Islamabad: The former head of Pakistan’s ISI, retired Lt General Hamid Gul, who died on Saturday at the age of 79, is remembered as a hero of the US-backed 1979-1989 Afghan war that led to the defeat of Soviet Union and its break-up.
The spymaster served as the director-general of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) during 1987-89, mainly during the time Benazir Bhutto was prime minister.
One of the most outspoken military leaders of his generation in Pakistan, Gul died of a brain haemorrhage in the Murree hill resort town northeast of Islamabad.
He was also known for his hardline Islamist views against the US and India.
Gul was instrumental in the anti-Soviet support of the mujahideen in the Afghanistan War, a pivotal time during the Cold War, and in establishing the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, a right-wing political coalition against the Pakistan Peoples Party of late Benazir Bhutto.
He remained a strong supporter of the Kashmiri insurgency against India, and ws accused by the United States of having ties to Al Qaida and the Taliban.
Hamid Gul was born on November 20, 1936 to Mohammad Khan, an ethnic Bhati Rajput, in the Sargodha District of Punjab, in what was then British India.
He received his early education at a school in his village. He briefly studied at Government College Lahore, before enrolling at Pakistan Military Academy Kakul.
Hamid Gul was commissioned in Pakistan’s Army, in October 1958, joining the 18th PMA Long Course in the 19th Lancers regiment of the Armoured Corps. He was a Tank commander during the 1965 war with India.
Between 1972 and 1976, Gul directly served as a battalion commander under General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, who seized power in 1977 in a coup.
Gul was promoted to Brigadier in 1978 and steadily rose to be the martial law administrator of Bahawalpur and commander of the 1st Armoured Division, Multan in 1982, his appointments expressly ordered by Zia himself.
Gul was then sent to GHQ as the Director-General Military Intelligence (DGMI) under General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, who nominated him to be the ISI chief, succeeding General Akhtar Abdur Rahman in March 1987.
Gul was later replaced as the ISI commander by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in May 1989 and was transferred as Commander II Corps in Multan.
In this capacity, Gul conducted the Zarb-e-Momin military exercise in November-December 1989, the Pakistani armed forces’ biggest show of muscle since the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.
General Asif Nawaz upon taking the reins of the Pakistan Army in August 1991, had Gul transferred as the DG Heavy Industries Taxila. A menial job compared to his stature, Gul refused to take the assignment, a decision for which he was retired from the army.
Organisation of right-wing coalition
During his tenure as ISI chief in 1988, General Gul successfully gathered right-wing politicians and helped them create Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), a religio-political conservative coalition against the left-leaning liberal Pakistan Peoples Party.
He recently acknowledged this fact in various interviews and for this he was widely criticised and many asked him to apologise. The IJI could not maintain its two-thirds majority for long.
Turning against US
General Gul worked closely with the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when he was the ISI chief. But, he became passionately anti-American after the US turned its back on Afghanistan, following the 1989 Soviet withdrawal.
He was further disillusioned when the USA began punishing Pakistan with economic and military sanctions for its secret nuclear programme.
General Gul then went on to declare that “the Muslim world must stand united to confront the US in its so-called War on Terrorism, which is in reality a war against Muslims. Let’s destroy America wherever its troops are trapped.”
General Gul personally met Osama Bin Laden in 1993 and refused to label him a terrorist unless and until irrefutable evidence was provided linking him to alleged acts of terrorism.
Only days after the September 11 attacks he stated in media interviews that they were clearly an inside job.
Solidarity with OBL
According to Pakistani author Zahid Hussain, in his book Frontline Pakistan, Hamid Gul and former Army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg were part of the 9 January 2001 Darul Uloom Haqqania Islamic conference held near Pakistani northwestern city of Peshawar, which ich was also attended by 300 leaders representing various Islamic groups.
The meeting declared it a religious duty of Muslims all over the world to protect the Taliban government, and Osama Bin Laden.
Role during 2007 crisis
On March 12, 2007, Gul marched shoulder-to-shoulder with activists from the liberal democratic parties and retired former senior military officers against General Pervez Musharraf.
He faced down riot police when they tried to arrest him at a rally outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad protesting against attempts to dismiss Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
But he turned against the restored Supreme Court chief justice after a bench allowed Musharraf to contest the elections in uniform. He was arrested on November 4 by the Military police in Islamabad during President Pervez Musharraf’s declared state of emergency.
On December 14, 2008 then President Asif Ali Zardari in an interview with Newsweek described Hamid Gul as a political ideologue of terror.
In July 2010, WikiLeaks released over 92,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan between 2004 and the end of 2009. In those documents Gul was accused of backing the Taliban insurgency against western forces to disrupt the US occupation of Afghanistan.
Plaudits for Gul
He was seen as a hero by pro-army, right-wing clerics and politicians. His critics say he reflected an aggressive and often delusional military mindset.
Supporters credit Gul with diverting fighters, funds and guns from the Afghan conflict to the Kashmir front. At home, he was accused of rigging the 1988 election by propping up a hardline Islamist alliance to prevent Benazir Bhutto from coming into power.