In a recent interview, Lt.-Gen. (retired) Hamid Gul, former chief of Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), argued that it is not in Pakistan's interest to be part of the U.S. efforts for peace talks with the Taliban. "It is good if Pakistan is not involved in the talks [with the Taliban] because the goals that the U.S. wants to achieve are not in Pakistan's interest. The U.S. wants Indian supremacy in Afghanistan," he added.
In the interview, conducted after the May 2, 2011 Abbottabad operation, Gul noted that the situation began shifting in favor of Pakistan after the Pakistani military began confronting the U.S. He stated: "If the U.S. wants Pakistani assistance, it should come with its issues, but it should keep it in mind that American goals cannot be achieved because the Taliban are not defeated, but it is the U.S. [which has been defeated in Afghanistan]." The interview was published by the right-wing Urdu-language daily Roznama Ummat.
On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Gul granted another interview to the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. In it, he said that the "9/11 was basically a pretext for the Americans to establish a permanent presence in Afghanistan, as this is a central strategic location. From here, the Americans can contain China, control the Middle East and South Asia, and keep an eye on Central Asia. Pakistan represents their central target."
Accusing the U.S. and India of aiding the Taliban and trying todestablize Karachi so that the Pakistan Army could be embroiled in a security operation in Karachi, Pakistan's largest commercial city, the former ISI chief said Pakistan has found an important ally in China, which could enable Pakistan to confront the U.S. "Our problem was that we didn't have any alternative [to the U.S.]. Luckily we now have an alternative in the form of China," he said. He added: "China will become an economic superpower without firing a single bullet. China will be the biggest beneficiary when U.S. troops leave the region."
He also noted, "The U.S. divided the Pakistani nation and has asked India to provide weapons to Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan. They are the ones responsible for destabilizing Karachi. In addition to this, India is fragmenting. Take it from me, their democracy is falling apart and voices of revolution are coming out of India."
Roznama Ummat Interview
"It Is the U.S.'s Misunderstanding That It Will Be Able to Hold Talks With the Taliban… By Keeping Pakistan Out"
Question: "U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has confirmed that they are holding talks with the Taliban. Announcements regarding talks with the Taliban are being made and humiliation of Pakistan is also continuing. What would the role of Pakistan be in this backdrop, for the U.S. is holding direct talks with Taliban?"
Hamid Gul: "It is the U.S.'s misunderstanding that it will be able to hold talks with the Taliban on its own, by keeping Pakistan out; it is altogether impossible. The Taliban have grievances against us but not as much as they have against the U.S. The Taliban are asking the U.S. to first give a deadline of their exit from Afghanistan, only then the talks would be held.
"Americans have three major goals: one, The Taliban should join Karzai government; two, [the Taliban should] accept the constitution [of Afghanistan] made by them [the U.S.]; and third, the [Taliban should accept] establishment of their military bases. This is the same scenario as when the U.S., at the time of Soviet troop withdrawal, wanted the Mujahideen to include [Afghan leader] Najibullah in the government…"
"The whole scenario of that period is before me; and the U.S. is merely repeating that case. Today only we can say what would be the next step of the U.S.; despite all these troubles Allah is again kind to Pakistan and the key to the resolution of this issue lies with Pakistan. American goals have come to the fore and they are just groping in the dark. The real opposition is the Taliban; and [Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar is of the same view… [Hekmatyar] is not as powerful as Mullah Omar…"
"The Taliban had Set Three Conditions for Direct Talks: First, Give a Date of [Troop] Withdrawal; Second, Release Our Prisoners; And Third, Drop the Allegation of Terrorism on the Taliban"
Question: "But why does the U.S. want to keep Pakistan out?"
