RIP: Former Pakistan spy chief who questioned official story of 9/11 dies

New York Times | 16 Aug 2015

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Hamid Gul, an influential and contentious three-star general who served as the head of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s spy agency, from 1987 to 1989 and was deeply involved in the country’s policy toward neighboring Afghanistan when Soviet troops were withdrawing, died on Saturday in Muree, a hill station near Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. He was 78.

The cause was a brain hemorrhage, his daughter, Uzma Gul, said.

General Gul never relinquished his public role, remaining closely tied to regional politics and supporting Islamic militancy against Western powers.

A staunch critic of the United States, he often said proudly that he was hated by the Americans. During his tenure as intelligence chief, he helped the United States and Saudi Arabia funnel money and weapons to Afghan fighters. But he later had a falling-out with the Americans and with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, who accused him of supporting the most hard-line fighters. He was replaced in 1989 and retired from military service in 1992.

General Gul helped to cobble together an alliance of right-wing political parties in the 1988 general elections. While the powerful Pakistani military has a history of meddling in politics, he was the first general to publicly admit his role in political wheeling and dealing.

Never known to mince words, he saw himself as an ideologue and a geostrategist who believed in pan-Islamism and supported Muslim separatist movements, especially in India. He also supported Kashmiri militant separatists and once described the heavily militarized boundary in the disputed Kashmir region as “worse than the Berlin Wall.”

General Gul was deeply sympathetic to the Afghan guerrillas who fought against the Soviets and later to the Afghan Taliban. He boasted of close ties to Osama bin Laden and to the Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, as well as to several other militant leaders, including Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

His pronouncements led to his sometimes being referred to as the godfather of the Taliban, and he was accused of abetting the Taliban insurgency against the American presence in Afghanistan. But he described charges that he was a supporter of terrorism as “fiction.”

General Gul also refused to acknowledge that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were the work of Al Qaeda. Instead, he referred to them as an “inside job” and a “Jewish conspiracy.”

He bitterly criticized the decision of the former Pakistani president and army chief Pervez Musharraf to side with the Americans after those attacks. In 2007, when a political movement to oppose Mr. Musharraf’s rule gained momentum, General Gul became a prominent participant and took part in countrywide rallies against the military ruler.

While some members of Pakistani liberal circles reviled General Gul, holding him responsible for following and advocating self-destructive geopolitical policies, many right-wing politicians and nationalists hailed him and regarded him as an inspiration.

He was a frequent presence at political rallies of Islamist hard-line politicians. He was eloquent and engaging in conversation and appeared regularly on political talk shows, often promulgating what critics termed fantastical conspiracy theories.

Despite the plethora of political and terror-related controversies surrounding him, he was never tainted by any charges of financial or moral corruption.

General Gul was born in Sargodha, in Punjab Province, on Nov. 20, 1936, and was commissioned into the army in 1956. He fought in two wars against India.

General Gul is survived by a widow, a daughter and two sons.

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