ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Hamid Gul, an influential and contentious three-star general who served as the head of the 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, has died at age 78.
General Gul never relinquished his public role, remaining closely tied to regional politics and supporting Islamic militancy against Western powers.
He died of a brain hemorrhage on Saturday evening in Murree, a picturesque hill station near Islamabad, the capital, according to Uzma Gul, his daughter.
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.
A vocal and staunch critic of the United States, he often said proudly that he was hated by the Americans. During his tenure as ISI 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 as head of the ISI in 1989 and retired from military service in 1992.
Earlier, 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 geostrategist who believed in pan-Islamism and supported Muslim separatist movements, especially in neighboring 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 like 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, attacks were the handiwork 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 the 2001 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. His house, in a military compound in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, was visited regularly by journalists, politicians and Islamic leaders.
Despite the plethora of political and terror-related controversies surrounding him, he was never tainted by any charges of financial or moral corruption.