EDITORIAL: Another clue into General Zia’s death
An article by Barbara Crossette — who was the South Asia Bureau chief of the New York Times from 1988 to 1991 — in the latest edition of World Policy Journal says a former US ambassador to India, John Gunther Dean, suspects that General Zia ul Haq was killed by the Israelis. This is interesting enough but perhaps would not have made it beyond the slew of conspiracy theories that have been cropping up since Zia was killed in a C-130 plane crash if the US State Department had not chosen to ignore Mr Dean and later cashier him on grounds of being mentally imbalanced.
According to Ms Crossette’s account under the title ‘Reflections — Who Killed Zia?’, Mr Dean suspects that General Zia, his top commanders, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphael, and a US brigadier-general were killed by the Israeli secret agency Mossad because Tel Aviv was concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions following a statement by General Zia in 1987 that Pakistan was a “screwdriver’s turn away from the bomb”.
But when Mr Dean expressed his views to the State Department at the time and insisted that the US must thoroughly investigate the Israeli-Indian axis, the Department accused him of mental imbalance and relieved him of his duties; this, despite that fact that Mr Dean was a distinguished diplomat who had garnered more ambassadorships than most envoys. Ms Crossette says that Mr Dean, now 80, wants the stigma of mental imbalance removed and is collecting his papers and is ready to share his thoughts. He lost his medical and security clearance because of his views and was forced to seek retirement in 1988.
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 programme and demonise 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.
As reports coming out after General Zia’s death testify, 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 organisation 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 programme and taking control of the mujahideen the US had helped put in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Still another theory accused the Ahmadiyya community of masterminding General Zia’s end. 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 defence 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. *