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The Rediff Special


The Rediff Interview / General Gul Hassan Khan

'Benazir talks rubbish. She is highly immature and so was her father'

Gul Hassan Khan I have no hatred towards India," says General Gul Hassan Khan who fought three wars against India. "Fighting a war against one country is just like going into a boxing ring. After the match is over, you shake hands with your enemy," says the former Pakistani army chief disarmingly.

The general, who was born in Rawalpindi, was educated at the Royal Indian Military College (now the Rashtriya Indian Military College), Dehra Dun. In 1933 he was commissioned in the British army. After Partition, he served the Pakistani army for 25 years. He resigned as army chief following differences with the then Pakistan prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

He now spends half the year in Vienna, Austria; the other half he spends in Rawalpindi.

The general visited India last week to celebrate his alma mater's platinum jubilee. In this exhaustive interview with Rediff On The NeT's Syed Firdaus Ashraf he discusses the problems facing India and Pakistan, the likely issues at next week's foreign secretary summit in New Delhi among many other issues. A lively and illuminating encounter.

After Benazir Bhutto was defeated, she said she had paid for her hawkish position on India. Is that correct?

Benazir Bhutto Benazir talks rubbish. She is highly immature and so was her father. One American journalist, who was writing a book on Bhutto, came and asked me, "Everybody say that Bhutto was intelligent. Do you find him intelligent?" I said, "If he was intelligent, he would have been alive today." Who says Benazir was harsh on India?

During the elections, did she not take an anti-India stance?

Look, this was just in the last phase of the elections, for political purposes. When Rajiv Gandhi came to Pakistan, she was all over him. She had private meetings with him and his family. We must not forget one thing. That our people are fed up, your people are fed up too. All of us want development.

Do you think at the ground level, at the common man on the street level, there is a genuine desire for peace with India?

Zulfikar Bhutto I think so. Last year my friends from India came to Pakistan and went all over the place. They were received very warmly. They want to the Khyber Pass and Peshawar. They were treated as State guests. And the same is the case in India. Pakistani and Indian people, you see, are very simple.

There is great suspicion in India about your Inter Service Intelligence? Is the ISI really an extra constitutional organisation in Pakistan?

I don't think so. As far as the ISI is concerned, it sprung up only in Bhutto's days. When I was in the army I did not pay much attention to the ISI.

Why is it whenever something goes wrong in India fingers are pointed at the ISI?

(Laughs) Because there is no one to blame. The same is the case in Pakistan. Whenever something goes wrong, we blame RAW.

What is the ISI's role in Pakistan?

General Zia-Ul-Haq They are not that powerful. They can be put in their place. They are not an autonomous body. The problem with the ISI is that sometimes, the government wants to control it and sometimes the army wants to control it. So there is a lot of confusion.

How does it operate?

I have no idea at all.

You must be joking.

No, honestly. I have no idea. I don't know these chaps. They are interfering in the country's affairs. I have heard only that much. But in my time they were not doing that.

Is it true that when Pakistani generals, especially President Zia realised that it was not possible for Pakistan to vanquish India in battle that the idea of Operation Topac and K2 was born to create insurgencies in Kashmir and Punjab?

I have no idea. I was not there in Pakistan. I was in Vienna. And I had no contacts with Zia those days.

Can you accurately state that the ISI and other Pakistani agencies were not involved in training Punjabi and Kashmiri militants?

I have no idea. Honestly. Firstly, because I cannot read newspapers. My eyes are very bad. And I think if they are doing so they must be doing so under the Pakistan government or the Pakistan army's direction.

Is it not true that ISI has operatives in many parts of Kashmir?

Kashmir I have no idea. Let me give you one example. Yesterday, I met some Indians who asked me how we were treating Indian prisoners. I asked, which Indian prisoners? They said 90,000 Indian prisoners from the 1971 war are languishing in Pakistani jails. I said, "look, you must be out of your head... 90,000 prisoners of the 1971 war, why would the Pakistani government keep them? Our country has no food to feed our own chaps. How will our country feed 90,000 prisoners?" These are rumours. This is rubbish.

But there are thousands of Indian prisoners in Pakistan?

These chaps must be smuggling and must be caught for spying.

But I believe many Indian prisoners of war from the 1971 conflict still languish in Pakistani jails?

Let me tell you one thing: As soon as the Bangladesh war ended, Indian prisoners were the first whom Bhutto sent back. I know that.

How many prisoners were there?

I think there were 400, 500.

Will you agree that some disgruntled sections of the Muslim community in India are being added with arms and finance by Pakistani agencies like the ISI?

No. I don't think so. The Muslim population in India is larger than our population. So what can we do for these Muslims?

Some section of the Muslim population in India may appear more loyal to Pakistan. I'll give you an example: During an India- Pakistan cricket match, if Pakistan wins, some sections of Muslims celebrate the event in their localities. This is one reason why some Hindus feel that Muslims in India are more loyal to Pakistan than to India. Have you heard of this?

No, I have never heard of this. The Hindu-Muslim problem has been there since British days. This is a normal phenomenon.

So you don't agree that certain section of Indian Muslims are more loyal to Pakistan than India?

No. I have never met those Muslims. I have met many Muslims in India and I did not find anyone lenient towards us. Muslims are quite neutral in India.

Neutral in what sense?

I found that Hindus and Muslims interact with each other very much as they used to do in my college days before Independence.

General Gul Hassan's photograph: Atul Chowdhury

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