Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul is a former Pakistani military officer who served as director-general of Pakistan's Military Intelligence (MI) during the 1980s under Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. He was later promoted by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq to the post of chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which he held from 1987 to 1989, the last two critical years of the Afghan jihad against the former Soviet Union.
While in key positions at the MI and the ISI, Gul, now 73, is credited with having supervised the jihadist groups in their fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In recent years, Gul has also emerged as a vocal supporter of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, which is due in no small part to his opposition to Pakistan's role in support of the U.S.-led war against these militants.
In late February 2010, Gul visited Doha, Qatar, where he gave interviews to the media, including Al-Jazeera and the Pakistani Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Ummat. In the interviews, he analyzed the progress of the U.S. troops' Marja operation in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province.
Operation Moshtarak (which means "together" in the Dari langauge), popularly called the Marja operation, was launched on February 13, 2010 by U.S., NATO and Afghan troops against the Taliban stronghold of Marja in Helmand. The town of Marja is situated about 20 km southwest of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.
In the Roznama Ummat interview, dated February 23, Gul said that the West was "mistaken" in calling Marja a Taliban stronghold. He argued also that the Taliban are "in fact unwilling to fight at America's favored battlefront; they will fight in a place of their own choosing."
In the Al-Jazeera interview, dated February 18, Gul described the Taliban's fight against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan as jihad. Stating that he does not support terrorism, he said: "I wrote a letter to [Pakistani President Asif] Zardari [stating] that I am an ideologue of jihad, which we share in common. He is a Muslim like myself and believes in the Holy Koran."
Speaking about the U.S. role in Afghanistan, Gul said that the Americans are unable to sustain the high number of casualties suffered among their troops, and that for that reason they were now hiring "mercenaries to be used where troops cannot be deployed."
Gul also accused the Israeli Mossad of assisting Indian intelligence to carry out acts of terrorism in Pakistan. In the Roznama Ummat interview, he was asked about Israeli President Shimon Peres' reported concern over Pakistani nuclear weapons; he replied: "We should make it clear to the U.S. that if Israel takes action [in Pakistan], then war will break out. We will fight back and a world war will begin."
In a third interview, with the Iranian news agency Fars, Gul spoke about the anti-Iranian, Pakistan-based Sunni militant group Jundallah, whose leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, was recently captured by Iran. In this interview, Gul accused the U.S. of forming Jundallah to create instability in Iran, noting: "The U.S. intelligence agencies had only one goal in forming Rigi's group – to provoke unrest and instability in Iran..."
According to Fars, Gul, while "referring to the plots and attempts of the U.S. and its European allies against Iran," had "reiterated that their very aim is to weaken Iran's independence and impair relations between Tehran and Islamabad."
Following are excerpts from Hamid Gul's interviews with Roznama Ummat and Al-Jazeera, as well as excerpts from the video version of the Al-Jazeera interview, which differed slightly from the published transcript.
Roznama Ummat Interview, February 23, 2010
"[The U.S.] will Persist for Another Seven to 10 Days – After Which They Will Gather At a Place Outside Marja and Announce Victory, Misleading Their People, and Withdrawing"
Q: "The Helmand operation is in full swing, but there is more noise than visible progress. What is your analysis?"
A: "The Helmand operation is indeed important. There are a few points to note regarding this. First, Marja, which is being targeted by the Americans... has never been a Taliban stronghold. This is a region inhabited by the Alikhel tribe, a brave and fearless people. In 1878, this tribal people made history by killing over 1,000 British soldiers. This is the highest number of combat casualties in British history.
"Now, America and its allies are advancing on [Marja]. This is not a mountainous region, but a settled area. Opium is broadly cultivated here, and even the Americans are involved in this. Its population is 70,000-80,000 people; the majority of the people are comparatively well-off. The strength of the Taliban here is the same as anywhere. They reside in a specific location.
"The real question is: Why did the Americans launch an attack here? There are two reasons for this, according to them. The first is that they want to end the cultivation of narcotics. If this is true, why didn't they capture Abdul Wali Karzai [brother of President Hamid Karzai], the biggest of the narcotics dealers? How can they end the narcotics [trade] here when he is alongside [the U.S.]? The second reason is the Taliban. This [reason] is also mistaken, because it is not a Taliban stronghold, and [the Taliban militants] living there left after hearing of the [impending] attack. They are, in fact, unwilling to fight at America's favored battlefront; they will fight in a place of their own choosing."
