Who killed General Zia?

Published: December 7, 2012
The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore 

The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk

Ijazul Haq, son of army chief General Zia, has accused Zia’s then vice-chief General Aslam Beg of being a part of the conspiracy to kill his father. He appeared on Geo TV on December 1, 2012, and said he was sorry that General Hameed Gul, who was the ISI chief at the time, took no notice of his officers plotting to kill his father. He added that General Beg caused the wreckage of the plane to be removed to hide the effects of a missile fired into the plane from another plane. He also prevented autopsies of the dead to hide the fact that everyone on the plane had died from gas poisoning. A report by an air force officer, Zaheer Zaidi, was suppressed because it focused on the “other plane”. He said Beg had reacted to his certain impending replacement with General Afzaal as vice-chief.

No one can say who killed Zia. But when he took Beg as the army vice-chief, Zia was deeply committed to the Arabs in the post-Bhutto period. He was to offer Islamisation in return for funds that went into buying Pakistan’s sorely needed 40 F-16 warplanes and seed-money for the Zakat Fund. Islamisation was also meant to restrain revolutionary Iran. (Tehran was seen as destablising the Gulf states with acts of terrorism.) In 1980, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was created and Zia could not resist being secretly its ‘military teeth’.

According to Christopher M Davidson in The United Arab Emirates: A Study in Survival (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers), 2005, p.206 and p.244, the plan for an anti-Iran axis existed up until 2001: “Until September 11, 2001, many of the strongly anti-Iranian emirates had favoured a ‘Sunni axis’ comprising the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban, in an effort to curb potential Shia expansion.” The author footnoted that his information had come from “personal interviews, undisclosed locations, 2003”.

In 1980, Zia imposed Zakat on the Shia on the basis of a law written by Maruf Dualibi, an adviser to the Saudi King, while sitting in the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). Islami Nazriati Konsal: Irtaqai Safar aur Karkardagi Council of Islamic Ideology: Evolution and Activity — (Dost Publications, Islamabad, 2006) records that “Dr Maroof Dualibi visited the offices of the Council” p.961. However, the Council’s own report to the government in December 1981, observed that Hudood laws were discussed by the Council and the Law Ministry under the guidance of Dr Maroof Dualibi who was specially detailed by the Government of Saudi Arabia for this purpose.

During the Iran-Iraq war, Zia became peacemaker and tried to intercede with Imam Khomeini but was not treated well by him because of the GCC affair. (Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future, Norton, 2006, p.162.)

The Arabs and the US were funding Zia’s jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Shia were excited by the Khomeini phenomenon but were under pressure from the anti-Shia Afghan militias centred in Peshawar. In 1987, when he appointed Beg as vice-chief, Zia had allowed a jihadi lashkar to stage a massacre of the Shia in Parachinar in Kurram Agency. The Arab-Iran sectarian conflict was relocated to Pakistan.

In 1985, the Deobandis got into the act, creating the Sipah Sahaba in Jhang (Punjab). In 1986, the Saudi-funded Rabita Alam Islami head of Nadva tul-Ulema madrassa of Lucknow in India, Manzur Numani, decided to compile apostatising fatwas targeting Shias. All the Deobandi madrassas of Pakistan sent fatwas to him to be compiled in a book, later distributed in Pakistan. In 1988, two incidents exacerbated the sectarian war: the massacre of Shias in Gilgit and the murder of Shia top leader Ariful Hussaini in Peshawar.

As Gordon Corera noted in his book Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Security and the Rise and Fall of the AQ Khan Network (Oxford University Press, 2006, p.59-60): “At this point, without a green signal from Zia, Beg got together with Dr AQ Khan to sell Iran nuclear technology crucial to building an Iranian bomb.”

Dr Khan was already into selling his wares globally. Iran was the first country to receive centrifuges from him. According to the IAEA, he made the sale to Iran of all the required elements in 1987 in Dubai, collecting payment in Swiss francs. Zia did not know. He did not know either that Beg too had got into the act. (After Zia’s death, prime minister Nawaz Sharif was shocked that Beg had signed a secret nuclear deal with Iran without telling him.)

Zia had the Pakistan-specific Pressler Amendment to duck to keep the US dollars rolling in. Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar tricked Dr Khan into blabbing about the bomb, which sent Zia ballistic. At this point, the plot to kill Zia may have taken shape involving diverse categories of people, including the two pilots of the doomed C-130.

