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Whodunnit? The murder of General Zia-ul-Haq

This story is written in the style of a classic whodunnit. This style heavily features the double-narrative with one story taking place in the present and one story (that of the crime) taking place in the past. In this case, the details of the present narrative are obviously fiction, but no detail of this crime has been fabricated. These are all real people (save for the detective) and all of these things happened


A fireplace crackled against the far wall. Real or fake, the guests couldn’t tell, but it was annoying either way. The furniture, of a kind you would expect in a mid-century British colonel’s country cottage, was arranged in a circle around a cloudy-eyed bear pelt, as if the television hadn’t been invented yet. An oversized radio spewed trans-Atlantic jargon from the mantle, seeming to confirm the vibe: something about Gandhi. The room was lit dimly, which was strange because it had no walls. Outside, the guests could see an expansive plane of white, like the view from an airplane on an overcast day, cloud tops stretching to the horizon.

Suddenly, a flash over the back of the bear. A tall angel appeared, clad in white robes with a tweed jacket and a deerstalker hat thrown over top. He took a puff from his pipe and turned slowly, firelight glinting off of his halo, studying each of the humans adorning his furniture with exaggerated intensity.

Perched regally in the antique wingback armchair, face half blown off, was Benazir Bhutto. A two-time prime minister of Pakistan, she had served as a politician until 2007, when a suicide bomber exploded her campaign caravan in Rawalpindi. To her left, sitting restless on the arm of the loveseat, was her brother, Mir Murtaza Bhutto. He was the leader of Al Zulfikar (literally, ‘the sword’), a terrorist organization vowed to destroy General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani strongman who had seized control in a non-violent coup from the Bhuttos’ father, Zulfikar Ali, and eventually had him executed.

Reclined next to him was Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai, known as Najibullah, the brutal one-time head of KHAD, Soviet Afghanistan’s equivalent of the KGB, and later puppet general secretary of the politburo. In the chairs next to them sat Mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a successful Islamic fundamentalist warlord, and American Director of Central Intelligence William H. Webster, who was Hekmatyar’s ultimate benefactor and arms dealer.

Continuing clockwise around the sitting room, the angel’s gaze fell upon his fine leather couch, presently supporting Anand Kumar Verma, head of India’s Research and Analysis Wing; Nahum Admoni, director-general of Israel’s Mossad; and a terrified-looking Wing Commander Sajid, a Pakistani military pilot whose hair was permanently blown back from the plane crash that had claimed his life.

Upon the final fixture, one of those useless fainting couches designed for when 50s women’s prescription amphetamines wear off, were seated Generals Mahmud Ali Durrani and Mirza Aslam Beg, commander of the Multan division in the province of Punjab in Pakistan and deputy chief of the Pakistani army staff, respectively.

The angel spoke: “So, I assume you’re wondering why I gathered you all here. My name is Saint Peter, and I will be your heavenly detective for this evening.”

“We’re not even dead yet,” complained General Durrani. A few of the other guests murmured in assent. Peter ignored them. “My Father has tasked me with uncovering the mysterious circumstances behind the deaths of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, American Ambassador Arnold Raphel, and the 29 others aboard the VIP Lockheed C-130 known as Pak One, which went down near Bahawalpur, Pakistan on 17 August, 1988. Everyone here has a motive. Nobody leaves this room until I can determine… whodunnit.” A radical harpsichord riff punctuated his last word.

The guests looked around the room nervously. Peter looked apologetic as he swiveled and fixed on Sajid. “Well, it wasn’t me! I died on that plane too,” he protested. The angel clasped his hol(e)y hands behind his back and launched into pensive pacing. “Some of you in this room have suggested that our man here, the co-pilot of Pak One, may have crashed his plane on purpose, in an apparent fit of Shiite fundamentalism. It was even ventured that he had ties to Iran. Interesting.” “No, it’s not true, I —” General Beg cut him off.