Q: "What, then, is America's real objective?"
A: "The Americans want to do what they did in Vietnam, which is to focus their entire energy on a central region and then beat the drum of their so-called victory there, [and proclaim] that [American troops] are returning [home]. In reality, they are trying to deceive their people, but perhaps they did not realize that the Alikhel tribe would organize itself against them – and they are organizing [themselves].
"The allied forces have launched attacks from two sides: the entire NATO force advanced on the Nad Ali district, while the Americans began invading Marja. They were expected to rendezvous in Marja. Now, several days have passed and the NATO force is stuck in Nad Ali, while the Americans remain on the outskirts of Marja. The situation is such that Americans are dying even though the Taliban is not even there. What will happen if the Taliban seriously surround them? The ones who are dying in the [American] bombings are civilians, which is causing a reaction among the civilians.
"Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, is 20 km from Marja. And the allied forces are already occupying that place. Nonetheless, they have been unable to gain control of Marja. I can see that they will try for another seven to 10 days, after which they will gather at a place outside Marja and announce victory, misleading their people, and withdrawing. When a decision has been made to leave Afghanistan, the straight path is to talk to [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar and to quit. If you [Americans] continue to play such games, the situation will be worse than [it was in] Vietnam."
Q: "In what position is Maulvi Siddiq of Hizb-e-Islami cooperating with Hamid Karzai?"
A: "Maulvi Siddiq has been a good man, but awhile back he left the Hizb-e-Islami and joined hands with Karzai. He no longer has the same strength [that he used to]. [But] I can see that maybe it was a tactic."
Q: "What about Mullah Baradar [who was recently arrested in Karachi]?"
A: "The media are reporting different things about Mullah Abdul Ghani, who was given the title of Baradar [brother] by Mullah Omar. But my view is that he cannot stand against Mullah Omar. There have been differences in the ranks of the Taliban; leaders have also quit the Shura [executive council], but by doing so they kept silent, so that no faction evolved. There is no expectation of Mullah Baradar [that he will oppose the Taliban].
"In fact, he had been involved in talks. A representative of Karzai in Quetta had kept his eye on him, and was relaying information about every moment, due to which Pakistan was under pressure that he be captured. And at some point the pressure grew, to the extent that it became necessary to arrest him, wherever he was."
Q: "Now, do the Americans want to take him under their custody?"
A: "I do not think that Pakistan will hand him over to the United States, but there was no need to arrest [him in the first place]. Today, America and its allies are the past of Afghanistan, and the Taliban its future. Why should we jeopardize our relationship with the future?"
Q: "What will be the consequences of this arrest?"
A: "They will not be good in any case. Such incidents are remembered; factions are formed, and they talk about each other, saying that such and such a thing happened at such and such a time. Especially in a situation like this one, where they are moving towards victory and going through sensitive times, these things cannot be forgotten."
"Israel Also Wants to Tell the Americans That If America Leaves Without Dealing With the [Issue of] Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons, It Will Become a Matter of Life and Death for [Israel]"
Q: "The Israeli President [Shimon Peres] has said that something must be done about Pakistani [nuclear] weapons."
A: "Yes, a conference was held in Tel Aviv. In my view, the Israeli president's statement is a threat, and this threat should not be taken lightly. This is a serious and important statement. In fact, as American policy undergoes change, and [the U.S.] begins to withdraw from [Afghanistan], Israel is increasingly concerned; it is feeling threatened about what will happen if the U.S. quits the region. It says that one bomb is equal to an army. The real danger to the world is the 450 bombs [Israel] has in its possession...
"Israel also wants to tell the Americans that if America leaves without dealing with the [issue of] Pakistan's nuclear weapons, it will become a matter of life and death for [for Israel]. At this point, [Israel] poses a grave danger to Pakistan. Iran faces a lesser danger. We should openly tell [Israel] that if it were to take in any [offensive] action, it would be met with a serious reaction."
