Rawalpindi: He trained Afghan resistance fighters against the Soviets and helped create the Taliban, but today Pakistan`s former spymaster Hamid Gul says the Islamist group`s long-time foe Abdullah Abdullah has the best chance of securing peace.
Widely viewed as a "Godfather" figure for Pakistan`s strategy of using jihadist proxies to exert influence in neighbouring countries, the 77-year-old retired general is still seen by some observers as offering a window into the mindset of the country`s powerful military establishment.
As Afghanistan prepares for a run-off election on Saturday between Abdullah and his rival Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan -- which backed the Taliban regime that was ousted in 2001 and is often accused by Kabul of supporting their insurgency -- has maintained a resolutely neutral stance.
But Gul, who headed Pakistan`s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency between 1987 and 1989 during the late stages of the Soviet occupation, said it would take a fighter, not an academic to secure peace for Afghanistan -- as long as he refused to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States.
In an interview with AFP at his Rawalpindi home, Gul, smartly dressed in a white shalwar kameez and sporting the trimmed moustache favoured among army officers, said Abdullah`s past as a resistance fighter together with his shrewd choices of running mates made him uniquely placed to negotiate with those he called the "Afghan opposition" -- the Taliban.
Abdullah draws his main support from ethnic Tajiks in the north, while Ghani is a Pashtun like the majority of the country and the Taliban.
But, said Gul: "Abdullah has a distinct advantage for future peace in Afghanistan -- if that is the objective and it should be -- that he is a jihadi.
"And the other people with him are also jihadis," he continued, referring to running mates Mohammad Khan, an ally of powerful Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who has traditional ties to Pakistan, and Mohammad Mohaqeq -- a Hazara seen as closer to Iran.
"Ashraf Ghani is not a jihadi," he said about the ex-World Bank economist who spent the 1980s living in the United States. "And for a jihadi to open a dialogue with a non-jihadi would be very difficult."