INTERVIEWER: Do you think that the Americans Vietnam experience in any way influenced US policy towards Afghanistan?
CHARLES DUNBAR: I know in my own view, I suppose I, Vietnam influenced my view, the reason I got involved with this, or came back to be involved with it, because I served as Chargé in Kabul for a couple of years, and then went off as ambassador and asked to come back to work on Afghanistan in Washington, was the feeling that the national liberation movements did not always have to come from the left and that the world should understand that a coup d'état is a coup d'état. When it is unpopular it will be overthrown by the people. And my very strong interest was to make sure that that point got across. I felt, I came to think very quickly that the resistance was gonna be able to carry on for a long time, and if it strengthened itself politically as well as militarily, it would be much harder to defeat. To simply push aside. PLO is something that I and a number of my colleagues have very strongly in view as we thought about this. So, but getting back to the point of Vietnam, yes I think the feeling was that, that there had been a national liberation movement there, and I wanted to show that there could be a national liberation movement coming from a different quarter of the political landscape. So to that degree, Vietnam was influential. I did not have a sense personally, and I don't think other people did, of wanting to make the Soviets "pay" for what had happened in Vietnam. I simply had the sense that, and maybe it's not too far removed from mthem wanna pay, that they should not be allowed simply to declare that a leftist coup d'éis a national liberation movement and a rightist coup d'état is a push. And so I signed on for that reason.
INTERVIEWER: Certainly people like the Charlie Wilson's more hard line characters, I mean part of his motivation was the Vietnam experience. You know there was 167 funerals he said in his area and he wanted to pay them back and many phrases I have heard like, you know making the Soviets bleed, dying, fighting to the last Afghan you know it seemed like the Vietnam experience is in there, and it must have been influencing.
CHARLES DUNBAR: I never heard Congressman Wilson say that, and perhaps those differences of view were submerged in the really very heady effort of getting on with the job. You refer to what I think is now referred, spoken of as the "bleeder school" of in the US government. Speaking of bleeding the Soviets was not particularly fashionable in the state department or anywhere else that I can think of. You didn't talk about that openly and particularly the notion that some people mention that US policy was really to fight the Soviets to the last Afghan. That was something I certainly didn't believe, and was not the reason why I was involved in it, and I think most of the people I worked on Afghanistan with, and this was not just the state department people, it was people at the NSC, people at the Agency, people in the defense department, did not own up to that, and I don't think that a lot of them believed it, but what that quote that you make from Congressman Wilson is telling if that is what he thought, and that is what he was doing, then that is what he thought and that is what he was doing. But I can't say more for others.
INTERVIEWER: Right, but it seems to me, that as the, I mean we'll talk about this later, but as the Accords came to fruition and there seemed to be possibilities of peace, particularly important to members of the state department an option or a get out for peace. It seemed like these hard line views intended to sort of crystallize particularly with Schulz and Shevernadze, Schulz's hand was actually tied by a senate resolution which was really tying him down to continuing the conflict, continuing to supply the Mujaheddin, so those views did actually appear to have hardened and come through towards the end.
CHARLES DUNBAR: Well can I start out by saying that I was not there at the very end. I think that there was a strong sense that the Afghans should not be allowed to be defeated. should not lose at the negotiating table what they had gained on the battle field, and I know that for my own part, I certainly enthusiastically subscribed to that proposition and I do think that because of the way and we need to look a little bit at how the UN negotiation worked, there were certain parameters that were that had been set up and following the Pakistani lead, we had agreed to, and it was, it became an issue of being sure that those parameters did not cause the Kabul regime to be able to survive in office, after the enormous sacrifices made by the resistance.
INTERVIEWER: I took you too far there, my fault, I'll pull you back a bit now. I mean before the invasion of Afghanistan the US has sort of consistently criticized Pakistan over it's development of the nuclear deterrent and yet it was willing to, it appeared to be giving them an easy ride when it came to acting as a top conduit for military aid, I mean how did America come to grips, or prioritize those two issues?
