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Hamid Gul: ‘Father of the Taliban’ who promoted militancy in Indian Punjab

Known as the “father of the Taliban” – a moniker many in Pakistan lay claim to – Gul was the protégé of former Pakistani dictator, General Zia ul-Haq.

Written by Sushant Singh | New Delhi |
August 16, 2015 12:47:13 pm
hamid-gul-759 Known as the “father of the Taliban” – a moniker many in Pakistan lay claim to – Gul was the protégé of former Pakistani dictator, General Zia ul-Haq. (Source: AP)

It is easy to dismiss former ISI chief, Lt General Hamid Gul who passed away in Murree on Saturday, on the basis of the conspiracy theories he propagated in the last two decades. He was a regular on television and on stage with jehadi leaders like Hafiz Saeed, spewing venom against India, Israel and the United States. Because of his frankness in expressing obnoxious views in support of the al Qaeda and the Taliban, he was the darling of the international media who would quote him at the drop of a hat. Such was his penchant to talk that when the first tranche of 95,000 US diplomatic documents was released by Wikileaks, there was no name which featured more than that of Gul.

A couple of years ago, Pakistani journalist and writer, Mohammed Hanif dismissed him as “probably a visionary transporter with a sideline in TV talk.” Mocking Gul’s self-declaration of being a visionary, Hanif was also referring to Gul’s flourishing transport business in Rawalpindi where he lived in a palatial bungalow near the cantonment.

But it wasn’t always that vacuous for Gul. Known as the “father of the Taliban” – a moniker many in Pakistan lay claim to – Gul was the protégé of former Pakistani dictator, General Zia ul-Haq. As a fellow armoured corps officer, Gul served with Zia who then took Gul as his staff officer as a division commander and a corps commander. Gul quickly rose through the ranks, commanding an armoured brigade and becoming the Martial Law Administrator for Bahawalpore. He then headed Pakistan’s prestigious 1 Armoured Division before Zia made him Pakistan Army’s head of military intelligence. With the Afghan war against Nazibullah government at its peak, being directed by ISI with the help of CIA, Gul was chosen by Zia to head the ISI in 1987.

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Zia soon passed away in an air-crash and for the 1988 elections, Gul, by his own admission, created and funded Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), a centre-right conservative coalition headed by Nawaz Sharif against Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. Benazir came to power after accepting Pakistan Army’s three conditions, which included Gul’s continuation as the ISI chief. Under Gul, the ISI actively supported and promoted militancy in Indian Punjab and worked on plans to foment trouble in Jammu and Kashmir.

As the ISI chief, Gul met his counterpart, the then RAW chief, AK Verma twice, for addressing the question of Khalistan violence. The other item on the agenda was the demilitarision of the Siachen glacier. The  two meeting were held in Amman in Jordan and in the Swiss resort town of Interlaken, after Jordan’s crown prince, Talal bin Hassan brokered the contact between India and Pakistan. Hassan’s Calcutta-born wife, Princess Sarvath el-Hassan, comes from an eminent family with roots in both India and Pakistan.

The late B Raman, who was then with the R&AW, recounts in his book that while Gul was keen to talk about Siachen where Pakistan Army was getting hammered, he was evasive and in denial about Khalistan. When the Indian side confronted him with irrefutable evidence of four army soldiers who had walked away to Pakistan from the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, he agreed to their return. He later denied the meetings and blamed Benazir for the release of the four Indian soldiers, which was politically exploited by Nawaz Sharif.

Meanwhile, following the withdrawal of the Soviet army from Afghanistan, Gul made a plan for Afghan rebels to capture Jalalabad to formally declare a government which could then be recognized by the US. In her book, Benzair noted that Gul promised that Jalalabad would fall within a week if she “was prepared to allow for a certain degree of bloodshed”. In Benazir’s account, Gul’s eyes were “blazing with passion”, and Gul spoke so forcefully that she thought Jalalabad would “fall in twenty-four hours, let alone in a week”. The campaign at Jalalabad was an unmitigated disaster with rebels failing to capture any territory of value in and around the town. Benazir removed Gul as the ISI chief, but it was no demotion for Gul. He was moved as the corps commander of Pakistan army’s premier strike formation, 2 corps.

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In August 1991, then Pakistan army chief Asif Nawaz transferred Gul as the DG Heavy Industries Taxila. Looking to be moved to GHQ as the Chief of General Staff, Gul refused to take the assignment at Taxila, and was then retired from the army.

Incidentally, General Musharraf was Gul’s student at Staff College in Quetta and later served under Gul as a Major General. Lest we forget, Gul was a bright star of the army, the chosen one, who commanded two of Pakistan’s top strike formations besides heading the MI and the ISI. Gul’s personality, career and life tells us more about Pakistan and its army than about the man himself.

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First published on: 16-08-2015 at 12:47:13 pm
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