It is a perception that senior j6ournalists should never have intimate relationship with senior army generals because that would be seen in a negative way. Irrespective of this perception which, in my view, is nothing short of nonsense, I always enjoyed excellent friendly bonds with as many generals that I ever came in contact with. Gen Hamid Gul undoubtedly stands out among all of them.

Besides being a good friend of mine and military officer, he was outspoken and yet very kind hearted person. No matter how many years pass by, I will never be able to believe he is gone. He will be around me wearing typical smile, standing firm like a rock. I will always cherish sweet memories of moments that I spent with him.

His native place was Sargodha which should be proud of having such a son of the soil. Gen Gul would demonstrate great passion to anyone who belonged to Sargodha and no one ever asked him to explain why. So this was one of the reasons that he always showered his love and care on me because after partition of the Indian Sub-continent, my parents migrated to settle in Sargodha.

Actually, I am at loss of words and don’t know where to start from. It was in 1988. I was working in a senior position in Islamabad’s daily The Muslim and Dr Maleeha Lodhi (now Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations) was my Editor. One day (famous) Major Amir of then ISI barged in Dr Lodhi’s office and said that Director General Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), Gen Hamid Gul , wants to see her. The editor asked me to accompany her. We were driven to Gen Gul’s office in Aabpara where we were asked to sit in one of the four waiting rooms there. It did not take long before we were led to his room. Gen Gul stood up to receive us by quipping: “Maleeha you have brought Bokhari with you as your guard. You had no danger here”.

After exchange of pleasantries, he pressed the bell button and instructed the protocol person to show us who is sitting in waiting room No 1. We were guided to enter the door straight away. As we opened the door, we saw the then American ambassador sitting on the sofa. The officer accompanying us would just say sorry and led us back to Gen Gul’s room.

Gen Gul laughed loudly and said the perception outside is that we are dictated by the Americans on all matters. Have you seen the guy sitting there? He has been waiting there for the last two and a half hours to see me. On the back wall of his chair, Afghanistan’s huge map was hanging. He got up handing over a small sized laser battery to Maleeha and a long indicating stick to me and said: - “I challenge you to point out at any village or town on this map and I will tell you even the name of the primary school headmaster and the warlord who dominates that area”.

This was the level of his confidence while holding the most sensitive position and in an era when the Afghan war was at its peak. I also witnessed his performance while Intra-Afghan dialogue was in progress at Haj Terminal in Rawalpindi. I could see how the top Afghan leaders respected Gen Gul and how he was commanding them. In the following years, any number of times that I visited his house in Westrige, I would observe leaders like Gulbadin Hekmatyar, Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Sibghatullah Mujaddadi and Maulvi Younas Khalis staying at his residence as personal guests.

As a general, Hamid Gul was an outstanding officer with no dot on his professional career. This was probably the reason that he feared none. As DG ISI, he once told me that he has informed this “girl” about the consequences of her pro-American thinking. He used the word “girl” for then prime minister Benazir Bhutto. It showed that when it was a question of Pakistan’s interest, he would say to anyone what he had to say, no matter what the consequences.

The ISI, that Gen Gul once headed, has always been a matter of great pride for the nation because of its superb performance.

It was in 1989 when the annual conference of intelligence chiefs of the US and European countries was held in America. It is always sponsored by CIA and hosted by Pentagon. The single-point agenda of the conference that year was to clip the wings of the ISI before it becomes German Gestapo. The participants discussed a number of steps to achieve the target. But just half an hour after the conference concluded, the minutes were lying on the table. This should amply show the capability and penetration of the ISI, Gen Gul proudly told me.

He only called me last Thursday saying: “Salim I need to sit with you in your programme Insight at Waqt News and would reveal dangers confronting us, including the conspiracies being hatched again our motherland”. The Almighty did not give him time to share his views with me.

May his soul rest in peace.