Charlie Wilson’s war: The academic blowback
By Dr. Mohammad Taqi
Statesman, September 13, 2008
Just when we thought that Charlie Wilson would fade away into the dustbin of history, he staged a come-back last year, via a Mike Nichols movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” based on a 2003 book by George Crile with the same title.
Both the book and the movie represent an American view of the Afghan conflict of the 1980s, presented in a post-Soviet era, when very few people are willing to or care about analyzing these works objectively. The author, director and their US audiences do have a right to gloat over a glossed-up version of the history.
So far so good, but now there is group of Pakistani-Americans who have started a campaign to name a soon-to-be-founded Pakistan Studies Chair at the University of Texas, after Rep. Charlie Wilson. An Iftar dinner has been arranged in Washington, D.C. on September 24, 2008 to help plan, support and possibly raise money for this venture. Dr. Randy Diehl, the Dean of College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, TX, will be the featured speaker at the event.
Whereas we don’t doubt the sincerity of the efforts by this group, among which are some leading lights of the Pakistani Americans Public Affairs Committee (PAKPAC), it is unfortunate that these fine men and women have chosen one of the most controversial figures of the Afghan imbroglio, ostensibly to promote, in the USA, the study of Pakistan-related matters.
Unlike Charlie Wilson, few - if any - of these do-gooders have ever set foot on the Pashtun-Afghan lands and are completely oblivious of the fact that Afghans and Pashtuns continue to reap - till this day - what Wilson and Ziaul Haq sowed in the killing fields of Afghanistan.
Charlie Wilson might be a hero to a few Americans, who wanted to give the Soviets a bloody nose in Afghanistan, to avenge their own humiliation in Vietnam. However, it is an established fact that Wilson is also the grand-daddy of the present-day Taliban and is one of the few people directly responsible for Talibanisation of Pakistani and Afghan societies.
Warlords like Jalaluddin Haqqani - Wilson’s favorite commander - and Gulbudin Hikmatyar were direct beneficiaries of the arms and largesse pumped in by Wilson. It is not a surprise that Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin remain active Taliban till today, fighting both the US and Pakistan and that the US had to bomb their hideout on September 7, 2008. Hikmatyar too, is not far behind OBL on America’s wanted list.
Wilson and his coterie’s stated strategy of mixing religion with politics and more importantly, a covert war continue to give us a blowback in the form of battle-hardened religious zealots, now marauding the tribal and settled areas of Pakistan. He remained a part and parcel of an unholy war, which in the words of a CIA operative “was fought with Saudi money, American arms and the Afghan blood”. All the players in this war, including Wilson, remained committed to fight “till the last Afghan”.
This is not the only concern about Wilson’s methods, for some would argue that anything and everything was necessary to defeat the “Evil Empire”. What is of more concern to the democratic forces in Pakistan and their supporters in the US and the West is that Wilson, along with George Schultz, Richard Armitage and Michael Armacost produced a post-Zia policy, thus sidelining the nascent democratic government of Benazir Bhutto. According to Steve Coll, the author of “Ghost Wars”. Wilson and Co. drafted this policy literally on the fly, while en route to attend Zia’s funeral.
The fallout from this relationship, where money and weapons were handed over to an intelligence agency, without the civilian oversight would come back to haunt all of us. Twenty years later Senator Joe Biden, along with Senator Dick Lugar, had to undertake the herculean task of rectifying this anomaly. The VP aspirant is trying to undo the damage done to both the US-Pak relations as well the Pakistani people, through the “Biden-Lugar” bill.
The issue at hand is fairly straight-forward: is there a need for a Pakistan Studies Chair at the University of Texas or for that matter at any other US academic institution? The answer is a resounding yes. The next question we have to ask is if such Chair should be named after someone like Charlie Wilson, whose personal and political scruples are very dubious to say the least. What kind of role model would he make for the students enrolling at the proposed center?
If Rep. Wilson and the Temple Foundation - the other potential donor - want to do something substantial for Pakistan Studies, a reasonable way to proceed would be by making an unmarked and unrestricted donation to establish a Chair in Pakistan studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
I call upon the academics and pro-democracy friends in Pakistan and around the world to write directly to Dr. Randy Diehl, the Dean of College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin, TX asking him to revisit the idea of naming a wonderful venture after a divisive character from the cold-war era. The blowback from Charlie Wilson’s war must stop - at least in the academia.
(The author teaches and practices Medicine at the University of Florida and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)