Thursday, December 18, 2014

with friends like these...

("My fervor is not about religion, it's about freedom of religion, which we have, they want, and the Communists are slaughtering them for!...Well, I can't modulate God's will, sweetie....")

In the film Charlie Wilson's War, Julia Roberts portrays the real-life person, Joanne Herring from Houston, Texas.  In this black-and-white photo, are Mrs. Herring and President Bush.

In the color photograph below, the man in the lower left-hand corner, at the microphone, is Pakistan's President Zia Ul-Haq.
In the lower-right corner, President Jimmy Carter.
Center, Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. National Security Advisor, 1977-1981.

----------------------------- It was a murky landscape in Pakistan in late 1981 when the congressman landed to honor his commitment to Joanne Herring. ----------------------- [excerpt, from the book Charlie Wilson's War] ----------------- The mujahideen had been fighting the Soviets for almost three years.  Some 2.7 million Afghans had already made their agonizing trek over the mountains to seek refuge in this exotic Muslim nation.  They were still pouring in at a rate of thousands a month,

creating huge walled cities of mud huts.

Close to one-fifth of the Afghan people were huddled in Pakistan's North-West Frontier province.  Wilson didn't fully understand it at the time, but this zone of displaced Afghans had become the true front line of the Cold War.

The basic law of modern guerrilla warfare is that no insurgent movement can survive without a sanctuary for its fighters. 

The Vietcong depended on Cambodia and North Vietnam. 

The CIA's Nicaraguan Contras spent most of their time hovering in camps across the Honduran frontier. 

No guerrilla force could have survived in Afghanistan itself once the Red Army poured in over 100,000 combat troops backed by satellites and tanks, MiG bombers and helicopter gunships. 

Without Pakistan, there could not have been a sustained resistance. 

It was in Pakistan that the Afghans maintained their base camps, received their CIA weapons and training, and deployed for their guerrilla operations.  The Soviets knew this and set out to intimidate Zia

on two fronts:  they built up the Indian army on Pakistan's eastern flank and began striking mujahideen bases over the border on its western flank.

Zia's chief of staff during those days, General Aref, says that the pressure got so intense that even Zia's own generals urged him to cut off the mujahideen. 

"The Soviets were saying that Pakistan, by arming the Afghans, was technically fighting the Soviet Union itself." 

The Soviets were shelling border towns, killing Pakistani civilians as well as Afghans and flying MiGs into Pakistani airspace. 

"A psychological image was created in Pakistan that we were earning this punishment because we were supporting the mujahideen against a superpower."

At Leonid Brezhnev's funeral in Moscow, Yuri Andropov, the new Soviet strongman, took Zia aside and threatened to destroy his government if he didn't cut off the Afghan "bandits."  Zia, with his elegant Mao jacket and that famous gap-toothed smile, simply looked the Communist Party boss in the eye and replied that there were no Afghan guerrillas in his country. --------------

("There is no mafia."
--Tony Soprano)

--------------------- Zia's closest advisers all say the reason the general insisted on backing the Afghans so provocatively in the early years, well before he trusted the Americans to stand by him if the Red Army came into Pakistan, was because of his mystical religious convictions.

It's difficult for Westerners to understand the Islamic concept of jihad, but in Islam the word jihad is known and understood by all as a call to defend their faith in a "holy war."  There has been only one pure holy war in modern times that rallied Muslims everywhere, and that was the jihad of the Afghan tribesmen.

Although he didn't know it, Wilson was about to enter a Muslim religious war in which Zia ul-Haq was the central player.  Up close it was hard to think of Zia in a religious context.  He was not the kind of Muslim that Americans were used to seeing on their television sets in those days. 

He wasn't anything like Khomeini, with his chanting Iranian Muslims flogging themselves with chains, and he bore no resemblance to Saddam Hussein and his radical anti-Western rhetoric.

No matter their differences, Muslims everywhere identified with the cause of the mujahideen.  In the Muslim world it was incumbent on all to do what they could to challenge the Communist infidels.  The Egyptians sent arms, and the Saudis gave fantastic sums of money; but only Pakistan was on the front line, for all practical purposes at war with the Soviets. 

"For Zia," General Aref explains, "it was a battle of right and wrong in which he felt it was ordained on us to support the right cause, irrespective of the risk."

Supporting the Afghans was never easy for Zia, and before all of his important missions abroad he would direct his pilots to stop in Saudi Arabia, where he would spend the night alone in prayer at the great mosque in Mecca.  As powerful as his religious convictions might have been, Zia was also a political and military realist, constantly calculating how much he could get away with before his support for the mujahideen triggered a Soviet retaliation. 

For the Americans, convinced that they had to draw a new line of containment at the Pakistan border, Zia was the absolute arbiter.  He assumed the stature of a benevolent despot who single-handedly, month by month, decided what, if anything, the CIA and the U.S. government would be allowed to do in his country.

Privately, the Agency, the State Department, and the Pentagon all gave him high-level assurances about the U.S. commitment to Pakistan.  But Zia remembered how Jimmy Carter's administration had attacked him for hanging Bhutto, for being a dictator, and for trying to build a nuclear bomb, and how it had cut off military and economic assistance. 

Now, though allied with the Reagan administration because of Afghanistan, he was keenly aware of America's record of abandoning friends.  It had been only a few years since...Vietnam....

So Zia kept a wary eye on his Johnny-come-lately American friends and a particularly firm hand on the controls of anything to do with the Afghan mujahideen.  To the Americans who came to see him during those times he would always say, "We must make the pot boil in Afghanistan, but I must make sure it doesn't boil over onto Pakistan."-------------------------


{excerpt from the book Charlie Wilson's War, written by George Crile

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003}


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