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Host: Nusrat Mirza, Chief Editor of the monthly interaction

By Interaction Team

Q. It is a privilege to welcome you, Brigadier (R) Agha Ahmad Gul, to our interview today. As a distinguished authority on the affairs of Pakistan, especially Balochistan, your profound insights are expected to provide a unique and historical perspective. We anticipate that this conversation will not only shed light on previously unheard information but also spark the interest of our readers in the dynamics of Balochistan and Pakistan. Recognizing the strength of our nation and the presence of remarkable individuals like you, we believe your wisdom, if harnessed, holds the potential to restore Pakistan to the visionary heights imagined by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslims of the subcontinent.

Brig. Gul, I extend my gratitude once again for sharing your valuable time with us. To commence, could you please delve into your early life, education, and the environmental factors that have influenced your journey?

Ans. I am humbled by the kind words you’ve expressed about me and want to convey my sincere gratitude. Well, I am grateful for your kind words and would like to share some aspects of my educational journey. I attended a school where we used ‘taat’ (a mate) to sit on instead of desks or chairs. Beginning my primary education in Quetta, I completed my fifth grade in Zhob. My educational journey continued in Sibbi and then Ziarat, where the headquarters was located at that time. Interestingly, a classroom in Ziarat was only slightly larger than the current studio room, accommodating boys and girls from 6th to 10th grade in the same space.

Later, I enrolled in college, initially unaware that it was the only college in the entire Baluchistan region, established in 1948. During my childhood, British Baluchistan, now known as North Baluchistan, had only nine schools and lacked a college. I graduated from Quetta College, the sole college at the time, with a B.Sc. degree before joining the Army.

Joining the Army had its allure, fueled by the perception that there would be less studying Moreover, the backdrop of the 1965 war, coupled with the fervor generated by Madam Noor Jahan’s songs, motivated many to join the military. However, the actual experience proved to be different, and the military’s demanding education system transformed my viewpoint.

When I joined the Army, the level of study required was so intense that it made me question the value of what I had studied in college; it felt like a mere waste of time. My passion for history flourished in the military environment, where competitive tests were a regular occurrence. As a gunner, I had to undergo specific tests related to gunnery. During the entrance exam, only seven captains were selected, and I managed to secure the top position in the test as I studied a lot, owing to the fear of failure. Despite the taunts from others, challenging me to prove myself in the subsequent course, I dedicatedly studied until midnight, and Alhamdulillah, I excelled in that as well. This experience shattered my preconceived notion that the military lacked a focus on education.

A year later, I underwent another interview, and as a result, I was sent to the United States of America as a Major for a nine-month course, returning as an honors graduate. Subsequently, I participated in a competitive test for Staff College, where I ranked among the top five or six. Following this, I became a teacher/lecturer at Staff College Quetta, which was built by the British in 1907. I later realized that I was the first teacher from Baluchistan in the institution. After that, I was posted as a teacher at the National Defense College and served there for about two years. Then, after two or three years of working elsewhere, I was made the Commander of the Joint Services Staff College.

Now, I believe the story of reading and writing should have concluded here, but it didn’t. When I retired, the then governor, MR. Owais Ghani suggested that the University of Balochistan was not functioning properly and that I should take charge. I agreed to lead it under one condition: no one would dictate to me what to do or how to do it; I would work based on merit. Taking over the university posed a significant challenge in those days, but with the help of Allah, the Almighty, there was not a single strike in the two years. Within a year, the university’s ranking improved from 38th to 11th out of 52 public universities in Pakistan.

After that, I decided that I wouldn’t pursue more jobs because there is a significant difference between a civil job and an Army job. In the army, we used to persuade our seniors with arguments, but in civilian employment, it was not the same. When faced with undue demands from higher-ups, I would refuse by citing that it goes against the rules. Their responses were quite ‘innocent’; they would argue that rules are made by humans, suggesting I could create a new rule. However, I would assert that it is beyond my control. Consequently, I deemed myself unsuitable for a civilian job. Subsequently, I refrained from taking up any employment, despite receiving substantial offers, including one from the then Governor for the position of Chairman of the Public Service Commission, which I declined.

