The Lieutenant-General Hameed Gul was a valiant fighter on the battlefront, but more than that he was a political strategist whose worldview was embraced by many in Pakistan and rejected with equal vehemence by no less in number at home and abroad.
In his death Pakistan has lost a thinking soldier who to the end of his life held fast to belief that Pakistan’s survival as a sovereign country is conditioned by adherence to its Islamic moorings. But he was neither a yesterday’s man, nor a medieval jihadist that some would like to portray him. He professed belief in democracy and constitutionalism but had no qualms or hesitation in destabilising elected governments.
No wonder then, whenever he was in position to tinker with the political process in the country he weighed in with, may be some times wrongly, with religious political leaders and their parties. Often with him it was the foreign policy perceptions and posturing of the concerned political leaders and their parties that morphed his thinking.
This was so aptly apparent from his behind the scenes effort as the then ISI chief to put on ground the Nawaz Sharif-headed IJI to stem the rising tide of PPP led by Benazir Bhutto. Little did he know then that over time he would be pitting himself against the same Nawaz Sharif contesting the latter’s perceived pro-America and pro-India policies.
But where he excelled as a strategist was the Afghan Jihad – though it remains to be seen if it was his more than warranted involvement which happens to be the principal source of terrorism in Pakistan.
Gul succeeded General Akhtar Abdul Rahman as head of ISI when the latter was elevated to four star general and appointed Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Hameed Gul earned the ire of most of his peers when he almost successfully persuaded General Ziaul Haq to raise a separate Corps of Intelligence in the Pakistan Army.
This proposal was viewed as creating an equivalent of the Nazi Gestapo by most of his colleagues in the force. The resistance was stiff enough to scuttle the idea of a corps of intelligence. With Soviet forces in Afghanistan on way to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, stopping them was considered in Pakistan’s supreme national interest.
It goes to General Gul’s credit that he could transform feuding Afghan warlords into a fighting force of Afghan Mujahideen. Without Mujahideen on the ground the Soviets could not be forced out of Afghanistan and later on without Taliban the civil war being fought by contending Mujahideen could not be defeated.
Of course he did overestimate the power of the Mujahideen, and earned the shame of Jalalabad debacle. But that was part of the game.