Q & A Hamid Gul, Former ISI chief, Pakistan
LT GEN (RETD) HAMID GUL, a hardliner on Indo-Pak ties, was in charge of ISI operations against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He is said to have played a pivotal role in training the mujahideen. He served as ISI chief from 1987-89, mainly during Benazir Bhutto’s tenure as prime minister. Excerpts from a telephonic interview
Both the civilian and military leadership in Pakistan have admitted that the US operation against Osama bin Laden was an embarrassment. Is it possible to salvage US relations with Pakistan?
Yes, it was an embarrassment. It was a blow. But the Americans are shooting themselves in the foot. They are pushing Pakistan closer to China. Anyway, the US will need Pakistan for its own strategic interests. It cannot move without Pakistan’s assistance and cooperation in Afghanistan. The same is true for India. It wants access to Afghanistan and Central Asia but that is not possible without Pakistan.
I’m not sure what the Americans told the world about the Abbottabad operation. I have worked with them. They have perfected the art of telling lies and making the world believe them out of fear and allurement. There was no inquiry after 9/11. Nations joined the War on Terror out of fear. Osama was a fading phenomenon. He was not even remembered in the Arab world. My guess is the Americans wanted an honourable exit from Afghanistan and they enacted this operation. I’m not sure whether Osama was really smoked out. There are a lot of conjecture.
There are concerns in India and the rest of the world about the US exit from Afghanistan. They have been asking US led forces not to leave so early. Do you really believe that an end game is near?
The Americans have failed in the application of force. They have practical problems on the ground. There is a sense that they will pull out. President Barack Obama will make this announcement as early as next month. They needed an excuse. The exit will be the greatest event in history. All the imperialists have been defeated on Afghan soil. Cracks are already showing in the NATO alliance. The US regional strategy is woven around countering China. For Europe, China is not an enemy or a threat. Therefore, India stands on the wrong side of history, backing the wrong horses.
What are the international implications of Osama’s death and its effect on al Qaeda?
The Americans have targeted the Arab uprisings. The youth in Arab nations feel stifled. They want a modern and forwardlooking democracy that exists in Turkey. But three things have happened. In Libya, they have made an opening for al Qaeda by their actions. The interests of al Qaeda and West have converged in Libya to oust Muammar Gaddafi.
Secondly, what the Americans are looking for in the Middle East is to foist a kind of controlled democratic system like one that exists in Pakistan. It will not be acceptable to the Arab youth who aspire for a real democracy and social improvement of their lives. Al Qaeda will take advantage of such a situation.
‘There is no way India can ignore Pakistan. You cannot progress at the peril of Pakistan. After the American withdrawal, India will know its place’
Third is that Saddam Hussein’s meek surrender had caused an injury to the Arab psyche. If we believe that Osama fought before he was killed, as President Obama’s first statement said, that makes him a hero. If you believe the second US statement that he was killed without a fight, the idea of killing an unarmed person before his family and then dragging his body makes him a victim and a sufferer. In both ways, he will gain sympathy, making dead Osama more dangerous than a living old man who had almost faded in memories.
Isn’t there a cause for Pakistani intelligence agencies to introspect as Osama was found in the backyard of Pakistani military?
A vilification campaign has started against Pakistan military and intelligence agencies. In the country itself, there are several people who would like to put the ISI under civilian control in the interior ministry. Even if I believe that the Americans did smoke out Osama, tell me which interest was it serving to harbour him? It was not in Pakistan’s interest. His group killed more than 3,000 Pakistani military personnel. We killed his 400 affiliates and top leadership. Now they say, he could not have been there without a support system. They are yet to tell us or unearth the support system in the US of the terrorists involved in 9/11. I have served in intelligence and I know such acts like 9/11 or 26/11 is not possible without a local support structure.
But your agencies failed to track him and even they are not able to find other top Taliban commanders?
There is no sense in it. Intelligence failure is part of the game. When I was heading the ISI, we accomplished a major victory by the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan. And then we lost President Zia-ul-Haq along with the top military hierarchy in a sabotage carried out by the Americans. We never expected that.
