Document leak part of U.S. plot, says Pakistani ex-general with ties to Taliban

The war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001, as the U.S. military launched an operation in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. The war continues today.
By Karin Brulliard
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN -- From the deluge of leaked military documents published Sunday, a former Pakistani spy chief emerged as a chilling personification of his nation's alleged duplicity in the Afghan war -- an erstwhile U.S. ally turned Taliban tutor.

Now planted squarely in the cross hairs, retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul seems little short of delighted.

In an interview Tuesday, Gul dismissed the accusations against him as "fiction" and described the documents' release as the start of a White House plot. It will end, he posited, with an early U.S. pullout from Afghanistan -- thus proving Gul, an unabashed advocate of the Afghan insurgency, right.

President Obama "is a very good chess player. . . . He says, 'I don't want to carry the historic blame of having orchestrated the defeat of America, their humiliation in Afghanistan,' " said Gul, 74, adding that the plot incorporates a troop surge that Obama knows will fail. "It doesn't sell to a professional man like me."

That sort of theory makes Gul an incarnation of some of the United States' greatest challenges in dealing with Pakistan, a U.S. ally. Here, prominent figures closely linked to the security establishment not only trumpet what they view as vast American scheming but also, U.S. officials and the leaked documents allege, provide support to Afghan rebels.

Gul did that in an official capacity as head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency from 1987 to 1989, when he helped the CIA funnel Islamist fighters into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Eloquent and polished, he was viewed by his American partners as pro-Western and moderate, while his Saudi benefactors saw him as a pious, conservative Muslim.

After the Soviet withdrawal, the Saudis' characterization seemed to prevail. Gul continued to support the rebels in a semiofficial capacity, as did other elements of Pakistan's security forces that view the Taliban as a tool for influence in Afghanistan, U.S. officials say.

With the greatest detail yet made public, the leaked documents depict American views of Gul as a murderous terrorist agent. According to some of the documents, he possessed dozens of bombs for Taliban fighters to detonate in Kabul, instructed militants to kidnap United Nations workers, hatched a plan for a suicide bombing in Afghanistan to avenge an insurgent and assured fighters that Pakistan would provide them haven.

The reports are unconfirmed. But they are hardly surprising to those closely following the Afghan war, or to Gul himself. On Monday, he described himself as a "whipping boy" for the United States.

Current and former U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, variously described him as "very dirty" and a man with a "horrible reputation."

"There's no doubt where his sympathies lie," a U.S. official said, echoing the views of many Pakistani defense analysts. "Even though Gul may not be a card-carrying member of a terrorist group, he stays in touch with militants, offering his insights and advice on their activities."

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