LAHORE: A plane carrying Pakistani ruler General Mohammad ZiaulHaq exploded and crashed in flames near the Indian border on Wednesday, killing him, five top generals and the U.S. Ambassador.
The tragedy, in which 32 people died, threw the strategically located nation into political turmoil and raised questions about the future of the Afghan resistance movement.
Police sources said the Army was placed on alert in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi within hours of the crash.
The cause of the disaster was not known and the US. State department declined comment on speculation that the military plane was hit by a rocket.
Within hours, tributes for Zia poured in from western leaders like President Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan since independence, expressed sadness over Zia’s death and appealed for calm in Pakistan.
Zia was a longtime American ally who had ruled Pakistan, which shares borders with China, Tran, India and Afghanistan, since taking power in a 1977 coup.
U.S. Analysts said his death could endanger support for Afghan rebels fighting to oust the Soviet backed government in Kabul.
At the United Nations, Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar was shocked by news of Zia’s death, a spokesman said, and the general assembly planned a special tribute. The U.N. mediator in the Afghan dispute, Diego Cordovez of Ecuador expressed shock and sadness in a statement in Quito.
An official _announcement said the C130 transport carrying Zia exploded in Midair shortly after taking off from Bahawalpur near the Indian border.
The U.S. state department said the plane went down 10 minutes after takeoff and that Zia had just witnessed a demonstration of a new U.S. M1 tank that the Pakistani military was considering buying.
Zia’s death threw Pakistani politics into turmoil. He had ruled the Moslem country of 103 million people with a firm hand since taking power in a military coupe 11 years ago.
Civilian politicians, led by the Benazir Bhutto, considered him a dictator and campaigned unsuccessfully to oust him. Her father, former president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in 1979 following a disputed conviction on a charge of conspiring to commit a political murder.
Zia, who was five days past his 64th birthday, ruled for the first eight and a half years through martial law.
In December 1985 he handed power Toyighn government after controversial elections which political parties I were barred from contesting.
Bhutto’s Pakistan people’s party (PPP) and the other main opposition parties denounced it as a democratic facade to conceal Zia’s continuing control.
This view won some apparent support last May when he took back day today control, dismissing the civilian government led by prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo and dissolving the lower house of parliament.
Zia further angered the opposition when he called new elections for November 16, but barred political parties from contesting them.
The announcement of Zia’s death, broadcast by state radio and television, said the chairman of the senate, Ghulam Isaad Khan, a former finance minister, had taken over as head of state under the constitution.
He was meeting the cabinet and senior military officers at the President’s house in Rawalpindi. Ten days of national mourning were declared.
In New Orleans, U.S. Vice President George Bush told a news conference at the Republican National Convention where he was to receive the party’s presidential nomination later in the day:
“Pakistan and the United States have a very special relationship, and the loss of Zia was a tragedy.””
Zia’s government has been the main conduit for U.S. made arms funneled to Afghan rebels in their eight year conflict to oust the Kabul government.
The Soviet Union has repeatedly expressed its dissatisfaction with Pakistan for continuing to aid the rebel force in what the Soviets say is a blatant violation of the Geneva accords reached last April in which the Soviets agreed to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Jeane Kirkpatrick, America’s former U.N. Ambassador, told a television interviewer in New Orleans: “The removal of Zia from the scene is very important.
“The balance of power in Afghanistan is heavily tilted to the Soviets. What President Zia’s death does is raise a question about whether Pakistan can continue to as strongly support the (Afghan) Mujahideen, because that involves some risks for Pakistan.”
Pakistan was carved out of Moslem majority areas of the British ruled Indian subcontinent in 1947.
Two wings, West Pakistan — which is present day Pakistan — and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh — were separated by 1,000 miles of Indian Territory.
East Pakistan declared itself independent in 1971 after a bitter civil war sparked by a general election which heightened differences between the two parts of the country.
Pakistan and India fought border wars in 194748, 1965 and 1971, when Pakistani troops surrendered in East Pakistan in the last of these wars, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, leader of the political faction dominant in West Pakistan, became the first leader of modern Pakistan.
Bhutto was the first civilian to lead the country following the 1958 -69 military governments of Field Marshal Mohammad Yayhe Khan.
Military rule returned in July 1977 when Bhutto was toppled in a coupled by Zia, who became president and ruled until his death on Wednesday.
Article extracted from this publication >> August 19, 1988