The News on Sunday: How do you see Pakistan’s policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan? Is there a revision of the strategic depth policy?
General (retd) Hamid Gul: Our policies were anti-Afghanistan neither in the past nor today. A united and peaceful Afghanistan would be in Pakistan’s favour. A divide among the Afghan people in the name of ethnicity will never serve our purpose. Peace in Afghanistan would open the Central Asian market. This has been a natural trade route for centuries. We have a shared history with Afghanistan. They helped us in the past when the Hindus tried to overpower Muslims in the region. Whether it was Shahabuddin Ghauri, Mehmood Ghaznavi, or Ahmed Shah Abdali, they always helped us against the tyrannies of Hindus. We did the same during the Russian invasion and helped our Afghan brothers against the invading force. Afghan people are part of our culture. Apparently, Afghanistan and Pakistan are two countries but in reality they are two faces of one soul.
It was so unfortunate that we decided to help the US invade Afghanistan; we should not have had taken that decision. When the USSR attacked Afghanistan, we stood with the Afghan brothers and we competed against the USSR with courage.
We have a long border with Afghanistan and before the US invasion of Afghanistan; we never deployed soldiers on that part of the border. But after the US came to Afghanistan, it paved way for India to come to Afghanistan in a big way which forced us to deploy soldiers on the Pak-Afghan border.
The US has almost conceded defeat in Afghanistan and, in its new policy, India’s role is being decreased in Afghanistan. The US knows that the only face-saving arrangement for her in Afghanistan is to give importance to Pakistan.
Do you think Ashraf Ghani visited the GHQ without the US consent? He has been decreasing the Indian influence in Afghanistan slowly. India has already lost the great game in Hindukush area.
TNS: Do you think the military establishment and civilian government are on the same page on Afghanistan?
HG: I would only say (without elaborating) that one out of two Sharifs (Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff, Raheel Sharif) has succeeded.
TNS: Do you think the drawdown of the US forces from Afghanistan would bring peace in the region?
HG: The first and foremost pre-requisite for peace in Afghanistan is complete drawdown of the US forces. First, it announced to keep 9,800 troops but now it has increased the number to 10,800 troops. This is not withdrawal. Peace would not come in Afghanistan. I always say that two fs — freedom and faith — are an integral part of the Afghan psyche. They will never tolerate occupation of their land and will fight back. They are free people by nature. They fought two wars with the British armies, defeated Russia and fought against the Nato forces led by the US. Even Alexander the Great could not leave any big impression on Afghanistan; he could not stay there. So, if American troops stay in Afghanistan, attacks will [continue to] happen. Nothing can stop it. The military operation in North Waziristan is a success so far but it would not be able to serve the purpose unless the US leaves Afghanistan.
TNS: Why does Indian presence in Afghanistan bother Pakistan?
HG: Indians have been supporting the Afghan intelligence agency. They have been able to create problems for Pakistan in Balochistan while sitting in Afghanistan. Colonel Imam was martyred by Hakeemullah Mehsud under the Indian pressure. India’s increasing influence in Afghanistan was very unnatural and against the history of the region. India needs to understand that its space in Afghanistan has already shrunk. Narendra Modi is getting aggressive because he knows that he has been losing space in Afghanistan. This shows his frustration.
TNS: But how do you see the increasing influence of China in Afghanistan? Should Pakistan not worry about it?
HG: China is our friend. It is good that it has been gaining strength in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also played an important role in creating that scenario. We have given China access to Gawadar. It has been planning to spend $200 billion for the development of infrastructure in the region. It has also been focusing on strengthening infrastructure in Afghanistan. China’s increased influence in Afghanistan will open great avenues of opportunities for Pakistan.
TNS: What implications would the drawdown of US forces have for Afghanistan? Do you think Afghanistan is ready for this political transition or there still are chances that Taliban could take over Kabul?
HG: This is a writing on the wall. The political change has not been able to hold its feet in Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani is a good person and has been trying to steer Afghanistan in the right direction. But it is also true that he has not announced his cabinet yet. There is a surge in Taliban attacks in recent days. As Oscar Wilde said, ‘the true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible’. So, it is visible that Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah have not been able to work out their differences while the surge in attacks means that the Taliban are regaining strength.
The US has already announced reduction in the aid. They do not know the Afghan people. Once they decrease the pumping in of money, even they will find their best friends on the other side.