Q: "Would [Israel] take any action [in Pakistan]?"
A: "At this point, it is not in Israel's interest that the U.S. quit [Afghanistan]. Therefore, it may take any action. We should make it clear to the U.S. that if Israel takes action [in Pakistan], then war will break out. We will fight back and a world war will begin. It will become impossible for America to quit [this region]. One must remember one more point: if Israel levels its sight on Pakistan's nuclear weapons, China, and – if [Israel] threatened Iran – Russia too will enter the battlefield."
Q: "But Iran and Pakistan don't have good relations."
A: "Their relations are not of the sort that requires them to be good relations. In fact, there is an impression among Pakistanis that Iran is leaning toward India [and] against Pakistan. Iran should dispel this impression; this is not a good thing."
"Unless Relations between Iran and the Arab World are Balanced Out, Iran's Relations with Pakistan Cannot be Improved – As Pakistan's Policy Is That It Wishes to Maintain a Balance Between Iran and the Arab World"
Q: "The real issue is also who in Afghanistan is favored and who is not [by Iran and Pakistan]."
A: "This too is true. It can be managed, [as] it is not a big issue. Both countries should sit down and decide that they will not back any [armed] group, but only provide aid to an Islamic government... But the real story is that unless relations between Iran and the Arab world are balanced out, Iran's relations with Pakistan cannot be improved, as Pakistan's policy is that its wishes to maintain a balance between Iran and the Arab world. Iran [on the other hand] does not accept this.
"Iran should improve its relations with the Arabs and end the fear that its nuclear weapons could pose a threat to the Arabs. This fear has been spread by the United States. It needs to be quelled."
Q: "What is India's role in Afghanistan?"
A: "[India] has no role [in Afghanistan]. Those who say that it should shift its role [in Afghanistan] are wrong. It has had, and will continue in, the habit of truancy. The role it had [in the past] has ended. If it wants to trade [with Afghanistan], it should talk to Pakistan and adopt whatever means are necessary. [India] has no role in the development [of Afghanistan] or talks [for peace there].
"Pakistan too should have no role in talks [for peace in Afghanistan]. I have learnt over the past 30 years that Afghans should be left to settle their own matters; they do not like [external] intervention."
Q: "What if the Taliban itself urges Pakistan [to play a part in these talks]?"
A: "Even if the Taliban and America both urge Pakistan to play a role, Pakistan still should not enter into [such talks]. [They should] just say: We can make arrangements for you; you do the talks. There are only two parties [who should participate in the talks]: America and the Taliban. No one else. Both should talk; we can be the medium, but cannot play an [active] role, neither can we be party to these talks. The Americans will have to talk to the Taliban of Mullah Omar; there is no benefit in talks here or there [as have been mentioned in media reports]."
Q: "What does Haqqani [head of the Haqqani network, part of the Taliban] say?"
A: "Jalaluddin Haqqani is not separate from the Taliban. He too cannot talk independently for Mullah Omar. America will have to talk to Mullah Omar in order to leave Afghanistan."
Q: "What was your trip to Qatar for?"
A: "It was personal. The Al-Jazeera people had arranged some lectures. I said there that America is [Afghanistan's] past and the Taliban [its] future. The world should embrace the future."
Al-Jazeera Interview, February 18, 2010
"The U.S. Military Cannot Sustain Its Casualties; There Are Currently Some 104,000 Security Contractors in Afghanistan; Can Mercenaries to Be Used Where Troops Cannot Be Deployed?"
Q: "You recently said, 'The Taliban is Afghanistan's future, the Americans its past.' Isn't that a little farfetched?"
A: "The Americans are defeated. It isn't necessarily because their firepower and their might has been weakened, but because their own people are sick and tired [of the war in Afghanistan]. Now… they are threatened by fatigue, and fatigue is the worst thing a nation can suffer from. There is no way that the Americans can hold on to Afghanistan."
Q: "Could that lead to the toppling of [Afghanistan President] Hamid Karzai's government?"
A: "Karzai is no more. He is currently fighting for his life. They have already started telling him that by the end of this year he will have to shoulder the responsibility for security in Afghanistan. But what are [the Americans] giving him [so that he can do] this? Nothing at all. In fact, more civilian casualties in military operations are [only] going to weaken Karzai's position."
