The audacity of Hamid Gul
Everything that is terrifying about Washington’s relationship with Pakistan can be summed up in the Wikileaks documents on Hamid Gul, a former chief of the ISI, Islamabad's intelligence service.
The documents portray Gul as the public face of an underground Pakistani military network that appears to be working to destroy the U.S. effort to create a pro-West Afghanistan.
A hawk-like man with laser black eyes, Gul's animosity toward the United States is well known. But the audacity of his plotting with the Taliban and even al-Qaeda, as represented in the documents, has the ability to shock.
If the documents are to be believed -- and the uncorroborated U.S. intelligence reports must be read with caution -- Gul has taken a direct hand in quarterbacking attacks against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
Gul calls the reports "fiction and nothing else."
In mid-December 2006, one report says, Gul met with “senior members of the Taliban leadership in Nowshara, Pakistan,” during which he said he had dispatched three insurgents to Kabul to carry out attacks with improvised explosive devices during the celebration of Eid, a Muslim holiday.
“Gul instructed two of the individuals to plant IEDs along the roads frequently utilized by Government of Afghanistan and ISAF vehicles,” the intelligence report says. “The third individual is to carry out a suicide attack utilizing a suicide vest against" Afghan government or NATO targets.
“Make the snow warm in Kabul,” he told the bombers, according to the report. “Set Kabul aflame.”
“Gul reportedly has received approximately 50 of these mines in order for them to carry out their operation,” the report said.
In January 2008 Gul also directed the Taliban to kidnap high-level United Nations personnel in Afghanistan to trade for captured Pakistani soldiers, according to another report.
“The (Taliban) group led by (Qari) Naqibullah,” it said, “is working with the coordination of retired Pakistani General Hamid Gul. This group is targeting un vehicles marked with black lettering, which Naqibullah believes is an indicator that the vehicle is carrying high level UN officials or members of the UN intelligence service.”
“Naqibullah,” it added, “has been instructed by Gul to place a higher priority in securing the release of the Pakistani soldiers.”
While not proven, the allegations that the Taliban would take orders from Gul are not surprising.
After the Red Army left Afghanistan in 1989, he and fellow Islamists in the ISI midwifed the fundamentalists into a fighting force that took Kabul and ruled the country with a puritanical zeal until they were ousted by U.S.-led forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But if another U.S. intelligence report released by Wikileaks is to be believed, Gul has also been working hand-in-glove with al-Qaeda.
On Jan. 5, 2009, the report says, insurgents in the Pakistani tribal zone of South Waziristan met to discuss taking revenge for the death of a Taliban commander killed in a CIA drone attack.
“Also in attendance were three unidentified older Arab males, who were considered important” because they were accompanied by “approximately 20 Arab bodyguards,” said the report, which originated with the U.S. Army’s Task Force Castle engineering group.
“Hamid Gul, a former member of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was in attendance at the meeting also,” the report said. “Hamid Gul was described as being an older man and a very important person from ISI.”
Gul “encouraged (their) leaders to focus their operation inside of Afghanistan in exchange for the government of Pakistan's security forces turning a blind eye to the presence of (their) commanders and fighters in Pakistan,” the report said.
Gul also had a tip for al-Qaeda and the insurgents: ”The aerial threats in the area were controlled from the airport in Wana,” the largest town in South Waziristan.
Given Gul’s longtime, vocal animosity for Washington, it’s not inconceivable that he would get his hands dirty with the insurgents at such a primitive tactical level, planning car bombs like a Pakistani Tony Soprano.
Like many journalists, I have sat in his living room in Ralwalpindi, headquarters of the Pakistani army, and heard him bitterly intone against the Americans. When I last visited in August 1997, on the sour bicentenary of Pakistan’s schism with India, the country was flooded with AK-47s, heroin and Afghan refugees. The Americans had used Pakistan like a hammer to beat the Russians, Gul said, and then walked away.
The Taliban were in power in Kabul, but the CIA was conspiring to overthrow them, he charged. The American embassy was trying to infiltrate Pakistani police and army units. He railed against U.S. “meddling” in the country.
Even the FBI had barged into the country, he groused, swooping down in a dusty market town to capture Mir Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani fugitive who had shot and killed CIA employees at their gate in McLean, Va. in Jan. 1993.
Kasi, Gul claimed, “was an agent of the CIA ... He was working inside of Pakistan and outside of Pakistan." He knew that, he said, because he had a dossier on the Kasi clan, which had worked with the ISI to deliver supplies to the mujaheddin.
I asked for proof. It never came. When my taped interview with him was published, he denied ever saying such a thing. (A year later, in a jailhouse letter to me, Kasi said he never worked for the agency and was inspired to fire on its gates by pictures of Iraqi troops strafed by American planes.)
When Gul wasn’t railing against the Americans, he was reportedly conspiring with Kashmiri separatists, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which evidently sponsored the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India.
In late 2008, Washington fingered Gul to the United Nations as one of four former top Pakistani intelligence officers supporting Islamic terrorism.
Gul was also accused by the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of authoring the first assassination attempt upon her after her return to Pakistan.
And so on. None of this is a surprise to U.S. officials, who have had to live with the Pakistani army’s duplicity on Afghanistan since coalition forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
The first reaction Pakistan’s leadership to the Wikileaks reports was telling.
"These reports reflect nothing more than single-source comments and rumors, which abound on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Pakistani ambassador said in a prepared statement, “and are often proved wrong after deeper examination."
Gul's first reaction was to call the allegations “absolute nonsense.”
“I have had no hand in it,” he told The New York Times, adding, “American intelligence is pulling cotton wool over your eyes.”
The ex-general had a more measured response later.
“Report of my physical involvement with al-Qaeda or Taliban in planning attacks on American forces is completely baseless,” Gul told The Wall Street Journal. “I am not against America, but I am opposed to what the American forces are doing in Afghanistan.”
| July 26, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories: Foreign policy, Intelligence
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