Lt. Gen (R) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, a friend of mine for 45 years, and we continue to maintain a strong friendship. It is often said that acquiring 45 to 50 friends is not a challenge, but sustaining a friendship for 45 to 50 years is indeed a formidable task.

In January 2021, (Lt.) Gen (R) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai inquired if there was any think tank operating in Balochistan. I responded in the negative, and he then suggested the need for a think tank in Balochistan, a sentiment I agreed with. He requested me to draft a concept paper, which I did. After making some amendments, he approved the concept paper and encouraged me to establish and run the think tank in Balochistan. Despite my initial reluctance, he persuaded me to proceed.

At that time, Mr. Farrukh Bazai, one of our previous colleague, served as the Vice Chancellor of IT University Balochistan. I approached him regarding the National Command Authority’s intention to establish a think tank and inquired about the support he could offer. His response was that he could provide whatever assistance I needed.

Expressing my primary requirement for a location, Mr. Bazai showed me various places. Upon inspecting the first location, I deemed it the most suitable. This location comprised two large halls, where we subsequently constructed the think tank, set up research rooms, a process that took approximately three to four months.

And then there was a high-powered delegation led by Lt. Gen (R) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, and I assembled our team. We selected the first team based on 100 percent merit as the selection criteria. We shortlisted around 32 individuals. We commenced the interviews in the morning, and I appreciate my team; though they were all younger than me, they sat with great dedication until the evening. It was getting dark when we concluded the interviews. Most of them are still working, indicating a successful selection. The first task we received was to write a paper on the Afghanistan situation, as the Taliban was on the verge of taking over.

We were assigned to suggest what Pakistan should do. I expressed to Gen. Khalid Kidwai that, respected brother, the situation is so dynamic that predicting events in Afghanistan in three months and recommending actions for our government is challenging. He responded, “This is your first assignment,” so I had to agree. We gathered our team of 23 people, including myself, as I am not their president but their co-worker. We initiated the work and requested a month. After a month, when I presented the paper, it was noted in the final pages of the policy that the recommendations we made would need to be reviewed after three months due to the rapidly changing circumstances.

About four to five months ago, The German Ambassador visited BTTN, and I presented the same policy paper to him. I informed him that I was pleased to say that 70% of the policies we had guaranteed for just three months remained valid even after an extended period. Following the success of our paper and recommendations, my team and I were delighted to be able to recommend them to the government of Pakistan. The government of Pakistan has since implemented almost 70 percent of the proposed policies.

Q: Well, Brigadier Gul, you mentioned being sent to the US. When you were there for training, did they attempt to entrap you?

Ans. Yes, they did. Let me tell you briefly. They had an ‘innocent’ way as they used to take us to a club. In the evening, there were some gentlemen who were drinking. They might have taken their pictures while drinking, but I stated that I consider myself a Muslim. Therefore, I would abstain from alcohol and pork. At that time, it was the era of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. I was the only Pakistani in the training; there were people from 67 other countries. They used to take us and give us the opportunity to drink alcohol. One of their representatives said, “You have impressed many people, and we have a senior who is visiting and wants to meet you.” In a meeting with the guy, after five or six minutes, when he asked me questions, I said, “Wait, are you from the CIA?” He was shocked; he didn’t think I would understand it so quickly.

Then he said to me, “I worked in the CIA for some time, now I am doing business, and I am asking you questions for business.” I replied, “Look, I am a major with 10 years of service, and my expertise is related to war. Why are you asking about business?” He said, “I am asking because an officer of the Pakistan Army knows about everything. Now, look, your president (Zia UL Huq) was a soldier, and now he is a civilian.” I said, “No, I have no knowledge about this.” Then he said, “Well, we’re going to have a session where prominent people will come from our company, so we want you to spend the weekend with us in Houston.” Then all my (alarm) bulbs turned red. I said, “I have my exam here; I can’t come with you.”