Q: "Some in Afghanistan believe that the extent of civilian casualties has empowered the Taliban's resurgence."
A: "It is not only that. While civilian casualties have certainly made the Taliban a popular movement in Afghanistan – some 80 percent of the population support them – the people of Afghanistan are fed up with corruption. They are sick of the influence of warlords and drug barons, and the continued American occupation.
"If it was a short stint – an in-and-out job – the situation would be different. But the Americans didn't do that. If they had intended to disperse Al-Qaeda, they succeeded by the end of the first year, and after that should have pulled out. The fact that they stayed on betrays their real intentions in Afghanistan – until Barack Obama, the U.S. President, began talking about withdrawal.
"It was only last December that Obama announced that the U.S. will pull out of Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton said the same thing, but there is a contradiction. On the one hand, they say, 'We are not here to stay in Afghanistan,' but on the other hand, they carry out [troop] surges and want to support and build up the Afghan Army. However, they don't provide money [enough] to build up the Afghan Army – only $140mn. Compare this to how much it costs the U.S. to keep just one soldier in Afghanistan – $1mn dollars per soldier per year in Afghanistan. They now have about 68,000 U.S. troops [there]. It is currently costing them $65bn just to maintain these troops. There are another 30,000 U.S. more troops scheduled to arrive, meaning it will cost the U.S. $100bn a year to maintain its forces in Afghanistan.
"The U.S. is a heavily indebted nation, so how will they be able to afford this? Some 57 percent of Americans say in the polls that they don't approve of this war and want their boys to return home. The Americans can't sustain their casualties; that is their problem. To compensate, they have started employing security contractors. There are currently some 104,000 security contractors in Afghanistan. What does this mean? Can mercenaries be used where troops cannot be deployed?
"We have already seen what mercenaries did in Iraq. The Americans are more and more inclined – because the U.S. military cannot sustain its casualties – to employ mercenaries, not just from the U.S., but also from the local population. This is a very dangerous trend, if we are to believe that mercenaries can win wars and carry forward the political objectives of a country. This means that whoever has more money can employ more mercenaries, win wars, win territories, etc."
"The Pakistani Taliban is Being Sponsored by Indian Intelligence and the Mossad, By the Way, to Carry Out Their Attacks in Pakistan; The Mossad is Very Active in Pakistan and Is Providing All the... Support to the Indian Intelligence"
Q: "Given everything you have just said, how do you think the latest U.S. and NATO offensive [i.e. the Marja operation in Helmand province] against the Taliban is going to play out?"
A: "It is not going to work. I think it is 'eyewash.' It serves a political purpose back home. But it serves no political purpose for Afghanistan. They say that they are protecting the civilian population in Afghanistan, but they are dislodging civilians from their homes in very harsh weather conditions.
"The cold winds from the steppes of Central Asia sweep these regions. When you launch such military operations, the people are inevitably dislodged and their fields abandoned. In this situation, what are the Americans trying to achieve? I don't know.
"There is much ambiguity about their political objectives. Every military conflict must have a political purpose. I cannot discern that there is any political purpose."
Q: "From a strategic point of view, Pakistan's involvement in Afghanistan has been seen as setting up a buffer against, or deterrent to, India. But now that Pakistan has nuclear capability, how important is Afghanistan to Islamabad?"
A: "We want a friendly Afghanistan. We know India is playing havoc with us [with its role in Afghanistan]. The Pakistani Taliban is being sponsored by the Indian intelligence and the Mossad, by the way, to carry out their attacks in Pakistan. The Mossad is very active in Pakistan and providing all the guidance and technical support to the Indian intelligence. So, Pakistan has to cover its own back – no country can fight on two fronts.
"We have to have a friendly Afghanistan; this does not mean that we must dominate Afghanistan. No one can dominate Afghanistan, a country which has already buried two superpowers and about to bury a third there.
"No, that's not the purpose Pakistan has in Afghanistan."
