The demise of General Hamid Gul roused rebuke from many members of civil society. In their eyes, General’s role in fostering Afghan Jihad, and later for extending “moral support” to the Taliban, made him a symbol of establishment’s defunct and discredited policy of proxy militarism. It is convenient to analyse geopolitical imperatives from the comfort of our homes, forgetting that policies are not shaped in ivory towers of idealism but forged by harsh realities. The role of General Hamid Gul should also be analysed in this context.

The first misconception is to place entire onus of state sanctioned Jihad on the shoulders of General Hamid Gul. He was a vocal proponents of that policy but he didn’t initiate it. The roots of state sanctioned jihad goes back to the immediate aftermath of country’s independence, when our founding fathers backed tribal incursion into Kashmir. Since, most leaders have supported proxy war, finding it a convenient tool of geopolitical strategy.

Secondly, Pakistan is not the first state to employ violent non-state actors (VNSAs) to further its foreign policy or national security goals. Though this form of militarism violates the Westphalian concept of sovereignty, modern history is replete with examples, where bigger and smaller states used indirect warfare to further their interests.

Even in post 9/11 Islamic world, the United States is still supporting some militant groups, arming rebels in Libya and Syria. Likewise, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been waging proxy war in Middle East, and in some parts of Pakistan, India is fomenting trouble through VNSAs. We might condemn proxy wars, but factually when situation demands, states employ this kind of warfare. In our case, it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that forced us to play our hand.

Afghan Jihad was not an invention of Pakistan. It was a product of the Cold War, a by product of a bipolar world, where superpowers settled scores by engaging in indirect warfare. Soviet intervention and paroxysmal in Afghanistan, raised serious security concerns about Pakistan. As we could not face the Soviet might, it was prudent to trap the red empire in the Afghan quagmire. With American blessings, we recruited, financed and supported Afghan jihad.

After the Soviet retreat, the United States deserted, leaving Afghanistan in the throes of a civil war. The Afghan civil war had its own dynamics and consequences, perhaps the Taliban were the natural corollary of Afghan turmoil.

The blowback of that policy came after 9/11. The events transpiring in its wake has nothing to do with Pakistan. Nineteen Arab hijackers crashed passenger jets into WTC and pentagon bringing American wrath onto Afghanistan. US President George Bush set the tone of post 9/11 foreign policy by stating “either you are with us or against us.” Once again, we found ourselves in the eye of the storm. Buckling under US pressure, we had to turn away from our old allies. Our change of hearts invited the ire of Jihadists, plunging Pakistan into the jaws terrorism.

The role of General Hamid Gul has to be taken in the above-mentioned context. He took over ISI when war in Afghanistan was raging. His later support for Afghan Taliban depicted the fragility of Afghan situation. The future of Afghan government is still uncertain, and Taliban have once again established themselves as an important power broker.

Commenting on public policy and its consequences, Henry Kissinger wrote, “Whatever one’s conception about the necessity of events, at the moment of their performance their inevitability could offer no guide to action.” The same can be said of Afghan Jihad. It had a geopolitical rationale, bearing fruit by evicting Soviets from Afghanistan. Thirty years ago, no one could predict today’s mayhem. Laying it squarely on General Hamid Gul would be unfair. Among other things, current militancy has roots in historical contingencies and weak state institutions. Therefore, we should give the old General the benefit of the doubt.