Mirza Sahib, they were convincing me in such a way that, in the end, they said to me, “You are worried about the exam. Well, we will pick you up on Saturday. A special jet will come and take you from here, and we will leave on Sunday night.” Now, some bells that were not ringing in my mind started ringing. It was very clear that they wanted to take me to a place where they could compromise me. Then I called Brigadier Mahmood; he was also with me in my military academy and informed him about the entire situation. I said, “I am reporting the situation to you officially.” He said, “It is fine; you are being very careful, and you should remain careful.” So, I remained careful. I knew if I showed some weakness, they would either capture compromising images or record my compromising situation and blackmail me on a stage. So yes, they tried to trap me.

Q. Now the question is that Balochistan is a big province that has so many minerals, the population is less and the area is so much, yet why is Balochistan backward?

Ans: This is a very romantic statement that Balochistan is a very rich province full of minerals. Look, in Balochistan, the first thing that you can say was a really valuable asset was natural gas, methane, from the Dera Bugti area; I believe it was a huge asset. But, when minerals come out, they are not ready to be commercialized immediately. Spreading out takes time to earn from them. Sui Gas was actually discovered by Burma Shell. People in Balochistan often say that they have not been given their own gas. If you don’t have the money to pay or if you steal, as is happening now, it ultimately becomes difficult to ensure its supply to all areas. When I was in SSGC, General Pervez Musharraf said, ‘Tell them not to steal gas; we will give it to them for free.’

I also met Bugti Sahib; may Allah give him a place in Jannah, and I told him General Pervez Musharraf said that they will give free gas to them. Bugti sb said, “I don’t know whether or not the gas is stolen, but it is a good thing to give people free of cost gas.” At that time, the name corporate social responsibility was very famous, which meant that the corporations had a responsibility to the society to pay. But in 1952, 62, or 72, this was not the concept of capitalism. The principle of capitalism was that you make money. How do you make it? This is none of the concerns of capitalism. It is, however, the concern of the government.

At that time, when I was in SSG, some 16 to 17 years ago, only 15 percent of the gas was left; all the remaining gas was coming from Sindh. Still, there are three sources, supplying gas throughout Pakistan: Balochistan, Sindh, and Kohat also has a little while there is no gas in Punjab. Yes, we import LNG to fulfill our energy requirements. The remaining thing is that of Recodiq and Saindak to talk about. Well, it is again a very romantic thing to say that there are stones of copper, gold, or silver lying on the ground everywhere. I have seen Saindak’s mine. It is an open mine. It is going down vertically. There are such mines in Australia too. Extracting it, then refining it, then enabling it to be sold, all these need a lot of money. I went there in 1999 when I was also running WAPDA; it was closed in Balochistan. General Musharraf asked China to run it and give Pakistan 400 dollars a year as it was closed. China took over it, and I don’t know how much money they are paying now.

China’s investment was to be done there. Actually, Copper is not visible, and with the naked eye, it just seems like sand or stone. And the second thing is that Saindak is about 410 miles away from Quetta to the west. There is no drinking water there; water also has to be brought from below, Iran or Mir Java. Iran is 30 or 35 miles away from there. You also have to pay for the labor. The overheads are so much that the people just say that copper has come out, but the overheads say that a little copper has come out.

Now we turn to Rekodiq, where the people were celebrating the presence of gold and copper. I mentioned this before, and I still maintain that when people claim Balochistan is rich in minerals, it is essential to examine the facts. Consider this: there are eight African countries that have been under the influence of France. In South Africa, diamonds are extracted, and in other locations, gold, and uranium are also found, albeit only in ores.

Diamonds, which are stones, all go to Debir, and after refinement in Belgium, stones that initially have little value are then sold for millions of dollars. Can someone point out one of these African countries and confidently say it is wealthy solely due to its mineral resources? I regret to say that the reality is that nations can truly prosper through trade. For instance, South Africa is involved in the production of war materials, contributing to its increased wealth. However, poverty persists across the entire continent of Africa. With 56 countries and a population of 1.3 billion, Africa faces widespread poverty.