As you are from India, there are lessons in it for your country. America has a strategy. I want to quote Richard Nixon’s memoirs, while mentioning the death of Zia. He writes, “My thoughts went out that it is dangerous to befriend America. It is better to be neutral and even safer to be enemy of America than a friend.” America dumps its friends. Indians need to be careful.
You have asked for an inquiry. If intelligence failure is a routine affair, then what is this investigation for?
There is a trust deficit between the US and Pakistan and between the people, government and the armed forces. To restore this trust, a cogent solution is to institute an inquiry either under the chief justice, or Justice (retired) Rana Bhagwandas. The sooner it is decided, the better. Let this inquiry go into every aspect.
Is it possible for President Hamid Karzai to undertake a process of reconciliation and reintegration of Taliban?
Last month, Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha visited Kabul along with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. They went there to assure President Hamid Karzai of Pakistan’s support and offered him our influence to bring the warring groups to the table. However, the way he behaved after the Osama episode under Indian influence, there is no interest left in Pakistan to help him. Our military will not like to deal with the issue or with him. We had offered to assist him but he spewed venom. Things will never be the same again. The fight will go on. You must keep one thing in mind — the Afghans don’t communicate with puppets. They believe Karzai is a puppet, a mayor of Kabul at the most.
‘You must keep in mind that the Afghans don’t communicate with puppets. They believe Hamid Karzai is a puppet, a mayor of Kabul at the most’
What are your expectations from India? India does not waste any chance to demonise Pakistan. In this operation too, India supported the US. They violated international law, bombed us and breached our sovereignty. Being the world’s largest democracy, India was expected to at least raise a voice against this breach. Dialogue between India and Pakistan is on. India needs energy, which has to pass through Pakistan. India needs a space in Afghanistan. Is it possible without Pakistan? There is no way India can ignore Pakistan. You cannot progress at the peril of Pakistan. After the US withdrawal, India will know its place. So, it is in India’s interest to settle its problems with Pakistan and address the Kashmir issue. We have modified our stand. We don’t talk about UN resolutions of right to self-determination. We talk and demand that a solution be worked out that is acceptable to the Kashmir population. What is the harm in that?
But India also has its woes. Pakistan has not been able to keep its word on curbing cross-border terrorism.
I appreciated President Asif Ali Zardari when he said in 2008 that Pakistan will cooperate and that “you provide the evidence and we will arrest them, put them to trial, and you can come and watch, see, and let the international cameras come and see. And there shall be a transparent trial, and if that does not satisfy you, then what else will?” And since then, we have arrested people. Their trials are on. There are certain judicial requirements. You cannot override them. Now there is a new situation. The Americans are currently patting India on the back, and asking Pakistan to do whatever India is demanding. This is an unfair position because India is not like America. After 9/11, the Americans demanded Pakistan to cooperate and hand over anybody that Pakistan could lay its hands on. Several hundred or so people were caught in Pakistan, they were sent to Guantanamo Bay, Bagram and Kandahar jail. And nothing came out. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was the only one who was tried in that case, all the others have been let off.
You have been holding the view that 9/11 and 26/11 were inside jobs. Is there any evidence to back that?
Well, I have my own reasons. The 9/11 incident took place on American soil and not a single person has been caught inside the US. Such jobs need a large amount of logistical support in the area where such an operation is carried out. And the air traffic control, when they saw the four aircraft were changing direction, it did not report this, nor did the US Air Force act in time.
You have almost similar views on 26/11. But why should India stage such an operation, which was seen by everybody on television?
Can you imagine that 10 people travel all the way from Karachi to Mumbai in two rickety boats and then go into action immediately and fight a 72-hour battle? It’s impossible. In Chabad House, the five Jewish hostages were killed by Indian commandos. Why did they do that? The Israelis suppressed this news. It initially came out in one of the Israeli newspapers, but then the news was suppressed.
Iftikhar Gilani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com