Monday October 18, 2021

Did PM make an error in referencing former president Ronald Reagan’s speech?

September 26, 2021
Did PM make an error in referencing former president Ronald Reagan’s speech?

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan is under fire — again. And this time, it has to do with his address to the 76th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations — a forum that puts one in the spotlight before the entire world.

In his address, delivered early Saturday via a pre-recorded statement, he spoke about how Pakistan, a front-line state fighting against the occupation of Afghanistan in the 80s, along with the US, trained Mujahideen groups, Geo News reported.

Imran Khan said that these fighters were considered heroes and went on to state that then US president Ronald Reagan invited them to the White House, in 1983. The premier, citing news items, said that Reagan compared them to the founding fathers of the United States.

Twitter users have jumped at the opportunity to point out that the statement was supposedly made in error, Geo News reported.

Journalist Gharida Farooqui wrote: “What an international embarrassment that too at UNGA forum this time. US President Ronald Reagan NEVER compared ‘mujahideen’ to founding fathers. It's fake news. PM Khan refers to a fake news item to launch Pakistan’s case at such a prestigious forum! Who wrote the speech for PM Khan? Fire him.”

The PMLN Vice President Maryam Nawaz chimed in to say that it is PM Imran Khan that must be “fired” and not the speech writer.

“Bad SELECTION,” she added, in an oft-quoted reference to the premier used by the opposition.

Geo News did a little digging around to determine what Reagan actually said in his speech, delivered at an annual dinner of the Conservative Political Action Conference, and whether he did really speak of the mujahideen in those terms. It bears mentioning here that a commander of the Afghan mujahideen was actually present at the gathering, and the US president was high praise for him, going so far as to describe the mujahideen as "brothers".

The relevant excerpt from his speech is given below:

“There’s much more to do. Throughout the world the Soviet Union and its agents, client states, and satellites are on the defensive — on the moral defensive, the intellectual defensive, and the political and economic defensive. Freedom movements arise and assert themselves. They're doing so on almost every continent populated by man — in the hills of Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America. In making mention of freedom fighters, all of us are privileged to have in our midst tonight one of the brave commanders who lead the Afghan freedom fighters — Abdul Haq. Abdul Haq, we are with you.

“They are our brothers, these freedom fighters, and we owe them our help. I've spoken recently of the freedom fighters of Nicaragua. You know the truth about them. You know who they're fighting and why. They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French Resistance. We cannot turn away from them, for the struggle here is not right versus left; it is right versus wrong.”

While it can be argued that Reagan mentioned the Nicaraguan freedom fighters right before saying “they are the moral equal of our founding fathers”, it does not really take a leap of imagination to argue that he was speaking of freedom fighters in general when he made the comment — especially when, just moments prior, he had referred to the Afghan freedom fighters as “our brothers” and said we "owe them our help".

But while Reagan may or may not have been referring to freedom fighters everywhere when he described them as no different from the founding fathers of the United States, the comment has become a partisan debate in Pakistan, where people have taken polar opposite views depending on which side of the political divide they stand on.

Meanwhile, Michael Kugelman, Deputy director Asia Programme, said the claim Ronald Reagan compared the Afghan mujahideen to the US founding fathers was untrue. “In a 1985 speech, he had described Nicaraguan rebels in that way. He referred to Afghan mujahideen only as freedom fighters,” he said.

He also shared the transcript of the 1985 speech.

“To be sure, PM Khan's broader point -- that the US supported the mujahideen--is 100% true. The US viewed them in the same light as Nicaraguan rebels -- two groups fighting Communism. When the mujahideen evolved into the Taliban and the Taliban sheltered al-Qaeda, the US view changed,” he tweeted.

Focal Person to Punjab Chief Minister on Digital Media Azhar Mashwani meanwhile said the video he posted earlier (copied from another account) with the same was doctored. “Apologies for that! Posted the original clip now, that doesn't change the context of Regan's remarks. Multiple sources, which referred to that context, are available online,” he tweeted.