Hamid Gul: "The Taliban are not ready to accept the conditions which the U.S. is putting before them. While the U.S. wants Pakistan to get these conditions met, Pakistan could not do that. The Americans are pressuring Pakistan instead of holding talks. The Americans are used to taking the course of pressuring, assaulting and sometimes cajoling to get their work done by Pakistan. [Former Pakistani President] Pervez Musharraf made them habitual of keeping Pakistan suppressed; and now they want to get every work done through pressure and 'do more' [demands].
"If the U.S. wants Pakistani assistance, it should come with its issues but it should keep in mind that American goals cannot be achieved because the Taliban were not defeated, rather it is the U.S. [which has been defeated in Afghanistan]. Even if the U.S. includes Pakistan in its talks with Taliban, even then their conditions will not be acceptable to the Taliban. That is why it is a good thing, in my view, that Pakistan is not included in the talks. Unless the U.S. makes amendments in its demands, unless the establishment of an interim government takes place in Afghanistan, this problem will not be resolved."
Question: "But they are inviting the Taliban to join the government?"
Hamid Gul: "[There is a need for] an interim government which could make arrangements for American retreat or hold talks either through [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai or directly. The Taliban had set three conditions for direct talks: first, give a date of [troop] withdrawal; second, release our prisoners; and third, drop the allegation of terrorism on the Taliban. The Taliban have put these three basic conditions for talks [but] Americans are not ready for that. However, time for being beaten by onions and shoes has come for the Americans. It will happen but till that time they must suffer lots of beating. That is why the Taliban are maintaining the strategy of not holding talks with the U.S. now.
"Now the U.S. is offering dollars for holding talks with the Taliban. Earlier, a person named Akhtar Mansoor made $5 million [by promising to broker talks]. The Americans are being looted by many such Afghans but there are no talks with the Taliban because talks could not be held with those U.S. goals. That is why I find it better if they themselves keep Pakistan out. If they involve Pakistan in it – then they would ask Pakistan to force the Taliban to hold talks by putting the arms down and this would be a ridiculous condition.
"Pakistan should in no way accept any such U.S. conditions. Afghans take their decision after lots of considerations. When our help was continuing for the Afghan jihad [in the 1980s], General Ziaul Haq [the Pakistani military ruler] had suggested to them to make a three-party government in which Najibullah should also be included. The Mujahideen did not accept that. I had also asked General Ziaul Haq not to try to make the Afghan Mujahideen accept such things. In this perspective, it is better for Pakistan not to be included in the talks. Nothing could be achieved through dialogues unless the U.S. cuts down its conditions. That is why it is better to keep away from the talks."
"It is Good If Pakistan is Not Involved in the Talks [With the Taliban] Because the Goals that the U.S. Wants to Achieve are Not in Pakistan's Interest"
Question: "Were Americans going to hold talks with the Haqqani Network?"
Hamid Gul: "The U.S. always wants to divide the Taliban. [Jalaluddin] Haqqani had taken an oath of allegiance on the hands of Mullah Omar; the Haqqani Network is not independent… Jalaluddin Haqqani cannot hold any dialogue on his own, and he will not do so. They had tried to hold talks with Hekmatyar. [Afghan government representatives] Arsalan Rahmani and Burhanuddin Rabbani had started this process but when Rabbani came to visit me I told him that the path they are taking will not make headway…"
"The U.S. is putting the condition [that the Talban] accept the constitution. How will they accept the constitution prepared by an occupying nation? I had a detailed meeting with him [Jalaluddin Haqqani]. I said that the Sharia system would be implemented in Afghanistan in any case. The Americans think that some solution might come out. Many of their spies come to me disguised as American journalists; when I say that the Taliban would not agree to any system other than the Sharia, those Americans say that the Sharia system will not be acceptable to them. Then my answer to them is: stay 20 more years in Afghanistan because Sharia would surely be implemented in Afghanistan. The situation will change when the occupation's U.S. forces' first contingent leaves Afghanistan…"
Question: "[The Pakistani military] says that they are under both internal and external pressure [to act against the militants]. Which pressure should be accepted…?"
