The death of Lt General (retd) Hamid Gul will not result in universal mourning. For some, he was the supreme patriot, for others the man who laid the foundations of many of the troubles we experience today. He has been labelled as “the father of the Taliban” and was certainly instrumental in their rise to power in Afghanistan, but in reality, his role was more nurturing than creative in any fatherly sense. He was a conservative ideologue to the end, much favoured by right-wing TV anchors and the religious political parties. They will mourn his passing. Internationally, both India and Afghanistan view him with a less than favourable eye. He was the man who took up the mantle of the Ziaul Haq era and carried it forward to the modern context to the delight of some and the disapprobation of others. His role in the formation of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad before the 1988 elections to rival the PPP is well-known, making him all the more controversial. He was a man to inspire polarity, and the echoes of his deeds in life are going to resonate in Pakistan for a long time, such is the depth of his influence.
After his retirement as head of the premier intelligence agency, the ISI (which he ran for two years 1987-89), he found a second career as a pundit-at-large and all-purpose security consultant. He also found politics in the late 1990s and remained close to the Taliban until the end of his life. His very considerable following in Pakistan is closely allied to the drift towards extremism of the last 20 years, and whether his death will do anything to arrest that trend is too early to say. For many, his espousal of a radical ideology is exactly what Pakistan needed to lead it away from the swamps it perennially inhabits; for others, Hamid Gul was the creator of the very swamps which others see his ideology as leading us out of. He will remain a controversial figure, his legacy differently interpreted by all sides, nationally and internationally. How much of a patriot he really was, only history will decide.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2015.