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Death and state funeral of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq

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Title: Death and state funeral of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq  
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Subject: Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, History of Pakistan, Pakistan–Soviet Union relations, Shafi–ur–Rehman Commission Report, Political history of Pakistan
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Death and state funeral of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq

Death and state funeral of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq
Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (1924–1988)
Date August 19, 1988 (1988-08-19)
Location Tomb of Zia-ul-Haq in Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan
Participants Ghulam Ishaq Khan, officials from the US Embassy in Islamabad, chiefs of staff of armed forces, chairman joint chiefs and other high civic-military officials, and other Western world leaders
Outcome Military investigation and Pakistan's subsequent return to parliamentary democracy.

The State funeral of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was held on 19 August 1988 in Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was the President of Pakistan and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) at the time of his death and died in a mysterious C-130 Hercules plane crash on 17 August 1988. Several conspiracy theories exist regarding this incident, as other high-profile civilian and military personnel also died in the crash including the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Akhtar Abdur Rehman and the United States Ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Lewis Raphel.

Zia's death was officially announced by Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan, Ghulam Ishaq Khan simultaneously via Pakistani radio and television on 17 August 1988. Zia-ul-Haq was given a state funeral and buried in a specially crafted white marble tomb, adjacent to Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. Khan, Zia's successor as president, also managed Zia-ul-Haq's funeral.

The funeral was attended by key American politicians, U.S. Embassy staff in Islamabad, key personnel of the Pakistan Armed Forces, and chiefs of staff of the Pakistani Army, Navy, Air Force and 30 heads of state, including the presidents of China, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey and India, the Aga Khan, and representatives of the crowned heads of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.


At 4:30 p.m. on 17 August 1988 the VIP flight took off from Bahawalpur Airport. On board the C-130 plane were a total of 31 people, including the President of Pakistan General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the United States Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel, General Herbert M. Wassom, the chief of the U.S. military mission in Pakistan, and a group of senior officers from Pakistan army.

For 2 minutes and 30 seconds the plane rose into a clear sky. Takeoff was smooth and without problems. Suddenly the Bahawalpur control tower lost contact, and the plane plunged from the sky and hit the ground with such force that it was blown to pieces and wreckage scattered over a wide area.

The aircraft departed Bahawalpur early, ahead of a storm. The President's C-130 had been fitted with an air-conditioned VIP capsule where Zia and his American guests were seated. It was walled off from the flight crew and a passenger and baggage section in the rear.

Shortly after takeoff, the control tower lost contact with the aircraft. Witnesses cited in Pakistan's official investigation said that the C-130 began to pitch "in an up-and-down motion" while flying low shortly after takeoff before going into a "near-vertical dive", exploding on impact, killing all on board. There were many investigations into this crash but no satisfactory cause was ever found.


Washington sent a team of United States Air Force officers to assist the Pakistanis in the investigation, but the two sides reached sharply different conclusions.

U.S. conclusions

Mrs. Ely-Raphel and Brigadier-General Wassom's widow were both told by U.S. investigators that the crash had been caused by a mechanical problem common with the C-130, and that a similar incident had occurred to a C-130 in Colorado which had narrowly avoided crashing.

Robert Oakley, who replaced Arnold Raphel as U.S. ambassador following the crash and helped to handle the investigation, has also expressed this view. He has pointed out that 20 or 30 C-130s have suffered similar incidents. He has identified the mechanical fault as a problem with the hydraulics in the tail assembly. Although USAF pilots had handled similar emergencies, the Pakistani pilots were less well equipped to do so, lacking C-130 experience and also flying low.[1]

Pakistani conclusions

Some weeks after the crash, a 27-page summary of a secret 365-page report was released by Pakistani investigators in which they said that they had found evidence of possible problems with the aircraft's elevator booster package, as well as frayed or snapped control cables. Analysis by a U.S. lab found "extensive contamination" by brass and aluminium particles in the elevator booster package, but the report said "failure of the elevator control system due to a mechanical ruled out". It cited the aircraft-maker Lockheed as saying that "even with the level of contamination found in the system, they have not normally experienced any problems other than wear".[1]

The report concluded that the contamination of the elevator booster package might at worst have caused sluggish controls leading to overcontrol but not to an accident. In the absence of a mechanical cause, the Pakistani inquiry concluded that the crash was due to an act of sabotage. They found no conclusive evidence of an explosion on the aircraft, but said that chemicals that could be used in small explosives were detected in mango seeds and a piece of rope found on the aircraft. They also added that "the use of a chemical agent to incapacitate the pilots and thus perpetuate the accident therefore remains a distinct possibility".[1]


According to Barbara Crossette, the New York Times South Asia bureau chief from 1988 to 1991:

No evidence has come to light to prove a conspiracy, but there have been several theories variously implicating the United States and India as well as Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Zia also had high-level enemies within the Pakistani government.

