The silence is deafening. It is utterly strange that the death of the ex-ISI premier was not taken up by moderate/liberal newspapers as an opportunity to remind their readers of the dangers of fostering extremist thought, considering his role in this exercise during, and after his time as the Chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). One must not speak ill of the dead – this is true. But at the same time, a life that was spent in creating – and later defending the actions of – extremists must be analysed, and used as a reminder for those in the circles of power to refrain from doing what was done in the past. Hamid Gul was not called the godfather of the Afghan Taliban for no reason.
Although only in power as head of the ISI for two years between 1987-1989, these two years left a lasting impact on the geopolitical structure of the region and the world at large. General Gul’s time at the head of the ISI were spent using money given by the US and Saudi Arabia to support the Afghani Taliban. The rest, as we know, is history. A superpower was crushed, the world became unipolar, communism was defeated, and non-state actors became more relevant than they ever were before. With the success of the Afghan Taliban against the Soviet Union, strategic depth became the establishment’s go-to policy for dealing with neighbouring countries. One could easily argue that the support given to the Mujahedeen in the late 80’s was why Pakistan was one of the first (and only) countries in the world to recognise the Afghan Taliban government as a legitimate one in 1996. This support is what made the Pakistani establishment bedfellows with terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network, and what eventually emboldened the TTP into thinking that they might be able to find political space in Pakistan. Strategic depth was and is a real policy that the establishment of this country has employed over the course of history. Controlling Afghanistan to prevent the encirclement of Pakistan, and sending insurgents across the Indian border to keep the east at bay was almost second nature to this country, at least that is, until we finally realised the cost from the aftermath of tragedies such as the Army Public School (APS) attack.
It is a policy that obviously relied heavily on the ISI to be a success. But of course, the word ‘success’ has been used very loosely here, because this success has a lot to do with why Pakistan itself faces the brunt of extremism; which had a lasting impact on the world, one that us Pakistanis – wanting to shirk from the blame of our disastrous love affair with Jihadis in Afghanistan would choose to ignore. No one is saying that Hamid Gul is solely to blame for this policy. There were others. Those ‘others’ are still here, carrying on the work left behind by those like General Gul, in ensuring that the extremist mindset stays firmly in place, leaving little political space for liberal thought. One does not need to start with naming a list of martyrs that lost their lives as a result of publicly admitting that they did not agree with this mindset, but Salman Taseer, Rashid Rehman and most recently, Colonel (Retd.) Shuja Khanzada are notable names out of the thousands. After all, when one supports Jihad in Afghanistan, it becomes very hard to refute why the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is in fact evil, especially considering that other terrorist elements with different agendas are free to preach and brainwash in the country as and when they please. However, the extremist does not bother him/herself with these argumentative conundrums, and instead chooses to see the world in absolutes, which is why blasphemy means death, disagreeing with the extremist mindset means death and constructive criticism also means death. The fact that it is suspected that Shuja Khanzada was targeted by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in response to the ‘encounter’ of Malik Ishaq tells us that befriending extremist groups such as LeJ was never wise and never will be. It is also ironic that LeJ chose to carry out this attack on the same day as the death of Hamid Gul .
General Gul’s policy with reference to Kashmir is also something that should serve as lesson to us. While the hawks will always tell you time and again, that it is important to support militants in Kashmir to keep India at bay, they fail to realise that the objective should never be to keep India at ‘bay’ but instead look for a lasting resolution to the Kashmir issue. Insurgency is clearly not the answer, but a concession by both sides might just be. Foreign Ministers who have seriously looked to solve the issue have maintained that a solution will be one which neither side will like, but will have to take part in, for the interest of stability. The establishment, when led by men like General Gul, does not want anything to do with reconciliation with the neighbour in the east. Hamid Gul , by his own admission formed the IJI to prevent PPP from coming into power in the late 90’s. He is credited to have said in no uncertain terms, that only the army can control itself, and that the politicians (read government) cannot do anything about this. A man that openly admitted to violating his oath and the constitution to follow what only he saw as the word of God is not someone we should have gratitude for. General Hamid Gul symbolises all that was and is wrong with the army, its complete lack of accountability and the onus it has taken upon itself to steer the country in the direction that it wants when things are not going its way.
What began with Zia not only lived on, but evolved into a hydra-like monster with concentrated efforts by men such as General Hamid Gul , spawning heads such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba and empowering psychopaths such as Hafiz Saeed. Whether right-wing and extremist elements in Pakistan have louder voices or larger numbers cannot be established. But at the end of the day, one thing that is certain is that this mindset wins out in part because of the failure of the opposing school of thought to always issue a counter argument. And when counter arguments are issued, they usually end up with the person voicing that opinion facing bodily harm. It is occasions such as this, when the country and its people must be reminded why we must change, and why Hamid Gul’s ideology was disastrous to this country.