“I have heard this rumor. Angel, are you saying you have confirmed it?” “No,” replied Peter, “it’s bullshit fully. There’s no evidence to support this accusation, and furthermore, according to human journalist Edward Jay Epstein, the pilot of the president’s backup aircraft, also a Shia Muslim, denied that Sajid had any fundamentalist ideations at all, even under torture. Sajid, you’re free to go.” The pilot disappeared in a flash of white light and relief. “So then,” replied Beg, “if you knew that, why would you bring it up?” “If you don’t mind,” replied Peter, breaking his stride and rounding on the couch with the military men, “I’ll be asking the questions here.” More harpsichord.

“Anyway, I think you know why I brought it up, general.” Renewed pacing. “Do you know who it was that subjected Sajid’s cohort to the torture?” Beg shifted in his seat and shot a look at Durrani, but said nothing. “I think you do know. It was the military, wasn’t it, gentlemen?” Silence. “And wasn’t it you, Durrani, who called the president 16 times to convince him to come out to Bahawalpur that day? And you, Beg, why weren’t you on that plane that day? Just good luck, I suppose?” Still more silence. “Hmmm. Moving on! Who’s next?” “You can’t be serious,” blurted Murtaza Bhutto. “You have them, they’ve nothing to say! You must keep questioning them.”

“Oh-ho!” exclaimed the first pope. “Looks like we have a volunteer! You certainly have as strong a motive as anyone, Mr. Bhutto.” The named party rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. We didn’t have the means for this kind of attack. Am I happy he was killed? Absolutely. But we were hitting weapons depots at that point in my career, not infiltrating military bases, let alone ones with the president inside. How would I have even gotten that intel?” “But you claimed responsibility to the BBC,” Peter shot back. “Yeah, and then I took it back as soon as I realized Americans were on board! I may be a terrorist, but I’m not stupid.”

“Yup, good point.” Another flash. “Two down,” said Peter. “Speaking of Americans…” “Don’t look at me,” said the CIA director. “Okay, but you’re the only American in the room, so that would mean my last statement didn’t make any sense. Do you want that, Webster? Do you?” “N- No?” “That’s what I thought. Now, I have some questions for you. First of all, why the fuck would the new ambassador, Raphel’s replacement, advise the FBI not to investigate the death of his predecessor?”

Webster looked confused and scared. “I — I don’t know, I was the DCI, not the Secretary of State.” “And why,” continued Peter, “would the State Department leak to the New York Times that the cause of the crash was mechanical failure, 72 hours before the official Pakistani government report ruled out mechanical failure?” The confusion began to overtake the fear. “Again, I was never Secretary of State, but it would have been in the Pakistanis’ interests to —” “Do you know who this is?” Peter interrupted, gesturing to an empty space next to him. “Who?” “Colonel Daniel Sawada, he’s standing right here.” And suddenly he was. “Colonel Sawada headed the Air Force investigation that was the only look the U.S. decided to take at the wreckage. He was the one who ruled out mechanical failure in the report and your labs were the ones that confirmed that conclusion.” “It’s true,” said Sawada. “Yes, thank you, Daniel. You may go now.” Flash.

Confusion had now completely taken over and was metamorphosing into irritation. “I don’t know what you’re trying to imply here, mister…?” “Saint, actually.” “Mister Saint, but two Americans lost their lives in that plane crash, and to suggest that I or any other member of the government would harm American citizens is a brutal and undignified insult.” Peter raised an eyebrow. “Man you were Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, what are you talking about? And anyway, I thought Raphel accepted a last minute invitation to fly with Zia, you wouldn’t have known he was on the plane.”

General Durrani piped up. “Objection!” “That’s not how any of this works,” returned Peter, bemused by the interruption. “Actually, I saw the guest list. The Americans were on it four days before the flight.” “Oh, now he’s a font of insight. You worry about yourself, Durrani, I’m coming back to you. And anyway, how would you explain this?” “Where is that music coming from?” asked Benazir Bhutto. Peter was holding a piece of burned airplane aloft. “Traces of phosphorus in the wreckage. Not what you’d normally find in a crash like this… unless someone, someone who had, in order to win a proxy war with the Soviet Union, gotten into bed with a dictator whose undemocratic whims were becoming embarrassing, had detonated a canister of American-made VX nerve gas in a crate of mangoes loaded last minute onto the airplane and positioned near air vents so as to paralyze the pilots a short way into the flight? Am I right?”

