The Statesman, Peshawar
September 13 , 2008
Charlie Wilson’s war: The academic blowback
Dr. Mohammad Taqi
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”ˇ 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
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
bloodˇ.” All the players in this war, including Wilson, remained committed to
fight “till the last Afghanˇ.”
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 Warsˇ.” 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 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”ˇ 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)