An Israeli Connection?
By Dr. Ahmad Faruqui
Dansville, CA


Ambassador John Dean’s suggestion that there was an Israeli connection in Zia’s death has re-ignited an old controversy. His suggestion is unlikely to interest those who were engulfed with schadenfreude at the news that PAK ONE had crashed within four minutes of takeoff on August 17, 1988. However, Zia’s death continues to be unexplained and should be accounted for, if for no other reason than for the fact that several others died with him.
Until Dean’s suggestion, most writers had dealt with “how” Zia died rather than “why” or at “whose” hands. While Dean, who was Washington’s ambassador in New Delhi at the time, says he has no evidence against Israel, he does provide a motive. He maintains that Zia became a threat to Israel the moment he claimed that Pakistan was “a screwdriver’s turn away from the bomb.”
Before evaluating Dean’s theory, it is useful to review the four existing theories about “how” it was done. One says it was caused by mechanical problems in the C-130B aircraft. This has been put forth by one of Zia’s personal secretaries, two army chiefs that succeeded Zia and by the wife of the American ambassador who was killed in the crash. This theory fails to answer several vexing questions.
Why did the State Department order the FBI to not investigate the incident even though it involved the death of the American ambassador and his military attaché? Why did the ambassador and military attaché not fly back to Islamabad in their own plane? Why did Washington quickly forget that the incident had ever occurred, even though Zia had been such a close ally? Why is the file in the National Archives in Washington containing about 250 pages of documents on the event still classified “secret”? Why was only a single autopsy performed (on the American general)? It revealed that he had died prior to the plane hitting the ground, which would be unlikely if the crash was accidental. And why was John Dean, an American diplomat with a long and distinguished career, accused of being mentally imbalanced by Washington and removed from service after espousing the Israeli theory?
The second theory says that the attack was carried out by placing gas canisters containing the exceptionally toxic and quick acting VX agent either in the cockpit or air duct of the plane. These canisters were probably activated by a pressure sensitive trigger that exploded when the plane reached a certain altitude. This is the theory laid out in the official report produced jointly by Pakistani and American officials.
The third theory says it was caused by a skin-penetrating nerve agent that was smeared on the controls of the aircraft and which killed the pilots within a few moments after take-off. The plane seemed to go in autopilot mode and then crashed after making a steep descent. This theory was discussed at some length in the Sunday Times.
The fourth theory is that one of the co-pilots carrying out a suicide attack.
None of these theories say much about who did it or why? The first theory, based on mechanical failure, breaks down because it assumes that the aircraft was not flight worthy. Zia, who had become paranoid about his security in the months preceding his death, would not have flown an aircraft that was mechanically suspect. Nor would have so many of his generals. Furthermore, no evidence of mechanical malfunction was found by those who examined the wreck.
As to who planted the gas or skin-penetrating nerve agent, the finger pointing is enormous. Some point to the former Soviet Union while others to the CIA. Some point to groups such as Al Zulfikar and others to disgruntled members of minority sects. For a while, the minority sect theory was quite popular. The conjecture was that the co-pilot was avenging the death of a religious leader who had supposedly been killed under Zia’s orders. This reasoning is cited in Hasan Abbas’ recent book, where he says it was given credence in certain military circles at the time. Finally, some suspect that someone in the Pakistani military carried out a coup.
In his widely cited Vanity Fair article, Edward Epstein concluded that it was an inside job since no external party had the ability to stop planned autopsies at a military hospital in Pakistan, stifle interrogations or, for that matter, keep the FBI out of the picture. Only elements inside Pakistan would have an obvious motive for making it look like something other than a coup d’etat. But that would suggest it was a perfect crime, since no “blighter has spilled the beans” during the past 17 years. There is of course the possibility that the killers were themselves killed, in order to protect the identity of the person who had commissioned the hit. Such was the case in the murders of Liaquat Ali Khan in Pakistan, whose killer was murdered instantly by a frenzied crowd, and John F. Kennedy in the US, whose killer was shot within two days by Jack Ruby.
John Dean, by bringing up an Israeli-Indian connection, has disputed Epstein’s assertion that no foreign intelligence service could have had the motive to hide the act by making it look like an accident. However, there are several questions that would have to be addressed before his theory will acquire any credibility.
If the Israeli objective were to stop Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons, would it not have better to decapitate Pakistan’s scientific establishment perhaps by taking out the top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, several years earlier. Another approach would have been to take out Kahuta where the weapons were being developed, either from the air like their bombing of the reactor in Iraq in 1981 or from the ground by infiltrating commandoes from Indian Kashmir. If the objective were to take vindictive action against Zia, they would have been more justified in taking out Z A Bhutto since he had coined the term, “Islamic bomb,” and authorized its development in 1972. By contrast, Zia was known to have pro-Israeli sentiments and had initiated secret contacts with them. Earlier, he h ad helped King Hussain of Jordan deal with the “Palestinian problem” in that country by carrying out a military operation that killed scores of Palestinians. Furthermore, since killing Zia did not stop Pakistan from getting the bomb, why did the Israelis not repeat the operation on his successor?
One hopes that John Dean will address these and other issues in the months to come. Only then can his theory be taken seriously.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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