United States officials had their differences with the late President of Pakistan, Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. They had accused him of running a clandestine nuclear weapons program, and of not moving quickly enough to establish full democracy in his country. But President Zia's death removes from international affairs a strong figure who largely supported US interests in a volatile corner of the world.
His staunch support of Afghan rebels fighting a Soviet-backed regime earned Mr. Zia the respect of many US policymakers. They feel that without the use of rear bases in Pakistan, the rebels might not have been as effective in helping drive Soviet forces from their country.
The death of two Americans alongside Zia in a plane crash made the event doubly tragic in Washington. The US ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel, was one of the most well-liked senior officers in the Foreign Service. Also killed was US Army Brig. Gen. Herbert Wassom, the chief US defense representative to Pakistan.
The State Department had no official comment on the cause of the plane crash that took place in a remote corner of Pakistan. Zia and Raphel had flown to Bahawalpur, 330 miles southwest of Islamabad, to attend a demonstration of the US M-1 tank.
Officials do not know whether Pakistan, under caretaker President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, would still strongly support the Afghan rebels. But with the Soviet troop withdrawal now having reached the halfway point, there seems little chance the ``Afghanization'' of the conflict will be reversed.
The US ``doesn't expect an effect on the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan,'' Mrs. Oakley said.
Some private analysts were speculating out loud, however, about Pakistan's continued Afghan rebel support. The Soviet Union has recently sent warnings to Pakistan about allowing arms for the Afghan mujahideen to pass through Pakistani territory.
Without Zia there is also the question of whether Pakistan ``can resist the extremes of Islamic fundamentalism,'' said the former ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick.
Robert Neumann, former US ambassador to Afghanistan and to Saudi Arabia, said that Pakistani support for the mujahideen could fall off but that Pakistan would likely remain a strong US ally. ``Our relations with Pakistan have always been close,'' he said.
In recent months, Zia had been facing increasingly unified domestic political opposition led by Benazir Bhutto, daughter of former President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed after Zia took power in a coup 11 years ago.
Floggings, mass arrests, and other human rights violations have taken place, allegedly with some frequency, under Zia's regime.
There is speculation that Zia's death was an assassination. If it were, it would follow a rise in terrorist incidents in Pakistan, most thought to have been carried out by the secret police of the Soviet-backed Afghan government.