Webster appeared taken aback. “Listen, I don’t know anything about all that, but I do know that we sell that shit to just about everyone.” “Oh, really? Would you sell it to your good friend and ally, Israel?” “Well yeah, I mean, for sure.” “Interesting,” said Peter, turning to face Nahum Admoni, the Mossad director. “Does this mean you’re going to flash me away now?” asked Webster. “Absofuckinglutely not, no. But I am going to ask Mr. Admoni some questions.

“Mr. Admoni, Pakistan is an Islamic country, yes?” “Um, yes.” “And had your country been getting along well with other Islamic countries at this point in history?” “I wouldn’t say so, no.” “Now, General Durrani, since you’ve been so eager to share your knowledge, can you tell me what General Zia’s stance on nuclear weapons had been?” “Of course, it was imperative that we acquire a nuclear defense against India.” At this, AK Verma, head of the Indian RAW, let out a snort. Peter rounded on him. “I’m not sure what could possibly be tickling you at this moment, Mr. Verma, because as far as I can tell, I’m looking at the two men with literally the most pressing motive of all time. If anyone had been looking to slow down the nuclearization of Pakistan, it was exactly you guys.”

Before the two intelligence directors could respond, a new voice started speaking. “Sorry, but that motherfucker and the American pigs had been providing intelligence and safe harbour to the savage fundamentalists terrorizing my country for years. If anyone had a pressing motive, it was me.” “Ah,” said Peter. “Listen, Najibullah, sweetie. First of all, we don’t call people we disagree with ‘savage,’ it evokes some seriously racist imagery, and second of all, I really don’t see how you could have taken the time off from getting your ass handed to you in order to plot this kind of assassination. Let alone do it without leaving any evidence that you or the KGB were involved. Sorry for wasting your time, I should have gotten to you sooner.” Flash.

“Oh, and Gulbuddin — can I call you Gulbuddin? I’m gonna anyway, I like saying Gulbuddin — If Reagan hadn’t given you those stinger missiles, it would’ve been your ass that was grass instead of the good commie doctor Najib’s. It’s not that I don’t think you’re crazy enough to pull this off, I do, I just don’t think you had the means. You can go too.” Flash.

“Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah, I was gonna say that I have no God damn idea who did it. Shit, sorry big fella. But honestly, it was probably all of you. The CIA with the nerve gas, Mossad and RAW with the plot and the operational support, and Durrani and/or Beg with the access. Nothing else explains the apparent American cover-up, the nerve gas, the motive, or the fact that none of the bodies were autopsied despite being held in a morgue past the burial deadline dictated by the Quran. Dun dun dunnnnn. Yeah, bet you thought I didn’t know about that part, didn’t you generals?” “Honestly,” replied Durrani, “I assumed you knew everything. You’re an angel man.” “Okay, well, I’m not omniscient, He is. Which is why you’re all going to go meet Him and find out if I was right!” Peter reached into his robe and pulled out a desert eagle, and then shot each man remaining in the room once in the head.

“I have a question,” said Benazir Bhutto, quietly. “Yes?” asked Peter. “Why am I still here?” “Honestly, it’s because even though Zia was clearly assassinated, you went on saying that Allah was the one who did it and that you were a “daughter of destiny.” Not only is it fucked up for you to accuse my Dad of such a thing, it’s fucked up for you to revel in the deaths of 31 people for your whole life just because the guy you hated most happened to be one of them. So I brought you here to freak you out. Did it work?”


PS: General Zia's son, Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq, is convinced that a man named Akram Awad was the one who brought down the plane in a conspiracy between Mossad, Indian intelligence, and generals Beg and Durrani. I have not been able to find any corroborating claims, but he is apparently the adopted son of one of the military officials who was killed on Pak One. Fucking tough break bud, I hope this guy isn't telling the truth about you.


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