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Afghan Election: Endorsement From Pakistan’s Ex-Spy Chief Causes Stir

Former Inter-Services Intelligence director Hamid Gul after his arrest in Islamabad in 2007
Former Inter-Services Intelligence director Hamid Gul after his arrest in Islamabad in 2007
KABUL -- In Afghanistan, perhaps no foreign institution is loathed as much as Pakistan's notorious spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The ISI trained, armed, and funded Afghan resistance fighters against the Soviet Union. It was credited with forming the Taliban. And to this day Afghanistan accuses the powerful agency of providing safe haven on Pakistani soil to a number of extremist insurgent groups bent on overthrowing the government in Kabul.

So it comes as no surprise that Afghans are venting their anger after former ISI chief Hamid Gul gave a ringing endorsement of Abdullah Abdullah, the front-runner in Afghanistan's runoff presidential election on June 14.

In an interview with AFP at his Rawalpindi home, the 77-year-old retired general said Abdullah was the best hope for peace in Afghanistan. This, Gul argued, was because of the candidate's past as a resistance fighter and his wise choice of running mates -- Mohammad Khan, an ally of powerful Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who has traditional ties to Pakistan, and Mohammad Mohaqeq, another powerful former Islamist warlord.

"Abdullah has a distinct advantage for future peace in Afghanistan -- if that is the objective and it should be -- [in] that he is a jihadi,” he said. “And the other people with him are also jihadis.”

"Ashraf Ghani is not a jihadi," he noted in reference to Abdullah's rival, a former Afghan finance minister who has spent much of his life in the West. "And for a jihadi to open a dialogue with a non-jihadi would be very difficult."

Gul is known as the "Godfather" of Pakistan’s strategy of using militant proxies to exert influence in neighboring countries, and the airing of his personal take on who is the better candidate has provoked widespread anger and dismay among Afghans on social-networking sites Twitter and Facebook.

Ali Latifi, a Kabul-based freelance journalist, questioned on Twitter why Gul would make the remarks.

Omar Samad, a senior Central Asia fellow at the New America Foundation and a former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada, questioned Gul’s motives.

And Samiullah Hussaini, an activist and head of the Open Debating Society of Afghanistan Organization, advised Gul to mind his own business.

During the 1990s, when the Taliban was fighting against the Northern Alliance, Gul served as a mediator. The Northern Alliance was led by Ahmad Shah Masud, a revered anti-Soviet commander who was also Abdullah’s mentor.

"At that time I used to live in Ahmad Shah Masud’s guesthouse, and Abdullah was deputed to look after me so I met him almost every day," Gul revealed during his interview with AFP.

Those remarks did not sit well with Abdullah's critics.

Meanwhile, Gul's warning that war in Afghanistan would continue if the next president signs a bilateral security agreement with the United States likely raised some eyebrows in Washington.

"The earlier the Afghan people see the back of them the better," said Gul, whose anti-American views are well documented.
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.