Mystery Death of General Haunts Pakistan Elections


In a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie's improbably Byzantine plots, a Pakistani army general has returned from the dead to cast a shadow over the country's election campaign.

The army officer, Gen. Asif Nawaz, was the chief of the army when he collapsed Jan. 8 after working out on a treadmill at his home. He died later at an armed forces hospital, and army doctors said they thought the 56-year-old had suffered a heart attack.

But Nawaz's widow, Nuzhat, became obsessed with the idea that her husband had been murdered. "I am convinced my husband was poisoned," she said in an interview with The Times. "I don't know who did it, but it was not a heart attack."

Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister who is leading the Pakistan People's Party in today's general elections, has made Nawaz's death an issue in the campaign, charging that he was murdered by political opponents. The fact that one of the general's brothers is a candidate in Bhutto's party has underscored the political nature of the allegations.

Bhutto is widely considered the front-runner to defeat her main opponent, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was in power at the time the general died.

Asked about the general's death after a campaign rally this week, Sharif replied tartly: "I just know that he died in office. (It's) sad."

Violence has been a prominent feature of Pakistan's political landscape ever since the country's first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in October, 1951. Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by the army, and the man responsible, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, died in a suspicious plane crash in August, 1988.

Following the allegations of murder in the Nawaz case, Sharif convened a Supreme Court panel to investigate. The panel determined--apparently without an autopsy--that he died of natural causes.

Mrs. Nawaz was undeterred, however, and said she found a sample of her husband's hair on a hairbrush and sent it off to a medical laboratory in Willow Grove, Pa.

The lab's report showed that Nawaz had 67 micrograms of arsenic in his hair, compared with a normal reading of 4 micrograms. "The arsenic . . . is within the range which can be considered toxic," the lab report said.

The report caused a political uproar in Pakistan, because two successive governments had avoided exhuming the body and conducting a proper autopsy.

Finally bowing to pressure, Pakistan's caretaker government last week flew in three foreign doctors to perform an autopsy. Elaborate precautions were taken to conceal their identity.

The government said the results will not be released until after the elections.

If the general was murdered, there would be no shortage of possible suspects.

Among them are the leadership of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, a political party representing Muslim refugees from India. The party is dominant in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, but has been accused of carrying out terrorist attacks.

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