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.”