"Obama is a President Who is Very Unambiguous; In His State of the Union Address, I Think It Was Clear He was Not Addressing Terrorism But Instead Focusing on Such Internal Issues as Healthcare, Unemployment and Servicing Debts"
Q: "Is the failure to stabilize Afghanistan adversely affecting Pakistan's own security?"
A: "Yes, indeed it is. The conflict is not just due to the failures of the Kabul government, which is a puppet government. The real cause of the conflict is the American occupation of Afghanistan. [After the Americans] withdraw... the OIC [Organization of Islamic Conference] and the Muslim countries will have to come in and play their part. Then Afghanistan can redeem itself.
"I do not think that Afghanistan will be another Vietnam for the Americans, because they have said they will pull out. Obama is a president who is very unambiguous. In his State of the Union address, I think it was clear he was not addressing terrorism, but instead focusing on such internal issues as healthcare, unemployment and servicing debts. It appears that he is more focused on the domestic front than foreign affairs. You can't focus on both at the same time."
Q: "There has been a surge in violence in Pakistan since the exit of Pervez Musharraf, the former president. The Pakistani Taliban threatens towns and cities, and there are tensions between the PPP and MQM in key ports like Karachi. What is needed to stabilise Pakistan right now?"
A: "Cleaning up the mess politically. The rule of law must take root in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the more powerful among politicians and generals, when their turn comes – whether in martial law or civilian democracy – want to run the affairs of the country according to their own predilections and propensities. And that is where we go wrong.
"The political institution has to be set right; the Supreme Court and Parliament must be empowered. Right now, all the power is vested under the 17th Amendment, which was an amendment to the constitution passed by the dictator Musharraf in 2003. This gave more power to the office of the president [e.g. to appoint the army chief and dismiss parliament] and the ability to bypass the constitution and remain in leadership irrespective of elections.
"Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, now has that power, and he is refusing to budge. So, the 17th Amendment has to go, the parliament has to be empowered, rule of law by the Supreme Court has to be established and the army must not interfere. Then things will begin to fall in place, and we will be headed in the right direction."
"The Americans Fear the Reestablisment of the Supreme Court in Pakistan Because It Could Rule that the U.S. Drone Attacks Were Violations of the Country's Sovereignty"
Q: "Do you think the U.S. is helping Zardari stay in power because he is seen as co-operating in the so-called war on terror?"
A: "I think that there is ambivalence in their position, and that they do sometimes criticize him. The American press has bashed Zardari in the past, but it has now gone quiet. The Americans fear the reestablishment of the Supreme Court in Pakistan because it could rule that the U.S. drone attacks were violations of the country's sovereignty.
"If that happens, the parliament would have to act on the Supreme Court's decision and reverse the policy. The Americans are sceptical, and suspicious that if the Supreme Court is given free rein in Pakistan, it is likely to rule against their interests and agenda there."
Q: "Do you think the government will survive until the next national elections?"
A: "The government will survive, but I am almost certain Zardari will not. I do not want to appear to be clairvoyant, but I doubt Zardari has many days left in the government."
"As Far as Al-Qaeda Is Concerned, I Simply Say: Come Up with the Evidence for 9/11; You Haven't Even Charged Osama Bin Laden So Far, Which Means You Don't Have Hard Evidence Against Him"
Q: "In recent years, U.S. officials have accused you of having close ties with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. How do you respond to this?"
A: "No, this is false, I have no such ties. As far as Al-Qaeda is concerned, I simply say: Come up with the evidence for 9/11. You haven't even charged Osama bin Laden so far, which means you don't have hard evidence against him. The full story is yet to come out. In my opinion, all this is a gimmick, an inside job.
"In regard to the Taliban, I support their cause of Afghan resistance. I lend them my moral support because I have in the past had strong connections with them. Incidentally, I maintained strong connections with both sides. Many in the Afghan government are my good friends.
"But since the Taliban are representing the national spirit of resistance, I have given them my voice. The Americans sent my name to the UN Security Council to put me on a sanctions list and declare me an international terrorist. But they failed, because the Chinese knew the truth well and blocked the move.
"Basically, the Americans have nothing against me. I saw the charges and I replied to them in the English-language press in Pakistan. I told them: If you have anything against me, bring it forward and put me on trial. Tell me what wrong I have committed. I have taken moral stands. The Americans talk of freedom of speech, but apparently my speech hurts them, because it counters their excesses.
