime minister.
Zia was a military man who, along with Akhtar, was the last officer to have been commissioned from the Indian Military Academies just before the partition of India in 1947. Once in politics he would often boast that ‘The Armed Forces are my constituency’, and he never vacated the post of Chief of Army Staff that Bhutto had given him. But even within the military he
had few friends. He quickly developed an uncanny knack of spotting potential rivals for power. These were removed from the scene by sacking, or posting to positions well away from the political centre at Islamabad. His only role as Chief of Army Staff had been to vet the promotions and postings of all officers to the rank of major-general or above. Numerous disgruntled Service chiefs were secretly delighted that Zia was dead.
Potential assassins were not restricted to Pakistanis. Ever since Zia had backed the Mujahideen in their struggle against the Soviets and their Afghan allies, Pakistan had been swamped with KHAD agents bent on undermining his government by a terror campaign of bombing civilians. KHAD is the Afghan secret police organization, trained and advised by the KGB. At the top of its hit list was President Zia, closely followed by General Akhtar. The Soviets were withdrawing from Afghanistan solely because Zia had given sanctuary to the Mujahideen and had, for nine years, been arming, training and advising them in a bloody guerrilla war that had cost the Soviet military 13,000 lives. The USSR blamed Pakistan for continuing to encourage and supply the Mujahideen in their attacks during the withdrawal, which was half-completed at the time of the crash. It had gone so far as to warn Pakistan, through the US Ambassador in Moscow, that it intended to teach Zia a lesson.
Then there was India. Pakistanis and Indians had slaughtered each other on three separate occasions, in 1947, 1965 and 1971. India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was convinced that Zia was supplying weapons to Sikh terrorists. They had murdered his mother, and now several thousand armed Sikh insurgents were active in India. Zia was accused of meeting their leaders, and giving shelter and training to the guerrillas inside Pakistan. To counter this, Delhi had established a special branch of its Intelligence Service, with the unpretentious title of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), specifically targeted on Pakistan.
Even the US government shed few genuine tears at Zia’s death. It was the State Department’s belief that Zia had outlived his usefulness. With the Soviets leaving Afghanistan, the last thing the US wanted was for communist rule in Kabul to be replaced by an Islamic fundamentalist one. American officials were convinced that this was Zia’s aim. According to them his dream was an Islamic power block stretching from Iran through Afghanistan to Pakistan with, eventually, the Uzbek, Turkoman and Tajik provinces of the USSR included. To the State Department such a huge area shaded green on the map would be worse than Afghanistan painted red.
On the very day of the disaster the Pakistan Chief of Air Staff ordered a Board of Inquiry set up to inquire into the circumstances of the crash, assess damage and costs, apportion blame (if any) and make recommendations to avoid similar occurrences in the future. Air Commodore Abbas Mirza presided, with three other senior Pakistan Air Force (PAF) officers sitting
as members. To provide technical advice and expertise six USAF officers were hurriedly flown from Europe to join the inquiry. They were led by Colonel Daniel Sowada.
For two months the Board deliberated and sifted evidence. Witnesses were interviewed, while exhaustive laboratory tests were carried out regarding the aircraft structure, instruments, engines, propellers, and flight controls, both in Pakistan and the USA, with the full cooperation of Lockheed, the aircraft’s manufacturers. One after another possible causes of the crash were eliminated with meticulous care. Crew fitness, fatigue and stress were ruled out. There had been no pilot error. Adverse weather was not a factor, nor was fuel contamination. No inflight fire had occurred prior to impact; the aircraft was structurally intact when it hit the ground; there was no metal fatigue; engines and propellers were functioning normally, as were hydraulic fluid, electrical power and control cables. No evidence of a high-intensity internal explosion was found. Finally, no missile or rocket had been used to down the plane. The inevitable conclusion — a criminal act of sabotage had killed thirty-one people.
The Board was of the opinion that the crew in the cockpit had been instantaneously and simultaneously incapacitated by the use of a chemical agent such as a fast-working nerve gas. The presence of an odourless and colourless gas would not alarm the crew, so they would not don helmets and masks to breathe oxygen. It was established that none of the flight crew was wearing helmets at the time of the crash. The Board commented that such a chemical agent could have been packed in a small innocuous container such as a drink can, thermos flask or gift parcel, and smuggled onboard without arousing suspicion.
