By Shaheen Sehbai
WASHINGTON: Most of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union was fought by Mujahideen and Pakistani soldiers using Israeli arms supplied after General Zia ul Haq entered into secret deals with the Israelis, a book published here has revealed.
The revelation, coming at a time when the Pakistani Army Chief is campaigning for recognition of Israel, throws hitherto concealed light on secret Army-Israeli deals and their cooperation through the CIA. It reveals that the Army was not averse to secret defence cooperation, although publicly it did not acknowledge any contact with the Israelis.
Congressman Charles Wilson from Texas, a great pro-Pakistan activist who hated the Indians, was the central figure to get these CIA-funded weapons for Pakistan and is credited in the book as the man who broke up the Soviet Union with the help of a 48-year old Houston woman with whom General Zia ul Haq also had an affair.
The book, “Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History” is written by journalist George Crile, who was an editor at Harper's in the Seventies and who is now a producer at 60 Minutes II.
The 550-page book has been a best seller in US but so far it has not attracted any attention in Pakistan or South Asia. “I don’t know why it is so but I have not yet received any reaction from Pakistan,” Charlie Wilson, now a senior lobbyist for Pakistan in Washington, told South Asia Tribune on July 17, 2003.
Analysts think the present military regime would not like the book to become popular in Pakistan as it reveals a lot of their secrets, including Army's deals with Israel.
Asked what he thought now that a major debate had been initiated by President Musharraf on whether Pakistan should recognize Israel, keeping in view his disclosures that Pakistan and Israel were defence partners years ago, Charlie Wislon refrained from offering any comment.
"I will not comment on the present situation," he told me on July 17, saying: "It is for the governments of the two countries to decide what they want to do."
Wilson, who admits in the book that his power in the House of Representatives had come primarily “as a result of his work with the Israeli lobby” told me in an interview basically there could never be a 100 per cent agreement between the subject and an author, but “I have not protested on anything that has been written in Crile’s book.” He was asked whether there was anything inaccurate in the book about the Pak-Israeli and other deals.
The book reveals that Wilson made the proposal to General Zia to deal with the Israelis during Zia’s first visit to US after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The proposal was made grand dinner hosted by the Houston lady, Joanne Herring, who was named later as Honorary Consul of Pakistan and became a critical player in the war.
“American liberals and human-rights advocates would never change their view of Zia as a Third World thug, but his American visit was something of a triumph, and Joanne’s dinner was part of the reason it succeeded,” the book says.
Joanne Herring later became Zia’s sweetheart and Charlie Wilson is quoted in the book saying: “ He (Zia) was so spell bound by Herring, and took her so seriously, that to the utter dismay of his entire foreign office, he made her Pakistan roving ambassador to the world and even awarded her his country’s highest honor, the title of Quaid-e-Azam.
Says Wilson: “Zia would leave cabinet meetings just to take Joanne’s calls. There was no affair with Zia but it’s impossible to deal with Joanne and not deal with her on a sexual basis. No matter who you are, you take those phone calls.” These words of Charlie say a lot more about Zia-Joanne relationship as Charlie himself had a long and deep one.
When asked by SA Tribune on July 17 whether Joanne was alive and was he still in contact with her, Charlie said he had not talked to her for the last 10 years but he knew she was alive and in Houston.
It was thus Joanne’s dinner in Houston which launched Zia in US and started the Pak-Israeli cooperation in arms. The book says of that event: “Zia had dangerous decisions to make in the coming months about the CIA’s involvement in his inflamed North-West Frontier, and all of them centered on whether he could trust the United States. Joanne’s startling toast was strangely therapeutic for the much-maligned leader, who remembered how quickly Jimmy Carter had turned on him. In Houston that night, Joanne Herring saw to it that a host of powerful Americans actually honored him. And that same night, Charlie Wilson provided yet another dimension to Zia’s growing partnership with the United States when he took the general into a side room for a private talk. The congressman had a novel proposition for – the Muslim dictator. Would Zia be willing to deal with the Israelis?” (P-131).
“This was not the sort of proposal just anyone could have made. But by now, the Pakistanis believed that Charlie Wilson had been decisive in getting them the disputed F-16 radar systems. As he saw it, Wilson had pulled off the impossible. Now the congressman, in his tuxedo, began to take Zia into the forbidden world where the Israelis were prepared to make deals no one need hear about.”
