Ever since I watched the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, I wanted to read the book the movie was based on. Luckily, last year, my longtime friend Asela Atalugama from Florida, USA brought me a copy when he visited Sri Lanka on vacation. I was thrilled to get hold of the book and I consider it as one of the best gifts I ever had in terms of reading material.
My love with Afghanistan started while I was a teenage schoolboy. Like my late pater who was a socialist I, too, was more interested in world news than local news. So, we both listened to world news the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation aired at 7:30 pm every night. Even though I was small, I could well remember the parties involved in Soviet-Afghan War and some of the early events. I was pro-Soviet as my father had given me a rosy picture that the Communist World was the better camp in the world and the USA was the World’s Policeman. So, I naturally became pro-Soviet and pro-Afghan government and saw the mujahideen (and the USA that financed and trained them) as the evil force. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan also helped the mujs. The Soviet Red Army was helping the then Afghan government which had introduced some remarkable modernization reforms to get the country on the proper track but, as it always happens, the uneducated rural people were encouraged to resist the reforms resulting in the government becoming unpopular among the conservative rural population.
With the arrival of the 40th Army of the Soviet Union to support the Afghan communist government, fierce fighting escalated and the whole country was experiencing a full-scale bloodbath. Afghanistan was in the world news every day for the wrong reasons.
By the mid-1980s, my eldest brother brought home a black and white TV that worked with a car battery since we didn’t have electricity in the village those days. Arrival of the TV made me a keener observer of the Soviet-Afghan war and I was shocked to see the fighters who hardly had anything luxury but a rifle, and the poor villagers who getting killed or maimed by the fighting parties and the helpless children who were deprived of education.
However, it was only after reading the book Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History by George Crile III that I understood the dirty politics took place in Afghanistan under the cover of covert Cold War and how the USA fueled the war to defeat the Soviet Red Army.
One would give the credit (or discredit rather) to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) but in Afghanistan, it had been a totally different story. It had been an inebriated Casanova called Charlie Wilson, who happened to be a Senator from Texas in America. He changed the entire landscape of the battlefield in Afghanistan with the support of Gust Avrakotos equally enthusiastic of “killing Russians,” a CIA agent and the former’s lover Joanne Herring that manipulated the American interests in this covert war by encouraging the CIA and the Ronald Reagan administration to divert millions of dollars to Afghan front. The heinous ways they did this were even harsher than fiction. This is why many say that the book Charlie Wilson’s War is almost like a detective novel.
Another despot, the then Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was the main beneficiary of this war as most of the moneys and arms had to go through his government and you know how it happens in this part of the world with the despots keeping a sizeable part of the money or resources.
Anyway the mighty Soviet Empire was defeated and withdrew from Afghanistan and this war was called Soviets’ Vietnamese War as the brunt on Soviet Army was so lethal. In fact, it was this war that ultimately resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union according to the author of this book, George Crile III. Whether the collapse of the Soviet Union brought any good to Afghanistan is a big question though.
Mohammad Najibullah aka Najibullah Khan, the Afghan president was tortured and killed by the Taliban in 1996.