It was not possible to substantiate the type of gas used as ‘no proper autopsies on the flight deck crew were carried out’. Only the body of Brigadier Wassom was examined before the authorities at the military hospital at Bahawalpur were ordered not to perform autopsies. He had been in the VIP capsule, not on the flight deck, and all that could be deduced was that he had not suffered injuries from any explosion prior to impact. Neither had he breathed in any toxic fumes, as would have been the case with a fire before the plane hit the ground. The instructions not to perform autopsies came as a shock, as it was a routine procedure. Later, it was stated that all the bodies had been completely destroyed in the fire, rendering autopsies impossible. When General Akhtar’s family wanted to see his body before burial, they were refused, on the grounds that it was totally disintegrated, with nothing of any substance left.
This reason was not believed. Witnesses at the crash site said that, while the passengers at the rear of the aircraft were virtually totally destroyed, this was not the case with the senior officers in the capsule or the crew in the cockpit. The condition of Wassom’s body did not prevent thorough
examination. Zia’s Holy Koran survived, charred but easily recognisable, as did Akhtar’s uniform cap, together with his personal file cover with its crest, and the words ‘CHAIRMAN JCSC’ still clearly readable. A US official was to announce that the bodies were not available for autopsy as Muslim custom requires burial within 24 hours. While this is true in normal circumstances, it never applies within the Services, as shown by the Army medical staff at Bahawalpur when they automatically made preparations to proceed.
The Board had no members qualified to undertake criminal investigations, but they did record that, ‘although 31 death certificates have been received no physical body count was carried out at the wreckage site or in the hospital. The possibility of someone not boarding the aircraft at Bahawalpur cannot be ruled out’.
Although the ISI was initially tasked with investigations, its efforts appeared less than enthusiastic. Service personnel at Bahawalpur were surprised that they were not subjected to rigorous interrogation. The discovery of a murdered policeman nearby was not successfully investigated, while the efforts of interrogators to extract a confession from the pilot of PAK 2 were bizarre, as well as unrewarding. A recent killing of a Shiite leader had been blamed by his followers on Zia. Both the pilot of PAK 2 and co-pilot of PAK 1, Flight Lieutenant Sajid, were Shiites, so it was suggested that the PAK 2 pilot had persuaded Sajid deliberately to crash the plane in a suicide mission. Only when the Board of Inquiry showed that such actions would have been physically impossible was the unfortunate man released.
So it was an act of mass murder. The likely method was pinpointed by the Board, although the culprits remained unidentified. As explained above, many people, organizations, even nations, had powerful personal or political motives for wanting Zia removed. What has gone before are the facts as far as I have been able to ascertain them; what follows are my own comments on how it might have been done.
First, I will deal with the point sometimes made that the violent roller-coaster movements of the aircraft indicated a last despairing attempt by somebody to fly the plane. If it had been a crew member he would certainly have shouted some warning over the radio, but there was absolute silence. Assuredly the crew were incapacitated. Afterwards it was suggested that the voice of Brigadier Najib Ahmed had been heard calling out to the captain, and that he had managed to get into the cockpit where his cries had been picked up on the radio as the pilot’s hand was still locked to the switch. One version of this theory has Najib actually trying to control the aircraft. I believe this is nonsensical. Once PAK 1 got out of control there was no way anybody could physically leave his seat and struggle forward, climb the steps, open the door and get onto the flight deck. Finally, there is no mention of anyone hearing Ahmed’s voice in the Board of Inquiry’s report. Had such a thing happened it would have been there. The erratic climbing and
plunging has another explanation. According to a Lockheed C-130 expert, if this type of aircraft flies unattended its nose rises steeply, a mechanism in the tail reverses this and the plane dives. The plane over-corrects, again with the same results. This might occur several times before a crash. The technical term for this pattern is ‘phugoid’.
I believe the primary aim was to assassinate Zia. The original plan may have been to murder Akhtar as well, and at the same time, but I doubt it. It was really asking a lot to kill them simultaneously. Akhtar was detested by many senior officers, he was near the top of KHAD’s hit list, and he was assumed by many to be ready to step into Zia’s position if he died. Perhaps it was part of the plot to get him on board PAK 1 that afternoon, but if so it was a very last-minute arrangement. On balance I feel his death was probably regarded as an unexpected bonus by the killers.
Certainly the use of a plane crash was selected as the means because the chances of evidence to incriminate the plotters surviving would be minimal, even if it was later established as sabotage. The use of ultra-sophisticated poison gas, capable of killing four crew members simultaneously, points to the involvement of at least one intelligence agency. The problem would be the source of the gas. Pakistan would be unlikely to have it, but the KGB and CIA would surely have access. Both KHAD and RAW could have obtained it through their Soviet contacts. If the conspirators were among the Pakistan military then it is conceivable that the CIA could have supplied it, albeit for another purpose.
Also highly probable is the involvement of the Pakistan military, certainly at comparatively junior level, probably at senior as well. Neither the KGB nor KHAD or RAW could have halted the autopsies at a military hospital. With military involvement, the obtaining of the President’s flight schedule becomes comparatively simple, as does getting around security at airports, and the actual planting of the device inside an aircraft.
