Posted on Friday, August 21, 2015
in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Generals Zia ul Haq and Hameed Gul were birds of a feather. Together, they drummed up an “Islamist-Jihadist” national security doctrine that entrapped Pakistan in a violent existential legacy that has stunted its economic growth, destabilized its polity, antagonized its neighbours and alienated the international community. No one, singly or jointly, could have done greater disservice to Pakistan. Consider.
The ISI was upgraded by General Zia when billions of dollars in arms and funds were funnelled through it to wage the US-Saudi sponsored jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. At the ISI, Gen Gul became the leading architect of the Mujahideen’s war in Afghanistan and dreamed of becoming the “conqueror of Jalalabad”. After Zia’s death in 1988, Gul tried to thwart Benazir Bhutto’s return to power by gearing up the ISI’s internal political wing to cobble the IJI and rig elections. When he failed, he unleashed the “Midnight Jackals” plan to vote her out. When that failed too, he joined forces with the army chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg, to nudge President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to oust her from office in 1990. After General Beg’s retirement in 1991, Gul lobbied desperately to become army chief. But when President Ishaq chose General Asif Nawaz Janjua, he openly sulked and defied his chief by choosing to resign rather than accept orders.
Astonishingly, after he retired, General Gul publicly mocked the constitution and the courts by boasting of his role in the unconstitutional interventions of the past.
General Gul was a self-styled “Islamist”. He ardently supported favourites in the Mujahideen’s civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 1991, during the first Iraq war, he articulated the theory that US forces would be defeated by Saddam Hussein’s army and the war would be long drawn out and leave a trail of body bags as in Vietnam. But the war ended in 15 days when Saddam Hussein’s air force was grounded by superior US technology and air power, compelling him to pull out of Kuwait and lick his wounds.
General Gul was also a great supporter of the Taliban. He lauded Mullah Umar when the latter refused to expel Osama bin Laden and triggered the American intervention in Afghanistan. But he openly scorned General Pervez Musharraf when the latter called off the jihad against India in 2003 and proposed an “out of the box” political solution to India on Kashmir that seemed to put the UN Resolution for a Plebiscite into cold storage for decades.
In the early 1990s, Gul tried to build up Imran Khan as the great Islamist saviour of the nation. But when Imran tied the knot with Jemima Goldsmith, he was bitterly disappointed.
General Gul was blinded by a visceral hatred of India. He never missed an opportunity to stand on the platforms of assorted jihadi organisations to thunder against “Akhund Bharat”. He was delighted when a clutch of ten jihadis from Pakistan sneaked into Mumbai on 26/11 and held the mighty Indian security forces at bay for 60 hours.
To his dying day, he remained contemptuous of Benazir Bhutto and all politicians, including Nawaz Sharif whom he had once tried to groom as a potential prime minister in opposition to her. When she survived a suicide bombing in Karachi upon her return to Pakistan in 2007, she accused him of being part of a conspiracy along with a few others to kill her.
General Hameed Gul nurtured a notion of “patriotism” built upon adherence to radical “political Islam” and “hatred of Hindu India”. Thus Pakistanis reared on these notions in textbooks and the media for over two decades came to view him as an arch “patriot” and “Islamic hero”, oblivious of the devastating consequences for state and society.
In fact, the philosophy of a state built on such notions has spawned a vast network of terrorists which now poses truly “existential” problems for Pakistan. It was General Musharraf who instinctively questioned this paradigm for the first time but he stopped short of taking his initiative to its logical conclusion. His successor, General Ashfaq Kayani recognized the crippling impact of the Zia-Gul legacy but lacked the courage to tackle it effectively. Now General Raheel Sharif has helped formulate a National Action Plan against this narrative and the first concrete steps are being taken on some fronts to try and turn the tide.
General Hameed Gul’s passing was not an occasion of mass mourning in any way, even though he fancied himself as a national hero of sorts. Apart from some die-hard ideologues among jihadist non-state actors, no one will miss Gul’s emotional outbursts and wild conspiracy theories. In his last years, he had become largely irrelevant and inconsequential as his world view collapsed around him.
One would like to believe that with General Hameed Gul’s passing an era of death and destruction and isolation and division has come to an end. But the jury is still out on that.