To A Friend

I saw a film on TV or Netflix, I forget which. It recounts how U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson got Congress to approve funds so the Afghan mujahideen could fight the Soviets in the Soviet–Afghan War. Wilson worked with CIA operative Gust Avrakotos, who used the money to get weapons to the mujahideen and organise and train them. You can look up the events in Wikipedia.

The film shows Wilson meeting General Zia Ul Haq of Pakistan, and setting up a deal between Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel to get old Soviet heavy weapons to the Afghans and thereby hide American involvement in the war.

It is not surprising that Ul Haq would side with anyone who could encourage the Soviets to leave, not least because Pakistan was playing unwilling host to millions of Afghan refugees.

The number of helicopters, tanks, heavy vehicles, and men the Soviets lost after the Afghans were armed was staggering. Of course the mountainous terrain hampered the Russians and favoured the Afghans. And the break up of the Soviet Union was not far off, so who knows what internal struggles guided the Soviet’s political decision to withdraw. But still, the Afghans destroyed an awful lot of material.

General Zia Ul Haq

I remembered that General Zia Ul Haq had been killed in the 1980s but I couldn’t remember how. I looked up the details, and he was killed in an air crash in August 1988. He and 30 others died, including the American Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Lewis Raphel and the head of the US Military aid mission to Pakistan, General Herbert M. Wassom.

The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in May 1988, and I wonder whether that plane crash a couple of months later was payback to Pakistan and the US for the proxy war that Charlie Wilson fought?

The Mangla Dam

People and events in Pakistan would be more distant to me and impinge less on my consciousness save for a friend I made. For that, I have to take a step back in time.

Until 1967, the irrigation system of Pakistan depended on the seasonal flow of the River Indus and its tributaries. The problem was that there was no adequate storage for the water, so it ran off and agricultural yield was low.

The Mangla Dam was completed in 1967 to correct this. The second part of the project, the Tarbela Dam, was completed in 1976. Between them they regulate the irrigation system of the Indus Basin. The downside of the Mangla Dam project was that upstream of the dam the reservoir submerged 280 villages and the towns of Mirpur and Dadyal, and more than one hundred thousand people lost their homes and lands and were displaced.

Some of those who lost their homes were given work permits by the Government of Pakistan to work in Britain, and as a result, in many cities in the UK the majority of the Kashmiri community originates from the Dadyal-Mirpur area of Azad Kashmir.

There are 750,000 Kashmiris in the United Kingdom, mostly in the industrial North of the country. In Bradford, many Kashmiris took up work in the textile and steel mills, and that is where I met Zaid Hussain.

I was working in an office, and on the floor below was the Pakistan Consulate. I got to know one of the staff there when he brought people to have documents sworn. I think it was he who introduced me to Zaid, but in any event Zaid came to talk about his father who was an army officer, and about his mother.

They wanted to settle in the UK and there were documents to swear. The process went on for months and during this time I got to know Zaid, his wife, his brothers, and eventually all of his family. Our friendship continued for years, until he died. And I think of him sometimes.