Failed coup against Pakistan leader may have involved India
Islamabad — An incipient revolt by junior officers of the Pakistani Army, aimed at assassinating President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, was uncovered in January, according to Pakistani officials.
They have also accused India's intelligence agency of major involvement in the aborted plot.
Pakistani officials contend that the research and analysis wing of Indian intelligence, known as RAW, provided the would-be mutineers with highly sophisticated arms, money, gold and silver bars, for a seemingly well-organized - though in some respects bizarre - plan for the assassination of key military leaders and wide-ranging acts of sabotage.
The officers' conspiracy, according to those familiar with the investigation, which is still going on, called for the assassination of General Zia this coming Friday, as he reviewed the March 23rd Republic Day parade. A videotape of an American television network's live coverage of the 1980 assassination of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat was reportedly found at the Lahore home of an Army major, said to be a key member of the junior officers' group.
The Indian ambassador to Pakistan, K. D. Sharma, denies any Indian complicity in the aborted revolt, but concedes that the No. 3 man at the Indian embassy, counsellor Arun Prashad, was quietly recalled by New Delhi a few weeks ago. According to Western sources, Prashad, a former police officer, headed RAW operations here. With his departure, five Indian officials have been expelled since January, or have quietly left.
The aborted operation, said by Western sources to be the most serious military challenge to General Zia's regime, was uncovered on the night of Jan. 1 -2, when a false-bottomed truck, containing a vast cache of arms, crossed the Pakistani border from India. The truck was followed by Pakistani security officials to the Army cantonment in Lahore.
According to one high-level security official, the arms uncovered in the truck - and in a subsequent raid on the home of the major allegedly possessing the videotape of the Sadat assassination - were sufficient to arm 200 to 300 men , and included ground-to-air missiles, antitank missiles, automatic repeater rifles, mortars, and plastique.
Since then, some 350 Pakistani officers have been interrogated - a core group of some 30 to 40 remain under arrest. A key question is whether younger officers had any blessing from senior officers, or even tacit consent.
Based on interviews with Pakistani civilian and military officials, opposition sources, and foreign diplomats, it is considered peculiar for junior officers to have conspired in a nation where only generals have ever staged a coup. Such conspiracy could presumably have been done not knowing for certain if the younger officers had any general's consent.
The government has accused a leading Pakistani political exile in London with complicity in the plot, though it denies there was any involvement by the family of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the executed premier, or his mainstream Pakistan People's Party, which is the most powerful political opposition against Zia.
And, although Western officials caution that the Pakistani government could be over-emphasizing an Indian link to mask restiveness within the country's military ranks, even those officials who normally dismiss charges of Indian interference in Pakistani affairs, say this time there does appears to be evidence of an Indian hand in the affair.
One of the ironies of the incipient revolt is that it was all Punjabi officers, based in the Punjab capital of Lahore. Zia's martial law administration is a government of Punjabi generals in which, according to its critics, only the Punjabis reap the rewards.
Nonetheless, the affair of ''the majors,'' as the coup attempt is now called, had reportedly been in the works for months.
Said to be a heterogenous grouping of nationalists, socialists, and several devotees of Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi, the dissident officers reportedly found sympathy from a small group of leftist lawyers in Lahore, who provided the conduit to London and the Pakistani exile community.
Last fall, when there was political violence in Sind Province, the group reportedly sent a message to the large community of smugglers operating along the Indo-Pakistani border asking for help in obtaining arms and ammunition. At this point, suggest Western officials, Indian intelligence conceivably could have become involved.
In October, Indian embassy counsellor Prashad visited New Delhi for consultations. On Nov. 1 and Dec. 1, two new Indian ''servants'' arrived to join his staff. As Prashad was well-known in Islamabad as chief of RAW operations, the ostensible domestics were placed under surveillance. Prashad's telephones were already tapped. The two - Virendra Thakur and K. K. Gupta - were, according to Pakistani sources, low-level officials of RAW, charged primarily with seeing the arms shipment across the border in January and delivering it to Lahore.
On the day of the cantonment raid, the two ''servants'' disappeared in Lahore , leading to a bewildering deluge of charges and countercharges between Indian and Pakistani officials. The Indians claimed that the two men were merely ''unhappy, homesick'' domestics who had been kidnapped by Pakistani security men to inform on their employer, though reportedly they left with their suitcases in hand.
Seventeen days later, it was announced by a government spokesman in New Delhi that the ''servants'' had safely returned home. The Pakistanis responded by expelling two Indian airline officials in Lahore.
The two, whose involvement with the ''servants'' was verified through a telephone tap, Western officials say, reportedly bribed Pakistani customs officials at the a border crossing. The ''servants'' thus walked across to India , leaving Indo-Pakistani relations at what is potentially one of their bitterest points in years.