George Crile’s remarkable account of how Charlie Wilson, a colourful US Congressman from Texas changed the face of the anti-Soviet jehad in Afghanistan. Displaying blinkered thinking, and unmindful of the consequences Charlie Wilson engineered the arming of the Afghan rebels in close cooperation with Pakistan’s General Zia ul Haq. With funds from the Saudis and weapons from Israel he was able to leverage his crucial position on the House Appropriations committee to almost single-handedly influence a forward foreign policy. That the US government had no oversight and control over the actions of a blinkered, mercurial politician is indeed alarming. Author George Crile is forgiving in his treatment of Charlie Wilson using the justification of the Cold War to explain away Charlie Wilson’s motivations. I see things very differently – I see a philandering, cash-strapped politician serving the ends of vested commercial interests, fooled by the Pakistanis and taking refuge under the umbrella of patriotism (the proverbial last refuge of the scoundrel).
Indeed the biggest mistake America made was allowing the religious element to enter the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. The argument that they needed Islam as a powerful rallying cry to counter the Soviets speaks of America’s lack of confidence that freedom and democracy can be equally powerful values in the Islamic world. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda are the direct result of misguided US policy. The lives lost in Kashmir due to the influx of weapons and fighters from the Afghan jehad are direct results too. Charlie Wilson’s most dangerous legacy is a nuclear-armed Pakistan brought about by US governments closing one eye on Pakistan’s covert nuclear programme in the 1980s. By the way, Charlie Wilson’s PR firm is still retained by the Pakistan government to lobby its interests in Washington.