A report appearing in London’s Sunday Times titled “Pakistan’s Dr Nuke bids for the Presidency”, (August 24, 2008) by Simon Henderson revealed: “Khan’s activities give a new explanation for the crash of President Zia’s C-130 plane in 1988…. Wing Commander Mash’hood Hassan, the plane’s pilot, had also been flying Khan’s centrifuge equipment to China. On one such trip he confided in a colleague of Khan that he hated Zia, holding him responsible for the murder of a local religious leader [Ariful Hussaini]: “The day Zia flies with me, that will be his last flight”.” Hardly 10 days after Hussaini’s murder, on August 17, 1988, his co-pilot, Sajid, had told his mother he was going to do something big as he left home.

In 1993, Ijazul Haq forced prime minister Nawaz Sharif to set up an inquiry commission. The Justice Shafiur Rehman Commission ended the work saying the Pakistan Army did not let it conduct investigation into the Bahawalpur crash. Its report was sealed.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (59)

  • asim
    Dec 7, 2012 - 11:13PM

    what is the conclusion who killed Zia?


  • Jat
    Dec 7, 2012 - 11:38PM

    @asim: The author seems to be implying that the two pilots were Shia and wanted revenge for the murder of Ariful Hussaini. Generals Aslam Beg and Hamid Gul helped the pilots carry out their plan by looking the other way, and then later suppressed the evidence. These two Generals also insinuated that RAW, Mossad and Afghan agents were behind the assassination.


  • Lala Gee
    Dec 7, 2012 - 11:45PM

    I don’t know why it is so difficult for you to name CIA behind the incident. One always see who would be the beneficiary of the incident, and also has the strong motives as well capability in carrying out the plan. Neither they were angles, nor killing state heads was new to them. Moreover, blaming only Dr. Khan for the sale of enrichment technology all by himself would be little too naive of an author of your caliber. In my opinion, it was strategic decision taken by the highest authorities to divert the focus away and gain enough time for fully developing Pakistan’s own nuclear capabilities, a plan which, I believe, is a success.


  • Supariwala
    Dec 7, 2012 - 11:52PM

    I tell you who killed Gen Zia it was the Russians/KGB, no..no no it was the Americans, they used him and got rid of him…could it be India’s RAW? Af course not..nobody knows how killed Gen. Zia ul Haq…but he deserved to die the death of a dog, why? because he really undermined Pakistans democracy, talbianised the country into religious fanatics, gave tremendous power to the punjabi military establishment and so forth. Glad he was killed, he died the death of a dog..


  • noman
    Dec 7, 2012 - 11:52PM

    What a poorly compiled article!!! No facts… Just excerpts from random authors… And no conclusion!


  • afzaalkhan
    Dec 7, 2012 - 11:53PM

    Seriously so who killed Zia? Writer doesn’t provide any answer except a report on history. Whats the point?


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Dec 7, 2012 - 11:59PM

    Zia died when when he was told that Ijaz was his son.


  • Adnan khan
    Dec 8, 2012 - 12:03AM

    Good – i see value in finding out who killed zia…….after all there is something called ‘reward n recongnition’ – albiet a bit late!!!!!!!!


  • MSS
    Dec 8, 2012 - 12:04AM

    A good context. However, if people on board were killed with a poisonous gas then why fire a missile at the C130? Or the converse of it.


  • asim
    Dec 8, 2012 - 12:38AM

    So the authur intends to spread sectarian violence


  • 3rdRockFromTheSun
    Dec 8, 2012 - 12:55AM

    Sure, Zia’s death was a conspiracy – and may have “agency” involvement which may have suppressed any inquiry – but the author applies ‘The Dubya’ tactic here : Use 2 or 3 disjointed facts in the same pargraph or article without impyling a direct link – and lo and behold, most (dumb American) people end up with the impression that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 & Dubya Bush gets the go ahead to invade Iraq.
    A – it is difficult to believe AQ Khan was running his private network selling nuclear stuff all over the world; without official backing (just the logistics of managing that without govt knowing is difficult to believe)!
    B – just because the same pilot flew “stuff” to China (imagine nuclear stuff flying to China without the Pak and/or Chinese govts knowing anything) and flew Zia, doesn’t mean he shared AQ Khan’s (supposed hatred) of Zia!
    C – and what reason did the co-pilot have to kill Zia – and what about others in the cockpit (navigator, flt engr)
    D – the author raises a canard about “the other plane”; but does not follow through


  • Tribal Manto
    Dec 8, 2012 - 12:56AM

    We were a pretty normal society back in the 50s, 60s and 70s (until we attracted the evil eye in 1977, since when we have travelled backwards in time and have known no peace. Gen Zia’s regime, about the worst calamity that could befall a disaster-prone country. Had it not been for the mangoes, who knows how long he might have been with us.
    Ijaz ul haq wants attention, give him a ministry, everything will be back to normal.