CHARLES DUNBAR: Well I suppose that there would be a mealy mouthed response to that, I'm not gonna give you a mealy mouthed response in this case which is unusual for a I suppose for in the popular conception of how diplomats, even former diplomats talk. I think we had a double standard with respect to the Pakistanis. And we knew that there were big problems with drugs, and that there big problems with Nukes and we were prepared in various ways, in any way that we had to, to turn Nelson's eye to those problems as long as the Afghan resistance was being supported by the government of Pakistan and that's what we did, and when the resistance more or less triumphed. Or at least when the Soviets withdrew our interests in continuing to turn Nelsons eye to those problems vanished. I hope that's clear.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think at the end of the day that America's stance actually helped Pakistan achieve that goal? Of getting their own deterrent. I'm trying to tie in the massive military aid with the F16s. Massive military in put that was given to Pakistan and which helped them fund their...
CHARLES DUNBAR: I'm not a nuclear expert my sense is that the Pakistanis would have found a way to do that, no matter what we were doing. Of course it was better to have a good relationship with the United States, it was a matter I know, this was not something that I worked on, it was a matter of enormous concern to colleagues in the state department and in the defense department and everywhere else, what was going on, with respect to the development of the Pakistani, nuclear capability, and it was something that people just weren't prepared to come to grips with, so I think they would have gotten it anyway, I don't think it made a lot of difference, but that's an uninformed opinion.
INTERVIEWER: I mean do you know much about the whole military aid package, do you know much about the sort of negotiations over that, and all the F16s and all that sort of stuff
CHARLES DUNBAR: I don't know the details, I simply know that we gave a lot of military aid to the Pakistanis during this period and it was very much a negotiation that in where Afghanistan loomed very large.
INTERVIEWER: I mean were you involved in the Stinger decision at all, or the
CHARLES DUNBAR: No I just watched it take place, and I don't know who the I could guess who the protagonists were. My sense was that there was a lot of concern at the agency initially, because of the whole question of deniability, and the fact that they did not wanna have American arms turn up, so that they would continue to be, the fiction could continue to be maintained that the weapons that the resistance were using were eastern weapons and supposedly captured from the Kabul regime, and the Soviets they did use an awful lot of captured equipment but there was a great deal more than that, so there was that concern. There was also a very real concern expressed by people that the Stingers would find their way into hands that we didn't want to hold them and that there would be great difficulties afterwards. So there were those two concerns, as I say I would have suspicions lined up on which side but in the end a decision was taken, a finding was made and the stingers were deployed.
INTERVIEWER: As early as 82/83 Andropov hinted about a possible withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the UN attempted to follow that up, I mean do you remember what views there were within the administration about how the US should respond, because I mean initially the Pakistanis and the Afa Khan were quite keen to follow that up, but they later, Khan later sort of backtracked. Why?
CHARLES DUNBAR: I do not have any sense that we were reigning in the Pakistanis, when you speak of the UN involvement. The UN had been invited in early on, I believe already in 1980 to begin a mediation, to begin a peace effort. That developed into the Court Roberes 4 part agreement that was down on paper and there were various things that were omitted, omitted. Specifically the length of, of the time table for the withdrawal of Soviet Forces, which was absolutely central as far as we were concerned. These hints did not really look like hints at the time they were happening. Now Andropov 82/83 I would not have been following that as closely, cos I was still in Kabul. But the hints that we were getting from 85 when I came back on into 87, were always accompanied by the fact that yes we would like to get out and we would like to take 5 or 6 years to do it. And that for us was just anathema. Unacceptable. And I don't rethe Pakistanis saying oh well, I don't remember any great discomfort between ourselves and the Pakistanis on that issue, of the, our, our view was thaif the timetable were short enough the Kabul regime would not survive. If the Soviets got out fast enough. That was the key thing we were speaking I believe of 90 days and they were of 5 years. And it didn't narrow a whole lot during the time that I was actively working on it. So that was the, that was the key issue, but hints by Andropov, sure there were hints and when they were followed up as they always were vigorously they just would vanish like a wil o' the wisp. That's in our perception.
