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. checker47 says:

    Had US not abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviets left, we might not have had 9/11 and the Afghan mess and Pakistan would have been living peacefully with Afghanistan and India.

  2. crunkistan says:

    Almost two years ago there was a controversy in Texas when Temple foundation decided to endow a chair for Pakistan Studies at UT Austin. This was going to be the first independent chair of Pakistan studies that was not funded by Pakistan gov’t nor was paid by the state dept. The University had the right hire a senior scholar working on Pakistan. The only condition was that the 500k grant be matched. The local Pakistan community was mobilized and than came the controversy from people outraged by the prospect of Wilson chair. There was a lot of hue and cry about honoring good time Charlie, without looking at the nature of funding in the academy. The debate last year showed a real need for the Pakistan academics to think through the politics of academic funding and also to be wary of double standards when it comes to Pakistan studies in the academy. Follow this link for my reflections- -wilson-and-pakistan-studies/

  3. Nihari says:

    Allah es mard-e-momin ko mard=e=haq kay saath jagah day…..aameen

  4. Norman says:

    His world view was a little too simple and frankly this whole Afghanistan thing is what got teh world into this mess.

  5. sidhas says:


    Are you still in Karachi. Can you do a post on Naseem Hameed and another pakistani who won Gold medals.

    Despite crisis, we keep rising.

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