  • Saleem
    Dec 8, 2012 - 1:16AM

    Whoever kkilled him did agreat favour to the whole nation. It would have been better had it been done 90 days after he illegaly toppled an elected government.


  • Jat
    Dec 8, 2012 - 1:26AM

    @asim: After having read so many articles by Mr Khaled Ahmed, I would never consider that possibility. He has left something unsaid, perhaps deliberately, why I don’t know.


  • Mirza
    Dec 8, 2012 - 1:47AM

    Gen Zia in his last days was a used pawn for every country. There was no peaceful way to get rid of him ever. While the US and USSR became friends, Zia continued his jihad in Afghanistan. There were too many actors who wanted to get rid of him and this was the only practical way. I am no friend of Gen Beg or any other general but one thing is for sure, Pakistani army has always ruled as an institution and would not kill its own top generals and then get away with that. Jihadist fundamentalist Zia has killed many people and one of them finally got a chance to level the score.


  • gp65
    Dec 8, 2012 - 2:23AM

    @Tribal Manto: “We were a pretty normal society back in the 50s, 60s and 70s (until we attracted the evil eye in 1977, since when we have travelled backwards in time and have known no peace.”

    Selective amnesia. Would like to remind:
    1) 1949 – 20% of the population was constitutionally made less equal

    2) 1950 – Massacre of Indian Hindus in East Bengal as a result of which JogindernathMandal resigned from the cabinet

    3) 1958 – First military dictatorship established

    4) 1964 – Anti-Hindu massacres in response to the Hazratbal theft

    5) 1965 – A war of choice

    6) 1971 March – Operatio Gilbratar

    7) 1971 December – country partitioned

    8) 1974 – Ahmadis declared non-Muslim.


  • Jat
    Dec 8, 2012 - 2:31AM

    One natural corollary of the above narrative is that either Dr Khan or Aslam Beg or both belong to the Shia sect. May be some Pakistani reader in the know can help clarify this.


  • MA
    Dec 8, 2012 - 2:39AM

    Zia’s death was decided by his Creator. For his deeds to citizens of Pakistan and cruelty to the true beleivers of Islam. No commissions or investigations will ever be able to prove otherwise. Inshallah.Recommend

  • HollyCow
    Dec 8, 2012 - 2:57AM

    People, especialy Pakistanis, enjoy a good conspiracy theory. It was absolutely not in the interest of the CIA to kill Zia, besides Americans were Onboard that flight. Through the freedom of information act we would know by now of any American involvement.

    The KGB definately had a motive to kill Zia but I doubt they had the capacity to act inside Pakistan. The Indians lacked the ability and the motivation.

    We should accept it for what it was: a fortuitous accident that rid the country from a great evil. May he RIH.


  • Thinker
    Dec 8, 2012 - 3:03AM

    Pakistani country of conspiracy theories. So accrding to this theory Iran killed Gen Zia?


  • jamshed kharian-pak
    Dec 8, 2012 - 3:37AM

    Islamic Republic Of Iran was the first Country a Muslim Power who recognised Independent Islamic Pakistan it was in our intrest to have Brotherly & true honest relations with but our nonsense CEOs never understood that! we must learn from the past & please no more mistake! Islamic World is divided & insearch of central command the most difficult thing to do for the time being OIC AL PGCC ECO is just begning but Muslims needs more time especialy our Arab Brothers in 2012 they are bussy killing Great Syria to please zionists! Ir Iran is the only country where things are on the right path respecting our Islamic Values we can learn a lots from them comming to Late Gen Zia-ul-Haq Pak-Army knows the Story! of course he was with Gen Akhtar Abdul Rehman Great Ghazis & fathe against USSR to help Afghans but honestly the did nothing to unite Ummah Islamia let alone to speak or convince such a Great Leader like Late Ayatollah Khomeiny the Founder of Islamic Republic Of Iran


  • numbersnumbers
    Dec 8, 2012 - 4:32AM

    @Lala Gee:
    Please provide some credible references to support you comment naming the CIA as responsible for Zia’s death!


  • Mustafa Moiz
    Dec 8, 2012 - 6:18AM

    The theory that the pilots had religious motivation to kill Zia has already been blown out of the water, the author seems quite misinformed. And Iran aggravated ties with Pakistan, not the other way around.


  • vasan
    Dec 8, 2012 - 6:42AM

    gp65: I wouldnt agree with your selective amnesia theory. All the events/facts you listed are normal to the Pakistani muslim society. Arent they?