INTERVIEWER: Did you not think, did people not think he was serious?
CHARLES DUNBAR: No I think that we felt that he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. That he wanted to have peace made and to have the Kabul regime survive. That I think that is very aptly put, I think he thought he was quite serious, but that he was trying to get something that he hadn't been able to get militarily through negotiation.
INTERVIEWER: And what was the feeling really about those hints do you think I mean was there almost an intention to wanna continue the war on the part of the US.
CHARLES DUNBAR: Not to continue the war for the sake of continuing the war, but to be sure that the Afghans won. And as I say they were always vigorously followed up. There were people that, there was a regular dialogue, between ourselves and the Soviets and of course between ourselves and the Pakistanis, and between the Pakistanis and the Soviets. And I never saw any serious sense expressed on the part of the Pakistanis or of our own people that these hints were anything other than an attempt simply to end the war, which they clearly wanted to do, it was very unpleasant for them internationally and I am sure at home, but that they were not yet prepared this, and I wanna emphasize this. This was our view, that they were not able to show us that they were serious about getting out, had they done that there probably would have been as their ultimately was a fight over whatever terms they proposed, but they did not until much later, until really after I was involved, begin to say the kind of things that got through to us that yes we are serious and we will get out and we realize, unspoken we will get out and if the Kabul regime falls that is something that, that we are prepared to live with. We the Soviets.
INTERVIEWER: How did the US respond to the arrival of Gorbachev and his announcement that he wanted to get out? His first announcement.
CHARLES DUNBAR: Well we didn't think he was serious in 85, we were getting all sorts of hints, indications that this was a new wind in Moscow, which it clearly was, but there was nothing in 85/86 that came across to us that indicated that he was really serious about getting out. I remember Mrs. Thatcher in particular was someone you know we would get accounts of her conversations with President Reagan, that this is someone you can deal with, you can do business with, we want to encourage this man to do the kinds of things internationally that we have been trying to get the Soviets to do. But you know Dobrynin the former Soviet Ambassador to Washington writes in his memoirs that the decision to get out, I'll put that in quotes was made in I think in late 1985. That did not come across to us, certainly to me quite deep down, far down in the trenches and or to my superiors in the rest of the government. It began to come across in 77/78 that he was serious.
INTERVIEWER: Gorbachev said that really is biggest problem was actually trying to get people to, you know convince Reagan and his administration that he was serious, early on. I mean why wasn't he believed ?
CHARLES DUNBAR: Because when you got to the details, where has General Marshall said the devil lies, it was always a very long timetable for withdrawal. It just did not seem serious. Now given a different mental, mind set on both sides it might have seemed serious. But it always came back to seeming like the same old talk and we simply said if you were serious, make a short timetable, and we mean really short, and if you're not, you're not serious. And it just did not come across, I am speaking of the times when I was very active and as I say my primary brief was building up the resistance, my primary brief was not negotiating with the Soviets about withdrawal from Afghanistan, that was to people who were considerably my superiors in the government. But as you know, I would participate in the preparations for the meetings and sometimes attend them and we just didn't think, they did not get across to us that they were serious and I don't think we can sort of wear a hair shirt and say this is because we were insufficiently sensitive, it was because they were not prepared to bite the bullet. Now perhaps they were having a problem of Mr. Gorbachev explaining to the people who were doing the negotiating, no I want us out of there, no matter what, now you go out and negotiate us to get out. They didn't do that.
INTERVIEWER: But there seems to have been as the Geneva Accords started out, to harden our, there seems to have been sort of major policy differences between the state department and the pentagon about how they should proceed. Could you talk a bit about that?