Charlie Wilson (1933-2010) Dies at 76

Posted on February 11, 2010
Filed Under >Adil Najam, People
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Adil Najam

Former Congressman Charlie Wilson died, at 76, earlier today in his native Texas.

Long-time readers of ATP are familiar with my fascination of Charlie Wilson (here, here and here). In many ways Charlie Wilson was as much an architect of today’s Pakistan as General Zia-ul-Haq. Only a lot more colorful, and maybe a little more well-meaning; even if equally misguided.

Ever since I first read Charlie Wilson’s War I have been fascinated by the man – and also by Joanne Herring. I am, therefore, saddened by his death. And yet, fascinating as he was, I cannot say I ever liked the man, or approved of his actions. But those actions and the events he helped shape, especially as articulated in Charlie Wilson’s War, personify the nuance and complexity of events which were history setting in their own time and have become even more so since then.

Back in 2006, in one of the earliest posts on this blog, I described the book about his role in the Afghanistan War against the Soviets (Charlie Wilson’s War) as “worth a read by anyone interested in politics or in a good thriller .” Later in December 2007 when the movie under the same title was released (with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts) I wrote a longer review the gist of which was: “I enjoyed the movie… Do go and see the movie and ask your friends to do so too. But, please read the book. Consider the movie to be no more than a trailer for the book.”

Today, I heard that Charlie Wilson, who had served as Democratic Congressman from Texas from 1973 to 1996, died at a hospital in Lufkin, Texas, of cardiopulmonary arrest. The news reminded me, once again, of just how important that period of the 1980s was to constructing the surreal reality of not just Pakistan, but the world today. And just how little we actually talk about it.

It is quite clear that he did not intend or expect things to turn out quite the way they did. But they did. I do not really know what he felt – at the end of his days – about what he did, what he should or could have done, and about all that happened because of what he did. I wish we knew. We probably never will. But here, in what must have been amongst his last political statements, is a glimpse:

16 responses to “Charlie Wilson (1933-2010) Dies at 76”

  1. Farrukh says:


    Which is better: the Soviets massacring Afghans or the Americans massacring Afghans?

    The Afghans get massacred either way. And the whole region remains messed up!

  2. Jay says:

    Would you rather the Soviets kept massacring millions of Afghanistans who were pouring into neighboring Pakistan and Iran. Stop looking at history and judging Charlie’s achievements with 20/20 hindsight.

    During the Soviet invasion, Pakistan’s military was on a constant state of alert in case they along with India attacked them. The PAF shot down dozens of invading aircraft and secretly threatened Moscow and Delhi with nuclear retaliation if invaded. Its a little known fact, one that can’t compellingly be proved or disputed.

    It took the courage of a few individuals such as Charlie to support a covert war to drive the savage Red Army out of Afghanistan and bring the evil empire to its knees, changing the course of the world. Charlie was one of the biggest supporters of Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly as a lobbyist after his retirement from Congress. If anything, we should be celebrating his life and not mocking him in death.

    Go study history before posting like a fool. The taliban were the result of a power vacuum created after the red army withdrew. They were financed and supported by the ISI who saw the pro-India Rabbani regime as a threat to Pakistan’s national security. It is primarily for this reason that they were able to overthrow Rabbani and the Northern Alliance.

  3. Kazmi says:

    I think it is time to talk honestly about the Afghanistan war. It was a mess. The Mujahideen were not heroes. They were the root of every problem we have in the region today and they and the policies of the time totally destroyed Pakistan and are still destroying Paistan.

  4. Obaid says:

    @ Ali

    What is it that “we” cound not have “done” without him?

    Messed up Afghanistan and the entire region. Created the monsters of Mujahideen that then became the monsters of Taliban. And destryoed the futures of millions!

  5. Faraz says:

    You say: “I do not really know what he felt – at the end of his days – about what he did, what he should or could have done, and about all that happened because of what he did. I wish we knew. We probably never will.”

    I think he had a fair bit of an idea, for he said:

    “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. And then we fucked up the end game.”

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