Now, let’s address the remaining minerals of Balochistan. Among them are chromite mines, with an average yield of 25 percent being regiment, and 75 percent being clay and gravel. In Turkey, chromite minerals boast a range of 72 to 80 percent chromite content. When extracted, the process involves a person from the top, followed by a middle one. I must emphasize that I personally attempted this for a while and concluded that it poses a very high risk, as the market may crash at any time. Instead of making money, there’s a significant chance of becoming poorer. This risk is not unique to any specific region; you can find small minerals all around the world. Balochistan is no exception. This leads us to the question: how commercially viable is it at the national level?

Q. Brig. Gul, could you share your perspective on whether the people of Balochistan, in their current state of mind, are ready for commercialization?

Ans: Let me begin by defining Balochistan. As a student of history, I recognize four distinct Balochistan regions.

One of these is Baluchistan, historically known as Velochistan. When Alexander passed through in 326 BC, he named it Janduresia, a name that endured from 326 to 1730. Later, the Baloch migrated from Egypt and Syria. Some of my Baloch friends argue that they have always been present in the region.

I counter this by questioning the discrepancy between their claims and the historical accounts written by the British. I place significant trust in British records as they were rulers obligated to provide unbiased accounts of history. According to these records, the first Baloch, the grandfather of Balochis, settled in Iran during the time of Hazrat Umar (R.A). Subsequently, they migrated to Makran and endured challenging conditions for five hundred years.

Even today, Makran lacks freshwater, with only four oases. The question arises: how did they survive and proliferate? Neither they nor I possess the answer. I propose that they likely did not exclusively remain in Makran.

Examining the origin of the word “Makran,” derived from “mahi-khowran” or “fish eaters,” includes Jiwani, Gwadar (90 miles to the east), Pasni (100 miles to the east), Ormara (150 miles to the east), and nothing beyond Ormara until Sanyami. The region was named Mahi-Khowran due to its reliance on fish consumption, later evolving into Makran.

In my analysis, the Baloch did not solely follow the Makran route. During Changaiz Khan’s attacks (1225 to 1350 AD), those with foresight opted not to stay in Balochistan; instead, they migrated to Punjab or Sindh where water was available.

Based on my limited study, drawing a line from Sargoda to Sahiwal and moving south reveals Baloch settlements along the Arabian Sea. Prominent Baloch figures, including Zardari Sahib and our Prime Minister, trace their lineage to this region.

This represents the first Balochistan. I previously mentioned that conquering this Balochistan in 1730 was unnecessary due to pervasive poverty, manifesting as small scattered settlements like nomads rather than organized towns.

Following Nadir Shah’s conquest of Delhi in 1729, in 1739, this entire region came under his rule from Mohammad Shah, known as Rangeela. The primary general among Nadir’s forces was Ahmed Shah Abdali. Abdali later gave himself the title Badshah e Dur Duran, becoming Dur Duran, and from Ahmad Abdali, he became Ahmad Shah Durrani. In 1739, upon Nadir Shah’s death, Ahmad Abdali declared separation from Iran. The eastern and northern regions, including the Aamo River and the Arabian Sea, which were previously under Kachar’s rule, came under his dominion. Before Nadir Shah’s death in 1738, he proposed dividing Velochistan into two parts: Sistan Balochistan (west) and Qalati Balochistan (east). Qalat, initially a small town, saw Mir Nasir, a Brahvi, appointed as Khan. Now, my request is that the word ‘Khan’ is neither a Balochi word nor a Brahvi word. Then, where did it come from? ‘Khan’ is commonly used by Pathans, Turks, Turkish Mongols, or the Chinese, who refer to it as ‘Khakan.’ It was their term, and they instructed them to govern in our name. Now there are two Balochistans, one Sistan Balochistan and one Qalati Balochistan. We leave Sistan, as it went to Iran.

