ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A former head of the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency said Sunday the United States wants him on a U.N. list of people and organizations linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Long retired, Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul told Reuters the U.S. moves against him began several weeks ago, pre-dating the latest controversy surrounding the ISI.
The agency is currently under scrutiny because of its past links with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Kashmir jihadi organization that India and U.S. officials suspect supplied the gunmen who killed at least 171 people in a horrifying attack on Mumbai last month.
Gul, a vocal critic of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, said Pakistani foreign ministry officials had confirmed to him the United States was trying to put him on the U.N. list. He said he had asked his government for support.
“I don’t know why America is so much after me,” said the bluff, mustachioed Gul from his home in the military cantonment area of Rawalpindi, the garrison town south of Islamabad.
Lou Fintor, spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said he had no information, and added it was government policy not to comment until action had been taken either by the United Nations or the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Pakistani officials could not be contacted.
The News newspaper reported Sunday that Gul was one of five former ISI officers the United States wanted the Security Council to put on the list to freeze their assets.
Gul was director-general of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, at the end of a mujahideen war, covertly funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia, to drive the Soviet army out of Afghanistan.
It was at the tail-end of this period that Pakistani support began for a separatist movement in Indian Kashmir. Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group whose leader hails from Sargodha, the same city as Gul, was founded in 1990.
Gul says he supports the Afghan resistance to Western forces at a moral and academic level, but no more than that.
A regular guest on Pakistani news channels, Gul maintains the September 11 attacks in the United States were more likely the work of a neo-con/zionist conspiracy than al Qaeda.
Speculation among analysts and Western media has bubbled for years that the ISI either secretly supports the Taliban, or there are rogue or retired officers helping the insurgents.
An old ISI colleague of Gul’s, Khalid Khawaja said he suspected his was another name the United States aimed to add to the U.N. list.
Khawaja said he kept up with old Taliban and militant contacts, but denied those ties extended to anything illegal.
“I openly say I have links with these people,” he said.
In contrast, Gul said he had severed all contact with the Taliban after 2001, and added that he had never been close to them as his Afghan connections were principally with the old mujahideen commanders from the 1980s.
The News reported that an unsigned two-page document purported that Gul had recent links to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Gul said he had seen a photocopy of the document and, though it was unsigned and bore no seal, he was sure where it came from.
“It was their style, I have no doubt that it was an American document,” said Gul.
The document said Gul had knowledge of the relocation of al Qaeda fighters from Iraq to the Pakistan-Afghan border region this year, and had earlier provided operational advice, financial and material support to the Taliban, and helped in the recruitment of fighters to attack Western forces in Afghanistan.
It also said he had contact with Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, whose fighters were suspected of assassinating two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto a year ago.
Gul was ISI chief during Bhutto’s first government in 1988-1990.
In a letter to then president Pervez Musharraf shortly before her death, Bhutto named Gul among a short-list of enemies who should be investigated if she was killed.
Gul said Bhutto had assured him that she was pressured to put his name in the letter, but she did not say by whom.
Additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Editing by Matthew Jones