Pak­istan spy master tied to mil­i­tants dies


Hamid Gul, who led Pak­istan’s pow­er­ful In­ter- Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence spy agency as it fun­neled U.S. and Saudi cash and weapons to Afghan ji­hadis fight­ing against the Sovi­ets and later pub­licly sup­ported Is­lamic mil­i­tants, died late Satur­day of a brain hem­or­rhage. He was 78.

Gul’s ten­ure at the ISI and his out­spo­ken back­ing of al- Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and other ex­trem­ists showed the murky loy­al­ties at play years later when the U.S. and Pak­istan formed an un­likely al­liance fol­low­ing the Sept. 11, 2001, terror at­tacks.

But oth­ers viewed Gul as an in­creas­ingly out-of-touch brag­gart later in life, as he ap­peared on count­less Pak­istani tele­vi­sion pro­grams warn­ing of dark con­spir­a­cies and de­mand­ing his coun­try mil­i­tar­ily con­front its nu­cle­ar­armed neigh­bor In­dia.

“The un­ruly mu­ja­hedeen com­man­ders obeyed and re­spected him like no one else,” Gul’s online au­to­bi­og­ra­phy reads. “Later on with the ad­vent of the Tal­iban’s rise he was equally ad­mired and re­spected.”

Gul died late Satur­day night at the hill re­sort of Mur­ree near the cap­i­tal, Is­lam­abad, his daugh­ter, Uzma Gul, told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Sun­day. She said Gul suf­fered a brain hem­or­rhage.

Born Nov. 20, 1936, near Sar­godha in eastern Pak­istan, Gul served in the army and fought in two wars against In­dia. He al­ways would view In­dia with sus­pi­cion for the rest of his life, con­stantly warn­ing it and oth­ers wanted to seize Pak­istan’s own nu­clear ar­se­nal. Many be­lieve he helped shape Pak­istan’s pol­icy of fund­ing Is­lamic mil­i­tant groups to at­tack In­dia’s in­ter­ests in the dis­puted Kash­mir re­gion.

Gul came into real power when he be­came the chief of the ISI in 1987. By then, the U.S. and Saudi Ara­bia was us­ing the ISI to fun­nel bil­lions of dol­lars to fund mil­i­tants fight­ing the Sovi­ets dur­ing their oc­cu­pa­tion of neigh­bor­ing Afghanistan. Those mil­i­tants later be­came the back­bone of the Tal­iban and in­cluded a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden. The gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto forced him out in 1989. Gul years later ac­knowl­edged cre­at­ing an al­liance of Is­lamist po­lit­i­cal par­ties to chal­lenge Bhutto in the 1988 elec­tions that brought her to power.

Yet Gul’s in­flu­ence per­sisted for years to come as the ISI re­mains one of the most pow­er­ful in­sti­tu­tions in Pak­istan. Though un­named in the Sept. 11 com­mis­sion re­port, U.S. of­fi­cials at the time said they sus­pected Gul tipped bin Laden off to a failed 1998 cruise mis­sile at­tack tar­get­ing him in Afghanistan fol­low­ing the al-Qaida at­tacks on em­bassies in Kenya and Tan­za­nia that killed 224 peo­ple. They said he con­tacted Tal­iban lead­ers and as­sured them that he would pro­vide three or four hours of warn­ing be­fore any U.S. mis­sile launch.

‘Set Kabul aflame’

Gul also was a close ally of Afghan war­lord Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar, who re­ceived U.S. as­sis­tance dur­ing the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion and was a bit­ter ri­val of Tal­iban fig­ure­head Mul­lah Mo­ham­mad Omar. The U.S. de­clared Hek­mat­yar a “global ter­ror­ist” in 2003 be­cause of al­leged links to alQaida and froze all as­sets he may have had in the United States.

Af­ter the Sept. 11 at­tacks, Gul be­came an out­spo­ken op­po­nent to the U.S. while cheer­ing the Tal­iban in public and media ap­pear­ances. There were al­le­ga­tions, how­ever, Gul had a more hands-on ap­proach, like in U.S. in­tel­li­gence re­ports later re­leased by Wik­iLeaks that al­leged he dis­patched three men in De­cem­ber 2006 to carry out at­tacks in Afghanistan’s cap­i­tal.

“Re­port­edly Gul’s fi­nal com­ment to the three in­di­vid­u­als was to make the snow warm in Kabul, ba­si­cally telling them to set Kabul aflame,” the re­port said.

Gul at the time de­scribed the doc­u­ments as “fic­tion and noth­ing else.” Some of the re­ports, gen­er­ated by ju­nior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers, did in­clude far-fetched claims, in­clud­ing an al­le­ga­tion in 2007 that mil­i­tants teamed up with the ISI to kill Afghan and NATO forces with poi­soned al­co­hol bought in Pak­istan.

But Gul’s anti- Amer­i­can­ism was by then a well-known fact in Pak­istani public life. At one point in 2003, Gul boasted that Pak­istani of­fi­cials would “turn a blind eye” to any Tal­iban or al-Qaida fight­ers who es­caped Afghanistan.

“The in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity agen­cies are a part of the ethos of the coun­try and the na­tional ethos to­day is a ha­tred of Amer­ica,” he said. But by the time U.S. spe­cial forces killed bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011, Gul helped spread a ru­mor that U.S. forces ac­tu­ally killed the al-Qaida leader in Afghanistan and brought his body to Pak­istan to hu­mil­i­ate the coun­try. “My feel­ing is that it was all a hoax, a drama which has been crafted, and badly scripted I would say,” he said.

And in con­spir­acy-minded Pak­istan, many be­lieved him. As the last line of his online au­to­bi­og­ra­phy reads: “Peo­ple wait to lis­ten to his di­rec­tion be­fore form­ing their own opin­ions.”

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