The planners must have been getting desperate as week after week passed without Zia showing any inclination to use his plane. The tank demonstration was not likely to interest him without considerable persuasion, and was probably used as a last resort. The problem was to convince him to go without making him suspicious. Quite possibly somebody convinced General Durrani, the tank division commander, that Zia’s attendance would add to the importance of the event, and was in Durrani’s own interests. His subsequent success in inducing the President to go could have been entirely innocent.
We must assume that the lethal gas device had already been obtained while awaiting an opportunity, and the person destined to plant it given his instructions. He was undoubtedly in the military, probably a technician within the Air Force, possibly, if my theory is correct, from No. 6 Squadron PAF. This is the unit that operates the C-130 transports out of Chaklala a
few miles south of Islamabad. A decision had to be taken as to when to plant the gas. Once it was confirmed that Zia would fly to Bahawalpur the choice lay between doing it there or at Chaldala, when it was clear exactly which aircraft would be PAK 1.
Most theories suggest the planting of the device was done at Bahawalpur, but I believe it much more likely to have been Chaklala. At Bahawalpur there would be no Air Force personnel except the crew, so none of them would do it – unless they were willing to go down with the plane. How could the plotters be sure an Army man could get on the guarded aircraft? The device had to be put in the cockpit which involved climbing up the steps, through the door, on to the flight deck. This was virtually impossible for a soldier, and certainly did not happen with the mango delivery. The crew working on the cargo door perhaps? But they were to fly back to Islamabad. Neither they nor the security guard would allow a soldier or civilian into the aircraft, let alone go climbing up into the cockpit. I cannot say with absolute certainty it was not done at Bahawalpur, but if it was it was a highly risky operation with the odds against success.
At Chaklala an intelligence agency would have an easier task in infiltrating the permanent Air Force staff. Access to the C-130s was part of the everyday duties of the technical or maintenance personnel. A perfect opportunity occurred when the VIP capsule was rolled up inside PAK 1. It identified the aircraft and, with the bustle of activity in strapping it to the floor and pre-flight checks, nobody would have questioned anybody going into the cockpit, perhaps changing a fire-extinguisher or inserting the device in an airvent. If the sabotage was carried out at Chaklala then it would have needed two devices to set it off a timer and an altitude device. The timer would be set to activate the altitude switch. With the former a four-hour time lapse would be safe, allowing for one hour before the plane took off, just over an hour’s flight, and then as PAK 1 sat on the strip at Bahawalpur the altitude device would be armed. All that was needed would be the climb to the required height, then inside the cockpit the deadly gas would escape. If Chaklala was the scene of the sabotage then it was a double-arming device that was used, otherwise PAK 1 would have crashed shortly after take-off and suspicion would have been focused on the Air Force base personnel.
The plot worked flawlessly, except for one major calamity: both the US Ambassador and the military attaché died. Certainly, whoever carried out this multiple murder had not intended these two senior Americans to be among the victims. There was no way of knowing that Zia would invite them to join him for the journey at the last minute. The conspirators were appalled. They anticipated the most thorough, penetrating and wide-ranging investigation which would undoubtedly uncover their identities. It never happened. The final phase of this merciless terrorist act was the US cover-up.
The State Department would have much preferred an accident, some sort of technical failure, pilot error, anything rather than sabotage. If it was a murder of two high-ranking US officials then the American public would expect, indeed demand, to know the culprits. For such an outrageous act of terrorism the outcry against the perpetrators would be loud and long. The government would probably find it impossible to silence the clamour to exact retribution. Depending on who had done it, exposure could mean the ruin of US policy objectives in the area, and elsewhere in the world.
Supposing the KGB, or their surrogates in KHAD, were responsible, how would revealing the USSR as the organizer of mass murder, of the assassination of a head of state, affect the build-up of goodwill between East and West? How could the US avoid a major outbreak of hostility between themselves and the USSR? Almost certainly the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan would be reversed. The implications of Moscow being to blame were unnerving.
Similarly, the dilemma was almost as serious if the plotters were within the Pakistan military. If investigation uncovered a clique of anti-Zia generals the American people would be outraged that, after all these years of massive support to the Pakistan Armed Forces and the Mujahideen, they had killed a US ambassador and a brigadier-general. It would be futile to say they hadn’t intended to! US-Pakistan relations would be in ruins. Aid would have to be curtailed, the military might be forced into prolonged presidential rule, the democratic elections scheduled for November would be abandoned, and with them the prospect of the more acceptably moderate Benazir Bhutto becoming prime minister. As I have said earlier, the US was not sorry to see Zia go. The State Department was happy to see the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but decidedly unhappy with the likelihood of, as the US perceived it, Zia-backed fundamentalists taking over in Kabul. Nor did it like his determination to have nuclear weapons. By mid-1988 Zia was becoming a liability rather than an asset to the US.