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Hamid Gul: "My suggestion is that we should talk by standing up with full confidence and tell the Americans that this will not go anymore. Neither do they fund our… [military operations] nor do they share intelligence in accordance with their promise; they hold us responsible instead [for not acting against militants]. Therefore, if we stand up, the U.S. will retreat. It needs Pakistan very much and it cannot do without Pakistan.
"It is good if Pakistan is not involved in the talks [with the Taliban] because the goals that the U.S. wants to achieve are not in Pakistan's interest. The U.S. wants Indian supremacy in Afghanistan; that is why the U.S. has put Afghanistan in South Asia, taking it out from West Asia [i.e. Middle East on world map]. The second condition is that Pakistan and Afghanistan should accept Israel... Then a coalition government could be established and then the constitution prepared by the U.S. could be accepted and permanent bases for the U.S. could be established [in Afghanistan]. These all are impossible."
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Interview
"There Have Been Internal Reports Issued by the U.S. Administration That the Real Threat to American Influence in the Coming Decades Will Be From Muslims and China"
Question: "Now, one decade after the terrible events of 9/11, what is the security situation in the region? Do you think Pakistan and Afghanistan are safer than they were before? Is America safer?"
Hamid Gul: "Firstly, we must understand that 9/11 was basically a pretext for the Americans to establish a permanent presence in Afghanistan, as this is a central strategic location. From here, the Americans can contain China, control the Middle East and South Asia, and keep an eye on Central Asia. Pakistan represents their central target. I could put forward a lot of arguments of a technical nature to the effect that 9/11 was an inside job. I could go into detail, but this will divert from the subject of your interview.
"There have been internal reports issued by the U.S. administration that the real threat to American influence in the coming decades will be from Muslims and China. The Russians killed 1.3 million Afghans; however so far the Americans have only killed 50,000 Afghans. Historians are in agreement that America is a declining power… In my opinion, the Americans have now lost in the [Afghan] battlefield.
"As far as Pakistan is concerned, there were security concerns [before 9/11], there are security concerns today, and there will be security concerns in the near future. However we have not left the danger zone. The situation where the Americans could have pressured us is no more."
"China will Be the Biggest Beneficiary When U.S. Troops Leave the Region; On the Other Hand, Islamic Forces Are Also Moving to Confront India"
Question: "You have always been a strong critic of U.S. military presence in the region. If the U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan on schedule in 2014, how will this impact the regional security situation?"
Hamid Gul: "China will become an economic superpower without firing a single bullet. China will be the biggest beneficiary when U.S. troops leave the region. This will mean that China will emerge as the most important power in the region, particularly as China enjoys naturally strong relations with Pakistan. As far as India is concerned, I have always said that India is on the wrong side of history."
Question: "However isn't India also an emerging economic power?"
Hamid Gul: "No, it is not. Their economic strength is false. In India, 300 million people have joined the middle class and they are enjoying urban elite status, but this does not mean that the 900 million deprived Indians will not rise up one day. There is the so-called 'red corridor' in India where Maoist movements are present. On the other hand, Islamic forces are also moving to confront India. India was with the capitalist forces in this war against Islamic forces, and the Islamic forces are winning.
"As for China, it is not merely an economic power; it is also a strategic ally of Pakistan. Recently China has taken very strong positions in support of Pakistan and has criticized India. In the wake of the Abbottabad operation (that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden), the Chinese [also] took a strong position in support of Pakistan."
"The U.S. … Asked India to Provide Weapons to Tehreek-e-Taliban; They Are… Responsible for Destabilizing Karachi; India is Fragmenting; The Combination of Afghanistan And Pakistan, with China at Their Back, will Be Too Powerful a Bloc [Against the U.S. and India]"
Question: "Do you believe that the Pakistani government and military will be able to stabilize Pakistan in the event that U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan?"
