Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Revisiting America’s war in Afghanistan

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File photo of Afghan riding a donkey past a destroyed tankI finally got around to reading Charlie Wilson’s War (much better than the film and considerably longer) about the U.S. Congressman who managed to drum up huge amounts of money to fund the mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980′s.

George Crile’s book - about how the CIA channelled money and weapons through Pakistan to defeat the Red Army in Afghanistan and helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union – was first published in 2002.  But it’s even more relevant today as the United States struggles to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and realises it will never succeed as long as ”the enemy” has sanctuary in Pakistan. It is the only war that the United States has fought on both sides.

This is a tale of how ill-equipped Afghan tribesmen were turned into “technoguerrillas” with American money and a romantic notion of defeating the “Evil Empire”.  I realise this story has been told many times since 9/11. And I acknowledge the obvious perils of judging history with hindsight – back then U.S. policy was seen through the prism of the Cold War, whereas now it is defined by ”the War on Terror”. But there are still lines in “Charlie Wilson’s War” that are worth repeating here:

1998 file photo of Russian special units officers at wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier“The basic law of modern guerrilla warfare,” writes Crile, “is that no insurgent movement can survive without a sanctuary for its fighters. The Vietcong depended on Cambodia and North Vietnam … Without Pakistan, there could not have been a sustained resistance (to the Soviet Union).”

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