Durrani and the C-130 crash

The ways of 'fate' are strange, and so are its acts. 'Act of Fate' is such a dear or feared universal term as it is understood instantly. Yet, acts of fate never fail to surprise people even when they are expected. Re-emergence of Major General (retd) Mahmud Ali Durrani's linkage with the C-130 Crash over Bahawalpur on August 17, 1988 surprised many people, including those who knew about the planned disaster and had hoped that it would come back to public notice - and to a full exposure. Strangely, Maj Gen Durrani himself initiated the revival of this case of horrendous sabotage. What compelled him to do so The issue opened on January 7 as breaking news, which had nothing to do with the C-130 case. The next day's story said: "In a dramatic move, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked his Advisor on National Security Mahmud Ali Durrani for bypassing the prime minister on fundamental security matters." Continuing the story, The Nation reported that "Durrani was sacked for his controversial statements to Indian media about the identity of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone suspect of 26/11 Mumbai attacks. His disclosures created a lot of confusion about Pakistan's stance on Mumbai incident." Mahmud Durrani, then, gave an interview to a newspaper that was published on January 13. The lengthy, self-boosting statement was concerned mainly with his justification of going public on a sensitive security matter. Embellishing it were some features of his career and political views that were meant to shed favourable light on him, but that conveyed just the opposite impression. The last part of the interview was on the C-130 crash. The interview carries obvious ambiguities and questionable statements. His "strong commitment to have peace with India," and his "staunch belief that Pakistan must have excellent relations with the United States," implying, whatever may be the cost to Pakistan, need to be dissected to find what motivation lies underneath such thinking. How has it happened that a Pakistan army officer whose military education and training was meant to instil in him unshakeable commitment to Pakistan's security interests switched over to pursue a commitment to the interests of the two hostile powers that have inflicted grave damage to Pakistan in the past and have teamed together to further harm this country? Our immediate concern, however, is to put the record straight on his role in the C-130 crash. This would also bring out the bitter reality regarding his claims of "impeccable reputation," "above-board integrity," and "loyalty to Pakistan beyond a shadow of doubt." What General Durrani has stated on the C-130 Crash in his recent interview is more or less a copy of the telephone interview he gave to an American female journalist Barbara Crossette in July 2005. It appeared first in World Policy Journal; Fall 2005, and was reproduced in a local English daily in December 2005. His denials and assertions are the same, and his rejection of the established facts is also the same. This is unfortunate, because he could have avoided the pitfalls in which he had landed himself in the previous interview. Much of his narration is just padding. Real issues are evaded. When an issue has to be addressed, the explanation is woolly and in essence far from the facts. According to the narrative: "He said it has been totally wrong to claim that the C-130 crashed in the air. In fact the aircraft had hit the ground first and then exploded because of the fuel." This 'claim' is just a ploy, so that arguing against it would create the impression that there could not have been in-flight sabotage. In fact, there was no such claim after the nature of the crash had been confirmed. Maj Gen Durrani could not have been ignorant of the Technical Report of PAF Board of Inquiry, published in a local English daily on October 18, 1988? Its 'findings' had already stated: "The aircraft did not disintegrate in flight and was structurally sound till the crash." Reportedly, he did not appear before the PAF Board. He never talked about it. Identifying the "cause of the accident," the report stated: "After a thorough analysis of the available evidence the Board has been unable to substantiate a technical reason for the accident...The Board believes that the accident was most probably caused through the perpetration of a criminal act of sabotage." This the general could not face, because his theory, as he explained to Ms Crossette, was that "a fatal mechanical fault" led to the crash. Later, in 1995, Justice Shafiur Rehman Inquiry Commission, after examining various facts, also concluded: "From these facts, the only, and incontrovertible, conclusion drawn is that the destruction of the plane was nothing but a sabotage operation." It is incomprehensible that Maj Gen Durrani still clings to his false theory, while the details of the sabotage operation, the type of explosives and the poisonous gas used, how they were placed in the C-130 and activated, how were the cockpit crew incapacitated, who were the master criminals and who were their local accomplices, have been uncovered About the mango boxes (by which the mangoes laced with explosive material were put onboard the plane), Mahmud Durrani said: "At a senior position at which I was, things are done without difficulty as these are ordered. The mango boxes were also thus prepared...After I had asked the staff to prepare the mango boxes, I never talked or heard about these boxes." However, Maj Gen Durrani's name figures in an investigative report, How President Zia was Assassinated, in Takbeer dated August 20, 1992 which, quoting sources, described as to who packed the crates, under whose eye, and how a major personally carried a particular crate straight onto the plane before its take off from Bahawalpur. A proper inquiry would reveal the facts. Now, the crucial question, that President Ziaul Haq didn't want to go to Bahawalpur, but Maj Gen Durrani had urged him with persistent calls to change his mind. His interview records: "There is no doubt, Durrani said, he talked to the president on August14, 15 and 16 to discuss the visit. 'But, I never invited the army chief as had been alleged, and I was not the one who had decided that he should witness the trial demonstration.'" But, knowledgeable and authentic sources tell a different story. American journalist Edward Epstein's article, The Mysterious Crash that Killed Zia, which appeared first in Vanity Fair, and later reproduced in The Nation, May 14, 1989 begins with this very point: "General Zia had reluctantly agreed to fly down to Bahawalpur. Major General Mahmud Durrani, the commander of the armoured division and his former military secretary, was extraordinarily insistent in his phone calls (that Zia must come to see the tank demonstration)... [Then] General Zia's eldest son, Ejazul Haq, described to me how his father had been manipulated into going on the plane." Takbeer, August 20, 1992 gave specific details on this matter: "At 11:30 pm on the night of August 16, 1988, the GOC 2 Armoured Division, Major General Durrani, telephoned President General Ziaul Haq at the Army House in Rawalpindi. Durrani requested the president to confirm he would be coming to Bahawalpur for the tank demonstration. Zia received numerous calls from Durrani in this respect. Now he had finally decided to go, and gave the confirmation to Durrani. Immediately after the call, however, General Zia commented to his family members: 'Why is Durrani insisting so strongly that I should come to Bahawalpur; does he not know my moods?'" Maj Gen Durrani says: "It was a total drama to claim that General Akhtar Abdur Rahman was not included in Ziaul Haq's delegation." The real drama was of a different kind - a malevolent manoeuvre to put him on board to have him killed. Epstein writes: "Like Zia, his close friend General Akhtar Abdul Rahman had not wanted to go to Bahawalpur. He decided to go only when a former deputy of his at the ISI advised him that Zia was on the verge of making major changes in the army and Intelligence high command, and suggested that his counsel was needed." The cruel scheme to kill Ziaul Haq along with 30 other persons, including army's 11 senior officers of colonel to general rank and PAF's 4 officers and 9 senior technicians, hinged on Ziaul Haq boarding the C-130. So the master schemers had to use a highly effective and reliable instrument for this purpose. It was a terrible blow to the people, the armed forces and the state of Pakistan. The culprits cannot remain unpunished. Those who tricked him into boarding the same plane will also be exposed. And so will be the other characters connected with the C-130 sabotage. We can count on 'fate'; better still, we should call on 'fate' to speed up the process. The writer is a retired air commodore

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