“He told Zia about his experience the previous year when the Israelis had shown him the vast stores of Soviet weapons they had captured from the PLO in Lebanon. The weapons were perfect for the mujahideen, he told Zia. If Wilson could convince the CIA to buy them, would Zia have any problems passing them on to the Afghans? Zia, ever the pragmatist, smiled on the proposal, adding, “Just don’t put any Stars of David on the boxes.”
“With that encouragement, Wilson pushed on. Just the previous month, he had learned that the Israelis were secretly upgrading the Chinese army’s Russian-designed T-55 tanks. In Islamabad, he had been startled to see that the Chinese were supplying Pakistan with T-55s. The congressman now proposed that Zia enter into a similar secret arrangement with the Israelis. “I was trying to rig it for Israel to do the upgrade without the Chinese operating as the middlemen,” Wilson explained in the book.
“It was no simple proposition. Three years earlier, a mere rumor that Israel had been involved in an attack on the Great Mosque in Mecca had so radicalized the Pakistani Muslim population that thousands had stormed the U.S. embassy in Pakistan and burned it to the ground. Zia was mindful of his people’s hatred for both Israel and the United States, and he might have been expected to nip this in the bud. Instead, he encouraged Wilson to continue.
“The congressman was acutely aware of the minefield he was walking through. Publicly, Pakistan and Israel would have to remain foes, he conceded. But as Zia well understood, Pakistan and Israel shared the same deadly foe in the Soviet Union. And the fact was that each could profit mightily by secretly cooperating with the other. If Zia would follow the lead of the Chinese, Wilson said, he could increase the striking power of his tanks, and there might be other areas of military and technological cooperation where both countries could mutually profit.
“Pakistan did not have diplomatic relations with Israel, and Wilson certainly had no authority to serve as a quasi secretary of state. In fact, with this kind of talk, the congressman was walking dangerously close to violating the Logan Act, which prohibits anyone other than the president or his representatives from conducting foreign policy. But as the two rejoined Joanne’s party, Zia left the congressman with an understanding that he was authorized to begin secret negotiations to open back channels between Islamabad and Jerusalem. Wilson would leave for Israel in March and travel on to Pakistan to brief Zia immediately afterward.”
Wilson then began a series of visits to Israel, taking along beautiful women, one of them a belle dancer, who actually performed in front of the Egyptian Defense Minister during one of the visits. She was also with Wilson on a trip to Pakistan and at many places she was described as Mrs. Wilson to satisfy the Muslim sensitivities.
The book describes one such visit in which a lady, Carol, was with Wilson. “When they landed in Israel...Carol was thrilled to be in the land of the Bible. Wilson would disappear with Zvi (an official) every morning, sending her off in the embassy’s chauffeur-driven Mercedes to see the holy sights. One afternoon, he came back “acting like a kid in a candy store,” she said. She didn’t completely understand what he was talking about, but she remembers that it had to do with T-55 tanks and secret deals with Pakistan.
“I’ve never breathed a word about this before,” she recalled. “And Charlie only gave me bits and pieces, but he was so excited because he thought he was going to be able to do something that no one else could. Charlie is a giver, and here he was saving the world.” What Wilson was doing during the day in Israel was scheming with Zvi’s associates at IMI, the weapons conglomerate that produces the country’s artillery, tank shells, and machine guns. It has the second biggest payroll in Israel and is inextricably entwined with the military and security apparatus of the Jewish state.
“Wilson’s scheming was conducted not merely out of Carol’s sight but outside that of the U.S. embassy, which ordinarily monitors congressional activities abroad. One of the reasons for shadowing visiting members of Congress is to discourage them from engaging in negotiations that could place U.S. interests at risk. Wilson, however, never shied away from negotiating, in effect, on behalf of his government, and on this occasion he and his Israeli friends had a wide range of business to transact…
“They turned next to the T-55 upgrade proposal and to what their congressional friend could offer President Zia, on behalf of Israel, when he met with him in Pakistan at the end of the week. The Israelis were hoping this deal would serve as the beginning of a range of under-the-table understandings with Pakistan that the congressman would continue to quietly negotiate for them.”