The British discovered, through their spies, that the Tsar of Russia had a plan. They believed they couldn’t defeat the British in Europe because a significant portion of their wealth came from India, around the years 1828-1830. The British, comprising only 6,000 whites among their ranks while the majority were locals, learned that the Russians intended to assemble an army and launch an attack on India. The objective was to conquer India, claim its wealth, and thereby prevent the British from engaging in further conflicts with Russia in Europe. Upon confirmation of this intelligence, the British dispatched a team that traversed the Bolan Pass, now known as Quetta, identified by the name Shalkot. Simultaneously, another force was sent towards Peshawar. During this period, Peshawar was under the rule of Ranjit Singh. However, the British conveyed to Ranjit Singh that their intention was solely to pass through and not to engage in conflict. Ranjit Singh’s dominion extended from the River Indus to the River Bayas, from the south of North Multan to the north of Jamrud.

And his major objective was to conquer Afghanistan, including Haripur, a town you might consider small. The British, however, expressed disinterest in this area and decided to proceed. Upon the arrival of forces from both sides in Kabul, they encountered the weak and unprepared Afghan forces, leading to the British conquest of Afghanistan. Subsequently, they believed that the Russians would not back to Afghanistan, and in the event if they did, the British pledged to intervene. Cutting the long story short, in 1879, when the Russian embassy opened in Kabul, the viceroy instructed Kabul to close the Russian embassy and open a British one. Our Pathan brothers responded harshly and disrespected the message. Consequently, the viceroy sent forces back to Kabul, successfully conquering Afghanistan. During this time, they stayed in Kabul and did not retreat.

Following this, they established their border at ‘Kakar Khurasan,’ south of the Hindu Kush, to monitor Russian movements through the passes. In 1893, Abdurrahman, the King of Afghanistan, signed the Durand Line as the border between the two states. The term ‘Durand’ is used because the line was drawn by the English diplomat Mortimer Durand.

Q. Brig. Gul, You have provided a detailed account, and I have thoroughly read it. The question is, can we infer that this border arrangement extends to Iran, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan as well?

Ans. This is indeed a fascinating narrative, and I appreciate your pertinent and timely question. In 1830, the British reached an agreement with the Tsar of Russia, wherein they agreed to evacuate the upper region from Afghanistan for Russian, with the condition that Russia would refrain from retaliatory attacks. The Tsar accepted this condition, and the agreement was consequently signed. In 1880, the British also delineated the borders of four Central Asian states: Kirghizstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The Iranians also agreed to the British- suggested border at that time. The borders of Qalati Balochistan with Iran were established in 1864, and with minor adjustments during Ayoub’s era, the border was finalized.

Presently, when examining Pakistan’s borders, no issues arise with Iran or China. The primary source of contention is with India, and there is a dispute with Afghanistan regarding the Durand Line. In various seminars, I have proposed to them that if they reject the Durand Line, why not demand that Indian Prime Minister Modi cede the entire country to them, citing the historical argument that their forefather, Ahmad Shah Durrani, had conquered India? Should Modi agree, we would willingly become part of Afghanistan. However, if they view the western part of Pakistan, west of the River Indus, as part of Afghanistan and wish to eliminate the Durand Line, then let’s proceed. Before doing so, they must consider that the population of this region is nearly 10 crore, whereas the entire population of Afghanistan is 3 crore and 80 lacs. In Pakistan, the Pashtuns number 7 to 8 crore, and I, too, am a Pashtun. In Afghanistan, there are hardly 2 crore Pashtuns in their entire population. I’ve posed the question to them: would they be content being a minority by combining both areas, removing the Durand Line, or would they prefer to continue governing their own country? They had no response to this argument except to reiterate their refusal to accept the Durand Line. However, the correct approach lies in recognizing the dictates of history and geography, necessitating acceptance and coexistence within those confines without deviating to the left or right.


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