Hamid Gul: "Yes, Pakistan can definitely stabilize itself. [In fact] U.S. influence has been a destabilizing factor. Look at Karachi, for example; who is responsible for the massacre in Karachi? The U.S. divided the Pakistani nation and has asked India to provide weapons to Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan. They are the ones responsible for destabilizing Karachi. In addition to this, India is fragmenting. Take it from me, their democracy is falling apart and voices of revolution are coming out of India.
"An alternative to the democratic system has to emerge, and that can come from Islamic sources. Religion is a very powerful sentiment. Islam is even more powerful because it is in a resurgent state. It is a comprehensive system; that is why it is so dominant. Therefore Pakistan can emerge as a model on three issues; religion, nationalism, and democracy. This is because we are constitutionally committed to all these dominant trends of the 21st century. The combination of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with China at their back, will be too powerful a bloc [against the U.S. and India]. This represents a potential emerging giant in the world, not through territorial expansions, but by acting as a role model."
Question: "Following the 9/11 attacks, the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan witnessed a steep rise in religious militancy. What, in your opinion, were the causes for this, and how do you see the situation developing in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the coming years?"
Hamid Gul: "The primary cause is the presence of such a large number of foreign occupation troops in Afghanistan. This is such a huge conflict and it certainly had its repercussions. When a bomb falls on the ground, the shrapnel flies in all direction and become very harmful [to everybody]. This was not our fight; this was the fight of the Americans who [former Pakistani President] General Musharraf brought to our homeland.
"General Musharraf first divided the Pakistani nation through his policies. He pitted enlightened moderates against extremists. Have you ever seen a leader who divides his own nation in this manner? General Musharraf's policies created a reaction in the people who name themselves Islamists. They thought that both their own government and the American government were against them. This reaction led to an upheaval within Pakistani society."
"Americans are Asking Pakistan to Accept Indian Hegemony in the Region; Our Problem Was That We Had No Alternative [to the U.S.]; Luckily We Now Have An Alternative, In the Form of China"
Question: "You previously claimed that Pakistan and Afghanistan, supported by China, will emerge as a powerful international bloc; however the Pakistani ruling elite today are pro-U.S. So how is this possible?"
Hamid Gul: "We have to take the new situation in Pakistan into account. The Pakistani military has now started taking firmer positions on different issues regarding our national interests. What they are saying [to Washington] is 'friends not masters.' This explains the whole history of Pakistan's relations with the U.S. They start by making Pakistan a friend but in the end we realize that in fact they are our masters… and that they are treating us like subordinates. This is something that begins to fester in the mind, and so Pakistan has now started to take a stand against Washington.
"Now they (the U.S.) are desperately asking Pakistani army to start an operation in North Waziristan. They want to create a situation in Karachi to embroil the Pakistani army in. In fact, there a tussle taking place between the will of the Pakistani people and the U.S. agenda in the region. In addition to this, the Americans are asking Pakistan to accept Indian hegemony in the region. Our problem was that we had no alternative [to the U.S.]. Luckily we now have an alternative, in the form of China."
"If We [Pakistan] Play a Role in Afghanistan, Then Iran will Demand to Play a Role; If Iran Plays a Role, Then Many in the Arab World Will Also Demand a Role in This Situation"
Question: "How can Pakistan help to stabilize Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal?"
Hamid Gul: "The Afghans are quite capable of handling their own affairs. Pakistan should not even try to poke its nose in the affairs of the Afghans. Look at history; they [the Afghans] have repeatedly defeated superpowers on their own territory. Nobody has ever succeeded in controlling Afghanistan. They defeated the British three times; the Russians once; and now they are on the verge of defeating the Americans. History tells us that they are capable of resolving their own disputes, so what advice can we give them?"
Question: "But surely Pakistan will play some future political role in Afghanistan?"
Hamid Gul: "This is a very complex situation, because if we play a role in Afghanistan, then Iran will demand to play a role. If Iran plays a role, then many in the Arab world will also demand a role in this situation. So in my opinion nobody should play any role in Afghanistan's situation.
