News24

Reagan set roots for al-Qaeda

2004-06-07 12:46

Islamabad - Ronald Reagan's legacy in Asia is most visible today on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, where his drive to end the Cold War climaxed with the CIA-backed humiliation of the Soviets in Afghanistan but lit the torch-paper of radical Islam that spawned Al-Qaeda.

Elsewhere in Asia he is noted for forging for some of Washington's strongest-ever relationships with the Philippines, South Korea and China in a highly-personal bid to defeat communism.

Reagan ruled over the CIA's biggest ever operation, the funding and arming of the jihad against Soviet troops who had invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and were driven out by US-armed Islamic militants 10 years later.

The Central Intelligence Agency spent billions of dollars arming and funding Islamic warriors to slip into Afghanistan from western Pakistan to fight the Soviets.

Monumental

"It was monumental, it was historic," retired Pakistani general Hamid Gul, who headed the ISI military spy agency from 1987-1989, said of Reagan's role in defeating the Soviets.

"We were receiving arms and logistics from the CIA, we were partners in this struggle," Gul said, estimating the CIA spent up to $7bn in supplying arms and logistics to Islamic fighters or "jihadis."

"The jihadis he supported. It was their resistance against the forces of occupation and repression - that's what jihad is - that Reagan identified himself with," Gul said

"His greatest achievement was that he stood behind the Islamic world when it was arrayed against the Soviet empire."

American support

Pakistani analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said Reagan "will always be remembered for American support to these extremist and hardline Islamic groups."

"Al-Qaeda took shape later on but they grew from this period. Some of the al-Qaeda people were Arabs who fought in Afghanistan during these years, and once the Afghan cause was gone, they regrouped under al-Qaeda and took up international causes," Rizvi said.

Billions of ammunition rounds and hundreds of thousands of weapons were smuggled over the border on mules and camels, writes US journalist George Crile in his detailed account of the CIA's backing of the anti-Soviet jihad, Charlie Wilson's War.

Gul blames not Reagan but his successors for the sprouting of al-Qaeda from 1995.

It was George Bush the first

"It was derivative of American wrong policies following after Reagan. It was (George) Bush the first who started reversing policies, he abandoned Afghanistan and the urge for democracy awakened in the hearts of these Muslim fighters was ruthlessly curbed."

Rizvi sees the roots of the militancy that scourges Pakistan today in the 1980s US-backed jihad.

"Reagan's policies facilitated orthodoxy in Pakistan. Here the Americans and Pakistanis were building religious orthodox elements and Islamic militancy."

AFP