Soviet or US assassination

General Hameed Gul, the head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency at the time, suggested that the United States might be responsible, even though the U.S. Ambassador and military attaché were also killed. He told The Times that the Pakistani President was killed in a conspiracy involving a "foreign power".[1]

Early reports suggested that Raphel had only been summoned to join the flight at the last minute, which fueled conspiracy theories blaming the United States. However, Raphel's widow has stated that her husband always planned to join Zia on the aircraft, and that it was General Wassom who was added at the last minute.[1]

The Russians were the most obvious suspects. In the middle of the Cold War, Zia had allied himself with the U.S. against the U.S.S.R., which had invaded Afghanistan—and his government was providing Afghan rebels with protection, money and weapons. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was shipping arms to India, Pakistan’s enemy in the region, to help India maintain a lead in the South Asian arms race.

Stoking the suspicion that the Russians were involved in the plane crash, one of the fatalities was General Akhtar Abdur Rehman, the Chairman of the Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and former head of the nation’s spy agency, Inter Service Intelligence (ISI); Rehman was a leader of the Afghan mujahedin’s war against the Soviets.[1][3]

Pakistan government-supported assassination

Some have suspected the anti-Zia group al-Zulfiqar, led by Murtaza Bhutto, brother of Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani politician who would ultimately gain most from Zia's departure. Zia's son Ijaz-ul-Haq told Barbara Crossette a year after the crash that he was "101 percent sure" that Murtaza was involved. Benazir Bhutto suggested that the fatal crash might well have been an "act of God".[2] She was also accused of having rejoiced at Zia's death, because Zia had ordered her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, hanged.

Revenge assassination by pilot

It was mentioned in Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Lieutenant-General Fazal-i-Haq, who was Zia's right-hand man.[4] After the murder of Hussaini, Hassan threatened that "The day Zia flies with me, that will be his last flight".[5]

Mossad assassination

Writing in the Fall 2005 issue of World Policy Journal, former U.S. ambassador to India John Gunther Dean, blamed Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, for orchestrating Zia's assassination in retaliation for Pakistan developing a nuclear weapon to counteract India, and to prevent Zia, an effective Muslim leader, from continuing to influence U.S. foreign policy.[2]

Pakistan Army-supported assassination

People have also pointed to some senior dissatisfied generals of the Pakistan Army itself.[6] General Mirza Aslam Beg, who became Chief of Army Staff following Zia's death, witnessed the crash from his aircraft, which had just taken off. Instead of returning to Bahawalpur, he headed for Islamabad, an action which later caused controversy and led some to allege that he was involved in the incident since he had reportedly been scheduled to fly with Zia in the flight, but had changed his plans at the last minute. He was later accused of being behind the attack by Zia's son Ijaz-ul-Haq.

It has also been postulated by some sources that Gen. Zia's death benefited the top members of the Pakistani military, especially the person who became the head of the Pakistani military after the death of Zia. It has been questioned why he was using another plane instead of boarding Pakistan-1. It "entails the mist of conspiracy theory".[2] The role of chief of first armored division, Maj. Gen. Mahmud Ali Durrani, remains suspicious about who persuaded Zia to watch the tank exercise at Bahawalpur.

In August 2015, A.K. Verma, a retired senior officer of the Indian Research and Analysis Wing, postulated that Gen. Zia was assassinated by a faction of generals within the Pakistan Army. He speculated Zia was assassinated to prevent the signing of a secret agreement between India and Pakistan which Zia had proposed some months before his death to resolve the Siachen border conflict.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f
  2. ^ a b c d
  3. ^
  4. ^
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  6. ^ Epstein, Edward Jay. "Who Killed Zia?", Vanity Fair, September 1989; published online at
  7. ^

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