The Washington Post yesterday profiled a Pakistani man named Hamid Gul, who served as head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency from 1987 to 1989. The article pointed out that Gul is viewed by U.S. officials as a terrorist, one who has been helping the Taliban oust U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
What makes the story interesting, however, is that it wasn’t always that way. Gul used to be a freedom fighter and a close friend and ally of the U.S. government.
Back when it was the Soviet Union that was the foreign occupier of Afghanistan, Gul and the U.S. government were working together to end the Soviet occupation. As the Post points out, Gul “helped the CIA funnel Islamist fighters to fight the Soviets.” In fact, it was during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that Osama bin Laden came into Afghanistan and made a name for himself as a freedom fighter.
According to the Post, Gul “readily acknowledged that he has maintained friendships with former mujaheddin such as Jalaluddin Haqqani, a onetime CIA-backed fighter whose network is now viewed as the coalition forces’ most lethal foe. ‘The Americans dropped him like a hot brick,’ Gul said. ‘Why should I drop him just because he is doing the same thing … that they did against the Soviet occupation? They are fighting for the liberation of their country.’”
The same Gul who was viewed by U.S. officials as a “pro-Western and moderate” freedom fighter is now viewed by the U.S. government as a “murderous terrorist agent.”
What accounts for the change in perspective? Before, Gul was helping the Afghans bring an end to the Soviet occupation of their country. That made him a freedom fighter. Now, however, Gul is helping the Afghanis bring an end to the U.S. occupation of their country, and that makes him a terrorist.
For his part, Gul maintains that his actions have been entirely consistent the entire time — helping the Afghanis end the foreign occupation of their country.
Which one is it? Is Gul a freedom fighter or a terrorist? The answer would seem to turn on who is doing the occupying and who is doing the labeling. As the old saying goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.