  • Khaleel
    Dec 8, 2012 - 6:49AM

    Whoever killed Zia; did a great job. Many thanks to him.


  • saqib
    Dec 8, 2012 - 7:35AM

    doesnt really matter who killed him but whoever it was God bless him!!


  • Hafeez
    Dec 8, 2012 - 7:47AM

    Very convincing. I am totally impressed.


  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Dec 8, 2012 - 7:58AM

    Who cares, Zia had blood of innocent people on his hands, he was ruthless and cunning and used religion to perpetuate his brutal rule. As they say that those who live by the sword die by the sword.I did not shed a tear for his demise and what autopsy the author is talking about, only his jaw was left to be buried at the Islamabad mosque, another mistreatment of the people’s property. One should also ask his son where did he get millions of dollars , he did not earn it, did he?


  • mukhtar
    Dec 8, 2012 - 8:00AM

    Speculations without any reasoning. The 2 pilots of C-130 were not suicide bombers.If a proper inquiry is held the culprits can be identified. But question remains un answered Who Killed Zia ? Gen Beg in his address to GHQ officers has said that no conspiracy can succeed unless it has internal backing.

    A soldier hits a military truck against the tree, an inquiry is ordered, but what prevented him not to order an inquiry where his own chief along with senior officers were killed?


  • Nan Vistelrooy
    Dec 8, 2012 - 8:10AM

    Was a sensationalist headline.


  • Cobra Commander
    Dec 8, 2012 - 8:28AM

    Gen zia died for our sins!


  • Khrrum
    Dec 8, 2012 - 9:12AM

    I stick with Missile Theory as President Ghulam Ishaq said so “Jihaz phaat giya or, zia halak ho giya ” Truth is always between the lines sirRecommend

  • MastMaula
    Dec 8, 2012 - 9:34AM

    Whoever killed Zia, did a great service to Pakistan. Recommend

  • Khawar
    Dec 8, 2012 - 9:39AM

    Is this ‘Alice in Wonderland’?Recommend

  • Feroz
    Dec 8, 2012 - 9:53AM

    I normally admire the articles of this author but this article is lacking in juice. The facts are unverifiable, sources are unreliable and conclusions drawn from these assumptions untenable.


  • Adil Zaman
    Dec 8, 2012 - 10:31AM

    It is indeed a very nice piece of work by the author. But it only depicts the one side of the 3D Picture. I mean only the domestic side of the incident. Some international players were definitely involved, for whom now Zia, was of no use.
    The article also point out the role of army in and after the incident. But in my opinion the army as an institution should not be blamed. it was off course the vested interested of few. And those vested interests were compatible with those of the international players.
    The question remained there. What were the interests of international Players? The question must be answered.Recommend

  • DevilHunterX
    Dec 8, 2012 - 11:40AM

    Drone Missle?


  • no conspiracy
    Dec 8, 2012 - 11:59AM

    CIA (No motive)
    RAW (not capable)
    Shia/Iran (not powerful)
    Pakistan Army (may be)
    Bhutto (Most likely)
    Pilots (not)
    Nuclear Tech was sold back to the Investors of the Bomb. (no conspiracy)

  • gp65
    Dec 8, 2012 - 1:03PM

    @Feroz: “I normally admire the articles of this author but this article is lacking in juice. The facts are unverifiable, sources are unreliable and conclusions drawn from these assumptions untenable.”

    Excellent summary Feroz. Exactly how I felt on reading this. Ofcourse if a transparent enquiry was never allowed then such conspiracies is all that remains.


  • Jat
    Dec 8, 2012 - 1:31PM

    @Feroz: The author obviously knows more. Either his article was censored and edited by removing some lines, or he was warned to hold back some information. The gaps and holes are obvious, but there is a certain cohesion to the story if you look at the big picture.Recommend

  • Dec 8, 2012 - 2:05PM



  • Shakir Lakhani
    Dec 8, 2012 - 2:22PM

    The Soviets (Russians) did it: ask Eric Margolis.


  • Nihilist
    Dec 8, 2012 - 2:54PM

    oh now I get the title of this article (after wasting 5 minutes reading it unfortunately)…its a rhetorical question !!!


  • Bill Maher (SFO)
    Dec 8, 2012 - 8:08PM

    My fellow EarthPersons,
    Until we realize that religion the root of the problem, We (and future generations) are fooling ourselves and themselves. TRUTH hurts. We should all know that “Only truth shall prevail”, simple, but ultimately profound.

    Enough said and pls do not send an accolade and just think about it.
    TRUTH is sad, Isn’t it? Who killed Zia is not the question, that was in the past.

