LODHRAN - Once the ‘memory-stone’, erected exactly at the place where aircraft carrying General Ziaul Haq and many others was crashed, was frequently visited but now it has become a spot of eerie silence.

On August 17, 1988, Gen Zia’s C-130 aircraft took off from Bahawalpur Airport. It was bound for Rawalpindi but unluckily it crashed soon after its takeoff. Gen Zia and his entourage, which included 19 top brass generals of Pakistan Army, US Ambassador in Pakistan Arnold Raphel and Brig Gen Herbert M Wassom, the head of the US Military Aid Mission to Pakistan, had just observed a test of the US-made Abrams M-1/A-1 battle tank at desert location of Khairpur Tamewali, approximately 50 kilometre east of Bahawalpur city. The simple but lucid ‘memory-stone’ is meant to memorise the people with the place of ‘martyrdom’ of military leader who had, in those days, assumed the title of so-called ‘hero of Soviet War’. It is situated in village Lal Kumal of Lodhran on the brink of River Sutlej, two & half kilometre down towards west on Lodhran, Bahawalpur Road from the place adjacent to newly-constructed Sutlej Toll Plaza.

Gen Zia had come to power after overthrowing the then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 in a bloodless coup. He thus became the third ruler to have imposed martial law after Gen Ayub Khan and Gen Yahya Khan. He initially ruled as the chief martial law administrator, but later installed himself as the president of Pakistan in September 1978 after Fazal Elahi Chaudhry resigned.

He tightened his hold on the government after having the charismatic and still-popular Bhutto executed on charges of attempted murder in 1979. Zia suspended political parties in that year, banned labour strikes, imposed strict censorship on the press, and declared martial law in the country. He responded to the Soviet Union’s invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan in 1979 by embarking on a US-financed military build-up. He also tried to broaden his base of support and worked for the Islamisation of Pakistan’s political and cultural life.

But beyond Zia’s enduring impact on Pakistan, the plane crash that killed the former Pakistani strongman also remains a topic of unending conversation in the country and the region, due to the raft of conspiracy theories, possible culprits and unanswered questions that still swirl around it.