"Americans want to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They are demanding that they be given bases in Afghanistan. Let me tell you, even [Afghan President] Hamid Karzai will not be prepared to give them [permanent] bases in Afghanistan. When they asked for this, he told them that this was not his decision; it is the decision of the [Afghan] parliament.
"Secondly he presented three conditions to the Americans; firstly, that U.S. bases will be under Afghan law; secondly, that U.S. bases will not be used as a base for an invasion of any kind against a third country; and thirdly that the Americans will provide weapons to Afghan troops. The Americans have lost; they will never to be able to achieve their objectives. But yes, I still say that the people of Afghanistan are ready to declare that they will not allow their territory to be used against any other country, whilst they also require additional time for the reconstructing of their country."
Question: "What about the fears that Afghanistan may be transformed into a battleground between Pakistan and India?"
Hamid Gul: "India has played a very negative role in Afghanistan. If India is assigned any role in Afghanistan, then Pakistan will definitely get involved in Afghanistan [as well]. It will be a very bad situation. I think nobody should have any role in Afghanistan. If Pakistan doesn't have any role, than Indian[s] should also similarly not have any role."
"Al-Qaeda Trapped the Americans in Afghanistan And Now They Have Shifted Their Interest to the Middle East; A Broad-Based Government in Afghanistan is a Possibility Only After the U.S. Withdraws from the Country"
Question: "Will the attempts for reconciliation [with Taliban] in Afghanistan succeed?"
Hamid Gul: "The Americans are working towards the Taliban joining the coalition government. I think it is impossible. The Americans want the Taliban to distance themselves from Al-Qaeda; however that is a misconception. Al-Qaeda has a different objective from the Taliban. Al-Qaeda trapped the Americans in Afghanistan and now they have shifted their interest to the Middle East. A broad-based government in Afghanistan is a possibility only after the U.S. withdraws from the country."
Question: "Do you think that there are details about the Abbottabad operation, which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden, still to come to light?"
Hamid Gul: "Yes, definitely. Osama Bin Laden died. However the CIA had [previously] shut down the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in 2005, and during the next three years of his presidential term, George W. Bush didn't even once mention Osama bin Laden in his speeches. When Obama came to power he wanted to bring the war to an end. He wanted to be a president of peace and after it was discovered that some members of Osama bin Laden were living near Abbottabad they [the U.S. and Pakistan] planned this operation.
"However during this period, the issue of Raymond Davis (the American CIA contractor who killed two Pakistani citizens in Lahore) occurred. This led to tensions between CIA chief [Leon] Panetta and ISI chief Lt.-General [Ahmed Shuja] Pasha. This resulted in the CIA announcing that they didn't trust the ISI, and the Americans then carried out this operation unilaterally.
"I Think… [Al-Zawahiri] Has Gone to Yemen; I Don't Think He Is in Pakistan; He Did Get Married in Bajaur [in Pakistan] But I Think Al-Qaeda's Center of Gravity Has Shifted to the Middle East"
Question: "Have you read the statements by Osama Bin Laden's wives and daughters regarding this operation? These statements were made by the bin Laden family members to Pakistani intelligence officers, and were later leaked to the media. What is your opinion of these statements?"
Hamid Gul: "These reports are not worth commenting on. I don't trust these reports."
Question: "Do you believe new Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is hiding out in the Pakistani tribal area?"
Hamid Gul: "No, I think he has gone to Yemen. I don't think he is in Pakistan. He did get married in Bajaur [in the Pakistani tribal area] but I think Al-Qaeda's center of gravity has shifted to the Middle East. There is not a heavy Al-Qaeda presence in Pakistan; there are only a couple of dozen [Al-Qaeda] members here only."
1 Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), June 21, 2011.
2 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 11, 2011. The text of the interview has been lightly edited for clarity.