    What are we going to do for the future? Tomorrow and the day after, beyond the comfort of our keypads. I suspect, not much, or not enough to matter and I include myself in that set.

    Today? I am at a loss of thought. I have a few, but then I am afraid that no one would give a damn.


  • Not the Bill Maher (SFO)
    Dec 8, 2012 - 8:18PM

    Should’nt you be the the “Holy Cow”?


  • Jat
    Dec 8, 2012 - 9:47PM

    Why were three lethal ingredients used simultaneously, when any one of them could have done the job ? The pilots, poisonous gas and the fighter with the missile.

    By the way, did a fighter pilot of PAF die in mysterious circumstances shortly after Zia’s death ? :)


  • Asghar Ramzan
    Dec 8, 2012 - 9:59PM

    “(Tehran was seen as destablising the Gulf states with acts of terrorism.) In 1980, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was created. “

    additional piece of information of me and relevent one.


  • Hasan Abidi
    Dec 8, 2012 - 10:00PM

    Imagine if the same plane had crashed on 3rd April 1979 , instead of 17th August 1987.

    But Pakistan and Pakistanis, couldnt be so lucky.

    DAMN you general for not taking the plunge a bit earlier !

    Would have saved us all this crap of sectarian genocide, linguistic warfare, suicide bombings, Afghan culture, AK 47s , Afghan heroine on our streets, Taliban nightmare, Mullah factor in our day to day lives and wat not.

    Just imagine guys………………

    Now stop dreaming.

    Welcome to reality



  • Maula Jut
    Dec 8, 2012 - 10:50PM

    The anguish of a son over his father’s unexplained death is understandable.
    Ijaz ul Haq should realize that those who use the sword may perish the same way.
    He may have heard of “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie in which every other passenger in the carriage was involved. Let us not forget that despite the death of the US ambassador in the “accident” Washington had decided not to pursue the probe. I am surprised that the author of this article as well as all the commentators have omitted to mention one point. It was Zia’s desire to pursue jihad beyond Afghanistan, something unacceptable to the Russians or Americans. Zia’s elimination was the way to stop his new enterprise. The author has tried to revive the old speculation about who really did it? The fact is that nobody has claimed responsibility, then or now for eliminating Zia.


  • The Hanging Sword
    Dec 8, 2012 - 11:30PM

    It is our belief that Zia got killed because he transgressed and persecuted particular people of a particular sect (Ahmadi Muslims).. And it has been Allah’s way that history repeats itself, none of the transgressors and oppressors would be spared. Thus this brought about Zia’s death.

    Watch this video for more info



  • adam
    Dec 8, 2012 - 11:51PM

    Dear Mr.Ahmed,
    The headline of your op-ed piece “Who Killed General Zia?” suggests that you have a clear point of view on this controversial topic. But I’m not quite sure I understand precisely what hypothesis and/or central point you’re trying to present and/or defend. Your piece appears to be nothing more than a collection of citations, all of which curiously point to a Shia theme. Could you please clearly articulate what your position is on this topic?


  • Dr afzal
    Dec 8, 2012 - 11:52PM

    @Supariwala: Shame on u


  • Garma Zabi
    Dec 9, 2012 - 1:28AM

    The mangoes in his helicopter killed General Zia, obviously.


  • MSS
    Dec 9, 2012 - 1:47PM

    You are spot on except that ‘Operation Gibraltor’ was 1965 not 1971. It is well documented.


  • observer
    Dec 9, 2012 - 3:59PM


    Just one correction.
    Operation Gibraltar was in 1965.
    1971 saw Operation Searchlight.


  • irshad
    Dec 9, 2012 - 7:03PM

    it is again game …floating a story/theory about killing. zia … but the big idea i think is to divide pakistani muslim into shis and sunni…forces………………..because united pakistan is strength…force……..

    i m surprise to c the comments/ story that dy. c in c mr. beh has signed a secret nuclear contract with iran and the presendent of pak is not aware….of it… …………..all fake and guesstimates………

    i think it is only a game to divide… …….


  • Nadeem
    Dec 10, 2012 - 11:23AM

    I agree with those who believe that Allah killed Zia because of his persecution of Ahmadi Muslims.


    Dec 10, 2012 - 11:48AM

    Why didn’t he die early…..!


  • Abid P. Khan
    Dec 10, 2012 - 3:17PM

    “I agree with those who believe that Allah killed Zia because of his persecution of Ahmadi Muslims.”
    Educational standard is bad, in the country, teaching of history specially.


More in Pakistan