I do not recall a sitting army chief praying at the funeral of a former ISI chief. Not that I have seen many funerals of ISI chiefs. In fact last ISI chief died in 1994. To have COAS at your funeral, you have to be an important man.

General Gul was born to Punjabi Pakhtun family of Yousafzai descent that had migrated from Swat to Lahore, from where his Subedar Major (in the British Indian Army) father got arable land in Sargodha where Gul was born. His grand father participated in the Khilafat Movement while the family was still in Swat. His great grandfather, Faiz Khan, fought in the army (Jamiatul Mujahideen) under the command of Deobandi Islam’s ideologue Syed Ismail Shaheed. His lineage goes in complete harmony with his own personal views on the role of religion in social and political life of a people.

At the pinnacle of his career, he was the head of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in March 1987, just months before the fateful air crash that washed away top military leadership including his mentor General Zia ul Haq and his predecessor General Akhter Abdul Rehman. Being at he helms of intelligence affairs at the time of the accident, he was considered to be carrying the truth about the assassination plot of General Zia. The secret goes buried with General Gul now.

Before he became in-charge of Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan, the project was authored by General Zia ul Haq and the American CIA, being overseen by General Akhter Abdul Rehman. General Gul got a ready crop of jihadist ‘Muj’ (contraction of Mujahideen, i.e., holy warriors) for managing and making it possible for the Soviet Union to collapse – which the fans of General Gul like to credit him for.

What followed was decades of bloody war in Afghanistan resulting in an equally bloody militancy within the boundaries of Pakistan. Till his last breath, general Gul was proponent of ‘Islamic Khilafah’, which he believed was the only solution for all problems of the Muslim world. Before turning bitterly anti-West in 1990s, Gul had been very close with Milt Bearden, the CIA Station Chief in Islamabad and Arnie Raphel, the US ambassador to Pakistan. Both the gentlemen viewed him as an ally and a potential national leader of Pakistan, as Bearden later wrote in his book “The Main Enemy: Inside the Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with KGB”.

Main postulates of the Gul Doctrine were: Pakistan didn’t have any other choice but to intervene in Afghanistan; conventional war against USSR would be strategic blunder because it would drag it to Pakistan’s mainland; strengthening the Muj and keeping them armed would not only tackle the USSR, but also would secure Pakistan’s Western border against possible Indian aggression through Afghanistan. It was same old strategic depth doctrine originally authored by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had started supporting Islamists like Gulbadeen Hikmat Yar since 1974.

During his stay as ISI head, Gul choreographed several other developments in domestic politics as well. Being an ultra-right wing ideologue, he was dogmatically opposed to a liberal-centrist Benazir Bhutto (late) who came to power (against his wishes) in 1988. Heading ISI, Gul gathered nine right wing political parties to make an alliance against PPP. Even after Ms. Bhutto formed the government, she was never allowed to exercise power while being in office.

He used this expertise of political wheeling dealing in Afghanistan, when he was able to father an alliance of seven ultra right-wing religious extremist parties to lead the post-Soviet civil war in Afghanistan. But contrary to what most liberals believe, he had already retired when Afghan Taliban took shape. However, this is not to say he had no contribution to the making of Taliban and supporting them afterwards.

It was during his stint as ISI chief that Islamabad lost around 1000 lives (there are different accounts of the number of dead) owing to a timely ‘accident’ in Ojhri Camp, an ordnance storage facility few kilometers from Islamabad. Ojhri Camp stored mainly the missiles and other ordnance specific to Afghan Jihad, especially the expensive Stinger Missiles. The disaster happened just before the US auditors had to reach for the first ever audit of Stinger Missiles, which were suspected by the US to be ‘misused’ in other warfronts that Pakistan had opened during the Afghan Jihad days.

The report of the Inquiry Commission formed by the then Prime Minister Junejo, never saw the light of the day, while the Prime Minister had to relinquish his office for constituting the Commission, it was widely believed. Families of these hundreds (if not thousand) of Pakistanis who succumbed to injuries or who are still living with amputated limbs are still waiting for justice, pretty much like the APS children’s parents.

Even after his retirement, General Gul remained deeply involved with the Muj, later Taliban, of Afghanistan. According to a report released by Wikileaks in 2010, Gul not only preempted taking down of Osama Ben Laden and duly reported it to Taliban’s incumbent government in late 1990s he later went to meet with the Taliban, Haqqani network and Al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan’s restive FATA. He used to deny these meeting however.

He was instrumental in the formation of Pakistan and Afghanistan Difaai Council (Defence Council for Pakistan and Afghanistan) in early 2000, with the support of right wing political parties in Pakistan and Afghanistan that included JUIF and Jamiat-e-Islami. During 1990s when there was a tussle reportedly between the ministry of Naseerullah Babar and the ISI, General Gul had advised the latter to support extremist factions like Gulbadin Hekmat Yar, instead of Taliban. Later, after the fiasco of his disgraced Jalalabad Operation, he became ardent supporter of Taliban and Haqqanis.

To his credit, he was fiercely against infiltrating militants from Pakistan to Kashmir. He, rather, was very strong proponent of supporting and arming the indigenous militant groups within Indian occupied Kashmir for what he called ‘freedom fighting’. Similarly, he remained the propagator of the idea of jihad, of khilafah, of isolation from the Western world, of militancy as strategic tool, was not much bothered about Pakistan’s soil being used as the harboring ground of global terrorism, was hesitant to condemn Osama ben Laden, would rather praise him as true crusader of Islam and would go to every extent in creating conspiracy theories to prove 9/11 was inside job.

Each of the ISI heads after him was a radicalized extremist aping his ideology. It went on till Musharraf was cowed sown by the US after 9/11. Kabul has yet to forget General Gul’s last reported advice to the Haqqanis and the Quetta Shura in 2009, Bleed Kabul.

Pakistan will take another decade at least to recover from the resultant radicalism of Gul’s strategic prescriptions. That would only be possible if we start the journey today, which is least likely. The direction is unmistakably visible when the sitting COAS prefers the funeral prayer of the father of militants-as-assets school of thought, over that of Shuja Khanzada, the victim of militancy.