South Asia

He waged a proxy war against India

Former ISI chief Hamid Gul, played midwife to two terror operations.  

There are few men who could claim credit for midwifing not one but two terrorist operations that changed the course of history. But if everything Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul is credited with is true, his role in building the Mujahideen in Afghanistan’s resistance to the Soviet Union and propping up a Taliban government in Kabul, and in raising the first militant groups to fight Pakistan’s proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, changed the Indian subcontinent in drastic and diabolical ways.

“We differed about many views, but he remained passionate about what he believed in,” recounts former Pakistan National Security Adviser, Major General Mahmud Ali Durrani, who said Lt. Gen. Gul and he had served as captains in the Army together. “It wasn’t just him, but the role Pakistan played in building the Taliban and putting them in power in Kabul changed the world. All that is now history, but we are still paying for it,” General Durrani told The Hindu via telephone from Rawalpindi.

Condolences pour in
There are many in Pakistan who marked Lt. Gen. Gul’s death on Saturday night of a brain haemorrhage in the mountain resort of Murree, with grief. Condolences poured in at his funeral in Rawalpindi’s polo grounds, primarily from the military in Pakistan, but also from across the leadership. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his “heartfelt condolences” over Lt. Gen. Gul’s death.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan said he was “sad to learn of Gen. Hameed Gul’s death,” adding that, “Whether one agreed with his views or not, he was a patriot.” And PPP leader Rahman Malik said that Lt. Gen. Gul had “lived the life of an exceptional soldier, a true patriot.”

Each of those leaders and their political parties had reason to hate and even fear the ISI’s power that is considered Lt. Gen. Gul’s legacy in many ways, from when he was the Director-General of the ISI from 1986 to 1989.

Fought two wars with India
Through his career in the Army, his stint as ISI chief, an adviser to several regimes, and as a public defender of Pakistan in the media, Lt. Gen. Gul had a large imprint in Pakistan. But the impact of his actions were more profoundly felt in the neighbourhood that he targeted.

With India, Lt. Gen. Gul’s animosity cut old and deep. After being commissioned into the Pakistan Army in 1956 with the 19th Lancers regiment of the Armoured corps, Lt. Gen. Gul fought in both the 1965 and 1971 wars with India that Pakistan lost. In 1972, he served under General Zia-ul-Haq as a battalion commander and later as Staff colonel when Gen Zia was the GOC II Corps in Multan. The bond grew when General Zia appointed him ISI chief at a time Pakistan’s Army went through an Islamist transformation, with religious teachers of the Tableeghi jamaat taken in as commissioned officers. It was at this time Lt. Gen. Gul gave the go-ahead for the creation of militant groups in Kashmir, that would train young Kashmiris and Afghans to fight in India.

A.S. Dulat who served in Jammu and Kashmir with the IB and retired as R&AW chief, told The Hindu, “We never quite knew whether Lt. Gen. Gul had the full backing of the government or not. When you speak of the ‘rogue element’ in the ISI, I guess he was the headmaster of rogues.”

First the JKLF, and then other groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen and even the Lashkar-e-Taiba benefited from Gul’s ideology. In an interview last year he told a Pakistani reporter that even if “some militant groups are active in Kashmir, they are only doing the work of the [Pakistani] military.”

In Afghanistan, Gen Gul took a keener role in the insurgency after he retired from active service, and was seen as a trainer and facilitator for the Taliban, instrumental in their rise to power in Kabul after the brutal hanging of President Najibullah in 1996.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE were the only three countries to recognise their government. After 2001, Gul’s support to the Taliban was less overt, but showed up in Wikileaks cables that alleged he helped the ISI move Mullah Omar from one safe location to another, and others that alleged he helped the Taliban plan attacks on US forces in 2009. Gul denied the charges, but never hid his admiration for the Taliban, saying in an interview last week (August 9) to ARY television that “even when the names of Bush, Blair and Musharraf have faded, Mullah Omar’s name will be remembered, because of what he did. Great men like Omar don’t die, in that sense.”

In an ironically similar way,speaking about Gul’s role in Afghanistan and Kashmir, Afghanistan’s former National Adviser Amrullah Saleh, a bitter critic of the ISI’s policies, told The Hindu, “Hamid Gul is no longer here, but the part of the ISI that survives on the concept of generating fear to subordinate Afghanistan, searches for parity with India through proxy means like in Kashmir, that is still here. People think that with the death of people of Hamid Gul we will have a better world. I disagree.”

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2021 9:16:21 PM |

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