Though unlikely, it was conceivable that some minor political faction or terrorist group, like Al-Zulfikar, had somehow achieved the impossible. The problem was, once serious investigations started there was no knowing what unwelcome worms might emerge from the can as the lid was lifted. Testifying before the House of Representatives Judiciary Sub-Committee on Crime in June, 1989, Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage justified the lack of any serious investigations into the sabotage by claiming, [we were] hopefully moving Pakistan in a more democratic manner… . The military in Pakistan as well as their presidency just being decapitated, we were very alarmed there might be some backsliding’. In other words they were quite prepared to write off Ambassador Raphel’s and Brigadier Wassom’s murders if that meant not rocking the boat.
None of this soul-searching would have been necessary if no Americans had died — particularly such senior ones. The whole business was complicated by the fact that as recently as 1986 Congress had passed a law that gave the FBI the legal right, indeed the duty, to inquire into terrorist acts overseas that involved attacks on US citizens. It is often referred to as the ‘Long Arm’ law.
The State Department did four things immediately after the crash which, taken together, point unerringly at a cover-up. First, within hours, it sent a team of purely technical airforce advisers to assist the PAF Board of Inquiry. Secondly, it did not insist, through its embassy, on autopsies on the bodies of the victims, particularly the crew, but rather allowed them to be buried knowing that essential evidence as to how the crash was caused was being buried with them. Thirdly, it sent a Deputy National Security Adviser, Robert Oakley, to take over Raphel’s post. He could be relied upon to sit on the lid of the can. Later, in June, 1989, he told a highly sceptical sub-committee that when he attended the National Security Council meeting to decide on the US response to the crash, he simply forgot all about the `Long Arm’ law. This, despite the fact that he had personally lobbied hard to get it passed. Fourthly, and most importantly, it vetoed the FBI’s request to go to Pakistan. Oliver Revell, FBI’s Assistant Director, had requested clearance and on 21 August had been given it verbally, but, within hours, it had been withdrawn — probably on the instructions of Oakley, who was by then in Islamabad.
General Beg, who had just avoided dying with his President, had circled the burning wreckage in his own aircraft before flying straight to Islamabad. There troops were alerted, key points protected, and a crisis cabinet meeting called. But there was no military takeover. Beg accepted immediate promotion to Zia’s old post of Army Chief of Staff, while the civilian chairman of the Senate, the 73-year-old Ghulam Ishaq Khan, took over as head of the interim government. The November election would go ahead.
Almost certainly the military authority that halted the autopsies will never be named, nor will the details of the collusion that must have taken place so swiftly between the Pakistani authorities and the US Embassy in Islamabad. It was not until ten months later that congressional pressure finally forced the State Department to allow three FBI investigators to go to Pakistan. As Congressman Bill McCollum (R. Fla.) said, ‘At this late date, can the FBI find out what actually happened in Pakistan? I don’t know. But we intend to find out what happened at the State Department’. The FBI team seemingly lacked enthusiasm for the task. It was reported that `awkward’ questions were not asked; the agents appeared disinclined to investigate evidence that conflicted with the statement that the bodies were too badly burned to permit autopsies and, with their schedule arranged by the Bhutto government, were apparently more interested in sightseeing than
cross-questioning witnesses. According to a Washington Times source they only left Islamabad for tourist trips. Their attitude made it quite clear that they were following instructions not to stir the pot.
There was much hypocrisy in high places at the funeral on 20 August, 1988. India had sent its President and declared national mourning at home, the Russian Ambassador laid a wreath with solemn ceremonial, while US Secretary of State George Schultz called Zia a ‘martyr’ and assured the Mujahideen fundamentalist Leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, that the US would do all it could to ensure their success in freeing Afghanistan. The funeral had both a military and an Islamic flavour. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis gathered near the gold-plated Faisal Mosque to watch the coffin, covered in the national flag and flowers, and carried on the shoulders of soldiers, arrive for the final rites. Prayers were followed by the measured boom of a 21-gun salute.
There was genuine sorrow and foreboding among the three million Afghan refugees encamped just inside the Pakistan border. There was a great sense of loss among the Mujahideen, for Zia and Akhtar had been the architects of their successes in the field. Now, with the Soviets withdrawing, with victory in sight, continued, uninterrupted support would be indispensable for the final push to Kabul. As the reader will discover the Mujahideen were to be bitterly disappointed.