"We just can't deal with this 9/11 thing. Does it have to be so political?" from an anonymous source at Playtone Productions
Charlie Wilson's War purports to be the true story of a hard-partying U.S. congressman from Texas who engineered the defeat of the Soviet Union by the Afghan Mujahiddin. Now there are true stories, and there are true-ish stories. It is a given that, in creating a film narrative, sometimes the truth gets a little bent, but it's against the rules to change facts that change the outcome of history. When telling the story of Antony and Cleopatra, they gotta die at the end, n'est pas. It's inappropriate, for example, to tell the story of World War II and pretend that, because the United States might have given a box of guns to the French Underground, there was no Holocaust. That's a pretty good analogy for what's been done in Charlie Wilson's War.
In the latter half of the movie, there is one big lie and one item of anti-Afghan propaganda. The lie is that U.S. support to the mujahiddin went only to the faction led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghan leader who was assassinated on Sept. 9, 2001. I spoke with Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Texas, in 2002, at which time he called Massoud "a Russian collaborator." I find it disingenuous that Wilson and his Hollywood biographers now want to throw their arms around him. (Note: George Crile's book does not make this false claim.) Moreover, if this movie succeeds in convincing Americans that the U.S. support went to Ahmad Shah Massoud alone, it will have effectively let the CIA and Wilson off the hook for their contribution to the circumstances leading up to 9/11. During the 1980s, Wilson engineered the appropriation of approximately $3.5 billion to help the Afghans fight the Soviets. According to Milt Bearden, CIA chief of station to Pakistan, Massoud received less than 1 percent of it.
So, if Massoud was not receiving the $3.5 billion that Congress was sending, who was? There were seven factions based in Pakistan who were the recipients of American largesse, but about 40 percent of it went to a blood-thirsty, fundamentalist, loudly anti-American bastard named Gulbaddin Hekmatyar.
However, instead of using the resources the United States sent him to fight the Soviets, he frequently used them to fight his mujahiddin allies. It was Gulbaddin Hekmatyar who turned Kabul to rubble -- not the Soviets and not the Taliban. Gulbaddin Hekmatyar regularly rocketed his own capitol during his term of office as prime minister. Hekmatyar is renowned for having killed more Afghans than Soviets. He so habitually attacked his mujahiddin allies that many people suspected he was actually a Soviet agent.
Not only is Hekmatyar anti-American, but he and another anti-American fundamentalist, Abdul Rasul Sayaf, received lots of support during the 1980s from the Saudis. That support included cash and thousands of Arab volunteers, including a wealthy young engineer named Osama bin Laden. It was Hekmatyar and Sayaf who, with bin Laden, established terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why after 9/11, Wilson went on Fox News and said, "This was as much my fault as anybody's." He understood the link between U.S. support for these thugs and the events of that terrible day. But Wilson's mea culpa is not included in Charlie Wilson's War, nor is there any mention of Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, Abdul Rasul Sayaf or Arab volunteers. Interestingly, Hekmatyar and the Arab volunteers did make an appearance in an earlier draft of the script, making it clear that their absence from the final cut was no oversight on the part of the filmmakers.
Getting back to Ahmad Shah Massoud ...
As it so happens, Massoud did not receive any financial support from the Saudis, because they mistakenly thought he was a Shia Muslim. He was Sunni. Nevertheless, he was not altogether displeased with the situation, because it meant he didn't have to deal with the Arab jihadis. This is one of several reasons why, had we actually supported Massoud and not Hekmatyar, there would have been no 9/11. To be sure, there were quite a few people during the 1980s, including several U.S. Senators and various journalists, trying to warn Wilson and the CIA that the consequences of supporting Hekmatyar would be globally catastrophic. In response the CIA would always throw up its hands, exclaiming, 'We have no control over the distribution. It's all handled by Pakistan, and the Pakistanis liked Massoud even less than the Saudis.
But if, as is pointed out in Charlie Wilson's War, "He who has the gold makes the rules," then the United States had the power to control distribution. The CIA simply refused to exercise that power, and Wilson faithfully accepted their word. Other members of Congress, such as Sens. Gordon Humphrey, Daniel P. Moynihan and Gary Hart, tried and tried to convince the CIA to take control of distribution.
So, why was so much support funneled to this scumbag, Gulbaddin Hekmatyar? This question leads to the anti-Afghan propaganda part of the movie.
In the same scene in the movie as the misinformation about Massoud is a propagandistic joke deeply offensive to Afghans. This joke (coupled with the Massoud "inaccuracy") is the reason that the Afghan Embassy is boycotting Charlie Wilson's War.
The joke is: "When a Tajik man wants to make love to a woman, his first choice is a Pashtun man."
Why is this propagandistic? Because it supports the idea that Afghans are just too tribal to get along. They've always fought each other. As Wilson once said to me, "You put two Afghans in a room, you end up with seven factions." The trouble with this idea is that Afghanistan has been a cohesive nation for several hundred years.
So who wants the world to believe that Afghans can't get along? Pakistan. The reason for this is the Durrand Line. The Durrand Line is the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it is not very stable. There are Pashtun tribal regions on both sides of the border, and at some point since the establishment of Pakistan (about 60 years ago), it was suggested that the Pashtuns on both sides of the border should unite to create Pashtunistan. This idea makes the government of Pakistan very nervous. In response, they threw their support to Gulbaddin Hekmatyar in the 1980s, because he agreed not to dispute the border, but also because he was deeply feared and disliked by Afghans, and would thus continue to be reliant on Pakistan as his source of power. Pakistan then convinced the CIA, to the cumulative tune of about $1.5 billion, that Gulbaddin was the guy best suited to whoop-ass against the Soviet Union. Later, during the mid 1990s, when he failed to control Afghanistan on their behalf, Pakistan nurtured the Taliban into power.
So why were these two offenses included in this movie?
1. The Massoud "inaccuracy" was included because Tom Hanks "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing"; and because Wilson and Joanne Herring (played by Julia Roberts in the movie) threatened legal action after reading an earlier, more honest, draft of the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. Herring was Pakistan's honorary consul to the United States in the 1980s, and as such, enlisted Wilson into supporting the cause of the Afghans. Neither Wilson nor Herring wants history to remember them for their contribution to the events that culminated in 9/11.
2. The really bad joke was included because, when Wilson retired from the House of Representatives, he was so copasetic to Pakistani views that he went to work for Pakistan as their lobbyist -- at the rate of $360,000 per year. Not bad for an old skirt-chasin' boozer.
Melissa Roddy, like several of the principals in the saga of Afghanistan, is a native Texan. An actress based in Los Angeles, she is currently producing and directing a documentary film on the history of Afghanistan from 1979 to 9/11 entitled The Square Root of Terror