"I won't use the word 'interests' because what U.S. policy-makers are doing runs against the interests of the American people. If I say this is right and this is wrong, I am exercising my right, and, ultimately, this is to the benefit of the American people."
Q: "But Zardari once told a Western journal that you are a "political ideologue of terror."
A: "I wrote a letter to Zardari [saying] that I am an ideologue of jihad, which we share in common. He is a Muslim like myself and believes in the Holy Koran. Terror is a totally different thing. I do not support terror at all, but jihad is our right when a nation is oppressed. According to the United Nations Charter, national resistance for liberation is a right. We call this jihad."
Al-Jazeera Video of Interview
"It's Very Difficult to Say [Whether The ISI Still Supports Militant Groups]... Maybe in Some Cases, Individual Cases – I Won't Say As a Matter of Policy"
The Al-Jazeera television website, which published the Gul interview transcript, also posted a video of the interview, which differed slightly in content from the published version. Following are excerpts from the video.
Asked if Pakistan is "truly doing enough to combat the Afghan Taliban," Gul replied: "The Pakistani nation is not committed to this at all, because they deem it somebody else's war, which has unfortunately been dragged into Pakistan. So if you look at the national ethos, it is at variance with whatever the Pakistan government is doing [against the Taliban]..."
Gul also accused the current civilian government of carrying on the Musharraf-era policy of supporting the fight against the Taliban, saying: "The policies that Pervez Musharraf had set will continue rolling. In fact, not only they have done so over the past two years, despite democracy being in place [i.e. an elected government in power from 2008]. In fact, there has been a little bit of increase in this [fight against the Taliban]: the drone attacks have increased, and the American security contractors are milling around in Pakistan, which is being resented by the Pakistani nation. So, if you look at the whole picture from a macro point of view, you will see that the Pakistani nation is torn between two [sets of] demands – the demands of the American agenda and [those of] the will of the Pakistani people..."
Asked about the international community's concern over the ISI's involvement with militant organizations, and whether it is "clean in 2010," the former ISI chief said: "Well, it's very difficult to say... Maybe in some cases, individual cases – I won't say as a matter of policy – they may be doing things, which does happen, because, after all, a nation's attitudes change slowly, like the smooth curve of a railway track. But when you want to take a U-turn, some bogies will get derailed. We have seen the tribesmen falling against the Pakistan Army and we have suffered a lot of casualties..."
"After Obama's December 1st Speech, It's Become Clear That the Taliban Are Afghanistan's Future, and the Americans Its Past"
"After [U.S. President Barack] Obama's December 1st speech [at West Point, in which he announced a U.S. troop surge, as well as plans to leave Afghanistan], it's become clear that the Taliban are Afghanistan's future, and the Americans its past...
"A big question [is] whether it is in the interest of Pakistan that America and particularly India... win, and stay permanently in Afghanistan. Would that be in the long-term interest of Pakistan? Pakistan seems to be sandwiched on both sides, and the Indian front is very active. Indian generals are sending out threats to Pakistan daily. So then we have India, the Mossad, all the hostile forces on our back, which are the umbrella of America... They are fully involved in Baluchistan; they want to cut Pakistan [down] to size [i.e. disband it]."
"[Q: Does the ISI operate without the Pakistani government's approval? A:] On the small scale, I would say yes, but at the policy level no... Generally, what the Western press has been writing is that the ISI is reluctant to act against some of the Taliban groups in Afghanistan. If that is so, one can understand it... The Americans came from 12,000 km away, and they are in Afghanistan now. They say they will go away, but the Taliban will remain there..."
 "Talk to Al-Jazeera: Hamid Gul," February 19, 2010. The video can be accessed at the following link: http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/talktojazeera/2010/02/201021817300796969.html .
 Truancy comes to be the nearest meaning of the Urdu word "Shararat" in this context, which could also mean naughtiness and mischievousness.
 "Talk to Al-Jazeera: Hamid Gul," February 19, 2010. The video can be accessed at the following link: http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/talktojazeera/2010/02/201021817300796969.html.