“But such was the stature of this old congressional patron of Israel that the IMI chief immediately set his weapons experts to work. By the time Wilson was ready to leave, they’d presented him with an impressive-looking design, complete with detailed specifications. It was a mule-portable, multi-rocketed device named, to the congressman’s delight, the Charlie Horse.”
Wilson cut the Pak-Israel deal even without CIA knowledge. The book reveals that the CIA man in Islamabad, Howard Hart, when asked years later, if he knew about Wilson’s efforts to bring the Israelis into the Afghan war, he dismissed this story out of hand, insisting that the Pakistanis would never have permitted it.
“I would have burst into hysterical laughter and locked myself in the bathroom before proposing such a thing,” he said. “It was bad enough for Zia to be dealing with the Americans, even secretly. But the Israelis were so beyond the pale that it would have been impossible. You have to understand that the Pakistanis were counting on maintaining the image of holding the high moral ground—of a religious brother helping a religious brother. . . . It’s beyond comprehension to have tried to bring the Israelis into it.”
“Yet right under Hart’s nose,” the book says, “Wilson had proposed just such an arrangement, and Zia and his high command had signed on to implement it. Seven years later, Hart still knew nothing about it.” (P-149).
The congressman began showed Zia the design for the Charlie Horse and describing the Israelis’ T-55 proposal at a dinner in Rawalpindi. After establishing what Zia wanted him to convey back to the Israelis, Wilson came right to point they both wanted the same thing—to expand the Afghan war— and Charlie had a plan to make it possible.
Charlie Wilson himself ended up overseeing much of this eccentric weapons program for Pakistan out of his own congressional office, and it turned out to be a wild and remarkable success story. “There were all these little scientists in the Pentagon—bureaucratic misfits who just needed to be freed,” Wilson recalled years later. “We gave them a little money and made them immune to procurement laws. They’re mad-scientist types. They love to tinker with things that blow up but hate to fill out forms. Hate to follow the chain of command. Hate to wait.”
“Within weeks, they began developing an astonishing collection of weapons. The Spanish mortar, for example, was designed to make it possible for the mujahideen to communicate directly with American navigation satellites to deliver repeated rounds within inches of their designated targets. Global-positioning technology is well known today, but back in 1985 it struck Wilson as the most astonishing capability. Just the thought of Afghan tribesmen who had never seen a flush toilet signaling an American satellite to fire precision rounds at a Red Army stronghold was almost too much to believe.
“The weapon’s name was purposefully misleading, chosen to conceal the fact that major portions of this “Spanish mortar” were being built by the Israelis. Milt Bearden, the station chief who would dominate the war’s later years, actually came to rely on the steady stream of crazy new weapons that kept coming on-line from this offbeat program. His strategy called for introducing a new weapon into the battle every three months or so, in order to bluff the Red Army into thinking their enemy was better armed and supported than it was.
“The Spanish mortar, for example, with its satellite-guided charge, was rarely deployed and may only have succeeded because the Pakistani ISI advisers were along to direct the fire. But the Soviets didn’t know that. When the weapon was first used it wiped out an entire Spetsnaz outpost with a volley of perfect strikes. And as soon as Bearden learned from the CIA’s intercepts that the commander of the 40th Army had helicoptered to the scene, he knew that from that day on, the Soviets would have to factor in the possibility that the mujahideen had acquired some deadly targeting capability.
“For that reason alone, the weapon was a success even if never fired again. Bearden became so intoxicated with this kind of psychological warfare that he later developed plans to have a group of mujahideen shoot dead Russian soldiers with crossbows. To him, the vision of men who might kill you with a bow and arrow one day or with a satellite-guided mortar the next would be unnerving to any army.” (P-393).
When the first Soviet helicopter was downed by the Mujahideen with Israeli weapons, Charlie Wilson was sent a special souvenir. “Charlie was the first to be taken to see this temple of Soviet doom. There Bearden (CIA Chief in Islamabad) had assembled a delegation of 1SI officers and mujahideen. With great solemnity, the station chief on behalf of the CIA, the ISI, and the Afghan freedom fighters, presented Charlie with the spent gripstock from the Stinger that Engineer Ghaffar had used to bring down the first Hind.” (P-475).