Imran Khan, the former PM, while addressing a public gathering at Sialkot, revealed that a plan has been hatched to physically murder him. While his rivals, as expected, will try to rubbish IK’s claim as a political gimmick, the threat, no matter how trivial, should be taken seriously and not summarily brushed aside. It is so because Pakistan’s past is haunted by unexplained political assassinations.
Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first PM, was shot dead by an Afghan assassin on 18 October 1951 at Rawalpindi’s Company Garden (Now Liaquat Bagh). Immediately afterward, the assassin was shot dead by Punjab’s IG Police, eliminating the major evidence of murder. The street gossip pointed the smoking gun at, among others of the conspiring cabal, Nawab Mushtaq AhmedGurmani, who, at the time of partition, was the Diwan (PM) of the princely state of Bahawalpur.
Understanding the matter better
After the accession of Bahawalpur state to Pakistan on 5 October 1947, Gurmani served as a Minister without Portfolio in the central Government of Pakistan, in charge of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. At the time of Liaquat’s murder, Gurmani was Pakistan’s interior minister. Liaquat’s murder remains a mystery to this day. According to the grapevine, Liaquat was murdered because he came on the wrong side of the then power brokers in Pakistan.
After the 1971 War, Indira Gandhi had promised the Indians of another good news in March 1972. People in Pakistan interpreted Indira’s statement in different ways. The common speculation was that in March 1972 India would carry out a nuclear test. However, the chairman of the Pakistan atomic energy commission downplayed these speculations by stating that India had been attempting for the last many years to carry out an underground nuclear test but failed.
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The test came in May 1973
It changed the dynamics of power in the Sub-Continent. Bhutto understood its implications for Pakistan’s security. When he said that a nuclear bomb is an instrument of deterrence, not meant to be used, he fully grasped the nature of the Indian challenge – henceforth India would use the indirect approach to nibble at Pakistan, using nuclear blackmail to settle its scores. He prepared to meet the blackmail head-on.
Bhutto’s hanging on 4 April 1979 was described as a “political murder”. Did Bhutto’s quest for nuclear weapons capability cost him his life? We can only speculate. We do not have first-hand information to verify if Henry Kissinger did indeed threaten to make Bhutto a “horrible example”, as Bhutto alleged in “If I am Assassinated” – his testament from the death cell? Similarly, we cannot verify if Richard Armitage, some three decades later, threatened Pervez Musharraf to “bomb Pakistan into the stone age”, if it did not side with the USA after Nine Eleven. However, there is no denying that Bhutto had also made intractable enemies by persecuting his political opponents, and these internal enemies had lusted for Bhutto’s blood.
On 17 August 1988, President Zia ul Haq was killed, along with many of his generals and the American ambassador when the C-130 carrying his entourage exploded in mid-air shortly after taking off from Bahawalpur airport, in southern Punjab. He had gone there to witness a demonstration of the American M-1 Abrams tank. Zia was killed because he had outlived his utility for some people, groups, or countries. Many conspiracy theories have been propounded about the plane crash. According to one such theory offered by Shahid Amin, an- ex-ambassador, Zia was killed by the Soviets. He could, as well, have been killed by the Americans (sic).
Zia had played a very significant role in making Pakistan a nuclear power
General Aslam Beg, Vice Chief of Army Staff who became Chief of Army Staff after Zia’s death, in a recorded video speech which was played before the officers in all the garrisons, stated that after witnessing the tank demonstration in the Cholistan desert, Zia, along with the rest of the entourage, reached Bahawalpur airport. While they were standing on the tarmac, Zia asked Beg to accompany him in the C-130 which would fly him to Rawalpindi. Then, looking sideways, he noticed VCOAS’ plane and remarked, “But of course, you have your plane”, and moved towards the C-130.
After seeing off Zia, Beg also boarded his plane and took off. A few minutes after the takeoff, Beg’s pilot informed him that the Bahawalpur air control tower had lost contact with the C-130. Beg ordered the pilot to turn back towards Bahawalpur. After some minutes they noticed smoke rising from the ground and, according to Beg “I knew that everything was lost. And because I would be required more at GHQ than Bahawalpur, I ordered the pilot to head for Rawalpindi”.
On reaching Rawalpindi, Beg held a meeting with the other two service chiefs and the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Thereafter they called Ishaque Khan, Chairman Senate, to GHQ and asked him to become the president. According to Beg, Ishaque Khan, addressing Beg, said: “General Sahib, you impose martial law and also become the president”. Beg continued that, on his insistence, Ishaq Khan reluctantly became the president.
Beg further said that the case was closed as the evidence trail had “turned cold”, meaning thereby that the marks, signs, smells, etc., that were left behind by the plane crash could no longer be traced further. The readers can draw their conclusions. General elections were held soon thereafter and Benazir Bhutto became prime minister.
Talking about IK, his independent stance and self-confidence, bordering on arrogance, have ruffled the feathers of his peers and subordinates alike. In a society marred by feudal and tribal taboos, any semblance of pride in one’s values and opinions is considered blasphemous by those at the centers of gravity.
However, we are no more living in the 1950s or 1980s
Thanks to the information explosion, the Pakistani society, like the rest of the world, is opening up. The present socio-political struggle in Pakistan is the final countdown, the last battleground where the forces representing the status quo are fighting the last of a series of pitched battles against the forces of change. These are the dying moments of feudalism and tribalism in Pakistan.
During China’s Cultural Revolution, a local Red Guard Commander sent the following situation report to Chairman Mao:
“There is great chaos under the heavens, and the situation is excellent” – the rotten fruit will fall, making way for fresh buds to blossom on the branches.
Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.