Reagan with Afghan Mujahideen
in the Oval Office (1983)
President Ronald Reagan was so enthusiastic about supporting the Afghan mujahideen, who had jihadist ties, that in 1982 he dedicated the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia to “the people of Afghanistan.” In 1983, the leaders of the Afghan mujahideen groups were invited to the White House where they met Reagan in the Oval Office. Reagan’s administration funded the mujahideen groups, armed them with cutting edge weapons, glorified them as freedom fighters in government reports, and trained them in the art of insurgency, sabotage, and terrorism.
Till the early 1970s, the Pakistani government used to claim that their country was secular. The Islamization of Pakistan happened during the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq, who came to power in 1977, through a military coup. When Reagan became the president in 1981, he declared that Zia’s regime was America’s "front line" ally against the Soviet Union. With America’s full support, Zia promoted the mujahideen groups in Afghanistan and groups like the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan. He changed Pakistan’s laws to Islamize bureaucracy, education, economy, and media.
Since the Afghan mujahideen were waging a war on the Soviet Union, they were the good guys for the Americans. The Reagan administration poured weapons worth billions into Pakistan and Afghanistan to strengthen the jihadist groups. This American policy had terrible consequences for India. After the jihadists had driven the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, they turned their attention to India. In the late 1980s, terrorist violence escalated in Kashmir and other parts of India. Thousands died, and the Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee from the Kashmir valley.
There was transformation in American view of jihad after 9/11. When America itself was attacked on 9/11, the American government suddenly woke up to the fact that the jihadists were not the good guys or the allies of the West. The word “jihad” acquired a pejorative meaning in America and Western Europe. Islamism replaced communism as the ideology of anti-Western groups, and the American media started depicting the jihadists groups as the perpetrators of terrorism.