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Firms Probe Plane Crash

It’s been more than a year since Anna Mohamadi heard that the airplane carrying her father, a top official in Afghanistan’s government, crashed into the Indian Ocean off the coast of Pakistan.

But there has been no memorial service. No goodbyes. No closure.

That’s because Mohamadi refuses to give up hope of finding out exactly why the small, twin-engine jet carrying her father plunged into the ocean on Feb. 24, 2003.

“It’s hard to make peace with it,” Mohamadi said in a recent interview. “Is there any justice or any way to find out what happened?”

When Pakistan’s formal probe failed to answer those questions, Mohamadi took the unusual step of hiring two Washington lobbying firms — Hogan & Hartson and Stonebridge International — to organize an investigation into the crash that killed her father and seven others.

Mohamadi, who believes that foul play may have been involved in the crash, said she hired the lobbyists because she wants help persuading the American embassy in Karachi to investigate the crash. 

So far, the United States has refrained from probing the accident because it is under Pakistani jurisdiction, according to Mohamadi. She noted that the Pakistani government would have to give U.S. officials permission to get involved.

Her father, Joma Mohammad Mohamadi, and several of his advisers were on their way home from Pakistan last February after signing an agreement to build a $2.5 billion gas pipeline through Afghanistan.

But they never arrived. The plane went down, cause unknown. All aboard were declared dead. 

Pakistan’s navy found six bodies and the plane wreckage. But they never found the bodies of Mohamadi’s father and a Chinese businessman traveling with him.

After conducting its own investigation, the Pakistani government labeled the crash an accident, but Mohamadi remained skeptical. She said the sky was clear on the morning of the crash and the plane was fairly new.

“My gut instinct told me that it wasn’t an accident,” she said. “As a family, you don’t have any peace, you don’t have answers. You don’t know who can help you.”

Thomas Gouttierre, a leading expert on Afghanistan who is the director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said although he understands the family’s concerns, it is unlikely the crash involved foul play.

“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t the case, [but] I haven’t heard of it,” Gouttierre added.

But Gouttierre said he understands why the family would be concerned. Mohamadi is one of four Afghan cabinet ministers who have died in office since Hamid Karzai took power, including Haji Abdul Qadir, a vice president who was gunned down in July 2002.

“I think [Mohamadi’s death] was a jarring loss, and as a result of that major loss, people tend to believe that someone lost his life in the service of his country … they like to feel he was a target,” Gouttierre said. “I can understand the sense of that, but, I just haven’t seen that that is the case.”

Still, Anna Mohamadi seeks answers. One of the firms Mohamadi hired, Stonebridge International, has helped find investigators in Pakistan to examine the case.

Mona Sutphen, a Stonebridge official working on the case, said the investigation has been “mildly successful” so far.

But she said the work has been hampered by the fact that some of the plane’s parts have never been found. Distance is also a factor.

“It’s just real hard — it’s half a world away,” Sutphen said.

So far, Mohamadi’s investigators have ruled out several theories that emerged shortly after the crash, including talk that the plane was shot down and rumors that Mohamadi never boarded the plane.

But Mohamadi believes her father was a target for assassination because of the nature of his job.

As Afghan’s minister for mines and industry, Mohamadi’s father was in charge of ensuring that the nation’s natural resources are used to benefit the Afghan people.

Mohamadi said that in her father’s push for the $2.5 billion gas pipeline, he resisted opposition from many Afghans who hoped to profit personally from the deal.

“I think he knew what he was doing was dangerous,” she said. “He felt like Afghanistan had enough resources and if a pipeline was built, it would greatly help the economy.”

Since her father’s death, no progress on the pipeline has been made, Mohamadi said.

“He wouldn’t compromise,” she said. “This is a country where you have to play the game. Everybody is working for somebody else, but he didn’t belong to any party. He was on his own.”

It is unlikely the pipeline would have been a motivation to kill Mohamadi, Gouttierre said. Rather, it has not been built because of the lack of Western interest.

“The key to all of this is the investment, which is lacking at the moment,” he said.

But Mohamadi’s death was tragic, Gouttierre said. As a veteran of the Afghanistan government of the days of the king, Mohamadi brought to Afghanistan something not too many people had — experience.

“It is still considered a very positive development for Afghanistan to have [had] him, and his loss is considered a major loss in terms of someone who was really able to bring something to the table,” he said.

Mohamadi said her father was so important to the Afghan people that she remains determined to find out exactly what happened. But she admits she is getting tired.

“You’re thinking, ‘how long can you go on like this?’” she said.

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