ISLAMABAD, Aug 21, Reuter: Pakistan’s acting President has confirmed that authorities strongly suspect that President Zia-UlHaq, killed in an air crash, was assassinated.

As Pakistan gave a state funeral on Saturday for the man who ruled the country for 11 years, investigators said they were probing the possibility that a bomb in a crate of Mangos blew his plane out of the sky on Wednesday.

Acting President Ghulam Ishaq Khan told news conference there was a “strong suspicion of sabotage” about the crash.

He said he had no indication yet how Zia’s C-130 Hercules transport plane could have been destroyed and declined to speculate on who might be responsible,

“The enemy has penetrated the inner defenses of the country,” he told about 200 newsmen.

Pakistani authorities have interrogated 500 people and arrested some security staff and baggage handlers at Bahawalpur Airport, where the plane took off, official sources said. They are also looking into whether a bomb might have been planted in 20 boxes of Mangos which were on board. Politicians and feudal landlords in Pakistan traditionally present friends and colleagues with boxes of mangos at this time of year.

Burnt crates were found in the wreckage of the plane in which Zia was travelling with senior military officers, U.S. Ambassador Armold Raphel and other officials. All 30 people on board were killed.

Diplomats said U.S. investigators would look for fragments of explosives in the bodies of the dead to determine what device, if any, was used to blow up the plane. Witnesses have said they heard an explosion on the plane before it crashed,

Afghan guerrillas, seated alongside the foreign dignitaries at the open-air funeral, accused the Soviet Union and the Kremlin-backed Afghan government of killing Zia, Washington’s firmest South Asian ally.

“I am certain the (Afghan Intelligence Agency) Khad and the KGB played a role,” Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the powerful Jamiant-I-Islami rebel group, told reporters, other guerrilla leaders echoed the charge.

The Afghan charge D’Affaires in Islamabad has dismissed the accusation.

Ishaq Khan told reporters after the funeral, “It would be pure speculation on m y part if I say at this stage who may be responsible. In these matters I would not like to levy allegations against any power or country, friend or enemy, without sufficient proof.”

He also said he would let the courts decide the rules for next November’s National Election.

He said he had no preference for party or non-party polls, a key issue which could greatly affect the chances of the most prominent Opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto.


Zia, who deposed her father Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and hanged him two years later, had said the polls should be non-party and even spoke of banning parties from being formed in the parliament.

Bhutto’s Pakistan people’s party (PPP) challenged the measure, which had not been formally promulgated, in court on the day of Zia’s death. Party-based elections and the use of party symbols would greatly help the PPP, political analysts say.

Ishaq Khan, 73, said he did not favor either party or non-party elections and that both forms could be democratic. It was up to the Supreme Court to interpret the constitution.

He pledged to keep Pakistani foreign policy unchanged and to abide by the Geneva settlement in April governing a soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Zia’s death robbed Afghan anticommunist rebels of one of their staunchest supporters. Party leaders joined the huge crowd at Islamabad’s Faisal mosque on Saturday to pay their respects.

His remains were carried through the capital in a flower-decked coffin to the mosque, where Presidents, Prime Ministers and other Foreign Dignitaries joined the Pakistani Government for the funeral.

Article extracted from this publication >> August 26, 1988