By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 8 -- A former high-ranking Pakistani intelligence official denied allegations Monday that he had given advice and support to a Pakistani militant group linked to the attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai late last month.
Retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, former director of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, first surfaced in connection with the armed Islamist group Lashkar-i-Taiba over the weekend when a high-ranking Pakistani government official said India is seeking Gul's arrest along with several other Pakistanis. The Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, said Gul was not suspected of having a direct role in the Mumbai attacks but was considered a political patron of Lashkar.
The Pakistani official acknowledged that Gul is widely viewed as the "godfather" of a Pakistani policy that used guerrilla groups such as Lashkar as proxies in the conflict with India over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. But the official said Pakistan declined to hand over Gul because he has no role in setting the operational agenda of Lashkar or other organizations within Pakistan. Reached at his home in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Monday, Gul said he was aware of the allegations but dismissed them as an effort to "malign" him.
"There seems to be an orchestrated campaign to somehow get me," he said.
Gul, 71, has acknowledged that he once was a member of a group of retired ISI officers, Pakistani scientists and others that was suspected by the United States of giving material support to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Gul said the organization, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, was formed by a group of Pakistani businessmen to aid war-ravaged industries in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Treasury Department declared Ummah Tameer-e-Nau a terrorist group after a search of the group's offices in the Afghan capital, Kabul, unearthed documents referencing plans to kidnap a U.S. diplomat and outlining basic physics related to nuclear weapons.
Gul said he had recently been informed by a senior official in Pakistan's Foreign Ministry that he had been placed on a U.S. watch list of global terrorists, along with several others. He said that he was shown a U.S. document that detailed several charges against him, including allegations that he had ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Indian and U.S. officials say Gul, who served as an army tank commander before he was named director of the ISI in 1987, has maintained strong ties to Lashkar and has played an advisory role in several recent attacks.
An Indian intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Gul, who retired after serving as head of the ISI for two years, has been placed on a U.S. terrorist watch list because of his alleged ties to Lashkar. The Indian intelligence official said Gul is a "close adviser" of the group and regularly attends Lashkar meetings. "As recent as this November, he attended their congregation at Muridke and Pattoki. He addresses their gatherings and also defends the Lashkar at every forum. He is considered a guide by Lashkar," the Indian intelligence official said.
But the official also said that no direct link has been made between Gul and the Mumbai attacks and that investigators believe ISI officers allegedly connected to the attacks are still actively working for the Pakistani intelligence agency. "A person who helped organize this attack in Mumbai is definitely a serving ISI officer, not retired," the Indian intelligence official said. Pakistan has denied that allegation.
Gul, self-confident, well educated, outspoken and always impeccably dressed, worked closely with the CIA and Saudi intelligence agencies to support and train Afghan resistance groups fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Gul eventually turned against the United States after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
Gul said he believes U.S. officials are targeting him because he has publicly expressed his political support for Taliban and Afghan rebel groups who are fighting U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan. He said his brief meetings with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s and his call for a reinvestigation of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks also have attracted attention.
"I simply fail to understand what all the hullabaloo is about. It's simply because I speak loudly about the fact that 9/11 was a bloody hoax," Gul said. "It was an inside job."