INTERVIEW WITH DR CHARLES COGAN - AUGUST 1997
INTERVIEWER: From a sort of global and regional sense why was Afghanistan important to US interests during the 80s and late 70s?
DR CHARLES COGAN: Well Afghanistan had always been a source of rivalry between the US and the USSR going back to the 50s they built one portion of the road that was the delta way as we called it around Afghanistan and the Russians built the other. We built one part and the Russians built the other part, so there had been a sort of competition for Aid, strange as it may seem, you know 40 or 50 years later we were going head to head on aid programs dating from the 50s. So Afghanistan was a, one of the stakes in the cold war.
INTERVIEWER: And what did you feel about Soviet influence in Afghanistan in the years leading up to the invasion?
DR CHARLES COGAN: Well the communist party was always strong in Afghanistan and the "Adoud" coup which took place in 1973 sort of cast a different flavor over the monarchy, although "Dhoud" was a relative of the king. nevertheless he was in a way he was like "Zoffri Kar Ali Bhutto" in Pakistan. He brought in a sort of a leftist tint to the regime and that was starting in 73.
INTERVIEWER: But how did you, I mean how did you feel about that sort of Soviet, that communist influence? How did the US feel about that influence?
DR CHARLES COGAN: Well there was the coup in I think it was March of 78, and then it was immediately followed by this assassination of the ambassador by Spike Dubbs, by some militants and the Afghan security forces were very unhelpful and they were encountered by Russians we know so I think from that point onward, I'm not exactly sure of the date but there was a great deal of suspicion on the part of Washington toward this communist regime in Kabul and it is interesting to note that before the Soviet invasion in December 79, there was already a covert action operation in place in Afghanistan in a very rudimentary way against the government and in favor of those who are opposed to the government and this started in the summer of 79.
INTERVIEWER: Could you explain a bit more about that?
DR CHARLES COGAN : Well yes in perhaps you know this in the CIA whenever you engage in an action overseas you have to have presidential authorization. Now this has sometimes been forgotten in the breach as in Iran Contra, but nevertheless this is a rule that's been in effect since the 1970s approximately. So therefore in the case of this assistance to the rebels in Afghanistan starting in the summer of 79 there had to be what was called a presidential finding and that is the president signs that he finds this action operation, this covert operation, as in the security interests of the US. So the first finding preceded the Soviet invasion. But it was not for lethal weapons, it was for various kinds of assistance, communications equipment and so forth, and propaganda assistance.
INTERVIEWER: I was just thinking sort of from in a regional sense I mean what did you think the Soviets plans were before the invasion, I mean what did you think the Soviet intentions were in Afghanistan?
DR CHARLES COGAN : We were never sure what they were, even during the war, it seemed that the Soviets had a broader geopolitical ambitions because they did have a considerable build up of the space and Shindan in Southwest Afghanistan. Of course the Pakistanis particularly Zia were convinced that the Soviets had their eyes on Balujastan and on down into the Indian Ocean. We were never sure of this but we couldn't tell. there was another moment in the late 70s early 80s when the Russians did a command post exercise indicating the possibility that they might move into Iran and into the Gulf. So there was an uncertainty about, a suspicion about Soviet geo-political intentions in the area. Dating from I'd say the late 70s.
INTERVIEWER: But how, I'm trying to get an idea of how it figured in the grand scheme for the US Afghanistan and the Soviet influence in it. I mean how, how worried were they?
DR CHARLES COGAN: Well to situate this in a more political context, the US had always had a relationship with Pakistan going back to the 50s with the two bases in Pershawa. And it developed from that, that the CIA which is a little bit unusual had a relationship with a military intelligence organization in Pakistan dating from the 50s and despite the many political ups and downs in between the US and Pakistan and their political relations, this liaison relationship between the interservices intelligence directorate which is Pakistani military intelligence and the CIA remained. So when the troubles began in Afghanistan and the Paks of course were very interested in it, it was a marriage of I won't say convenience but it was a convenient marriage that could take place between the Paks services and our service to do something vis a vis the Russians in Afghanistan. And I, I just to add a bit to that, we had come out of Vietnam war with a great deal of disarray in the US and it seemed at the time in the late 70s that the Soviets were pushing us everywhere. Angola, Horn of Africa and now Afghanistan and this was an opportunity to turn the tables.
INTERVIEWER: How do you read Soviet involvement in events such as the April revolution in 78 and the rise of "Amin"?
DR CHARLES COGAN : My impression is that the Soviets did not sponsor this 78 revolution, what is called the Saur revolution. But they probably knew that something was in the offing, they probably knew about it. Curiously they fell out with Amin over his own independence which was quite pronounced and also over a misunderstanding in his background. Because like many third world figures he had had some connection with the Asia foundation which was sponsored in part by the Agency, and this roused Russian suspicions in a quite unfounded manner. And then when he came back, when Teraqi came back and having come from Moscow and Amin immediately moved against him, I think this was a signal for the Soviets that Amin had gone too far. But he wasn't necessarily opposed to the Soviets, he was a sort of national communist. And they were quite misled in thinking that he was an American agent which he wasn't at all.
INTERVIEWER: I mean how significant was the death of Ambassador Dubbs do you think?
DR CHARLES COGAN : I think it was very significant in that this was not the first time that it had happened we had the incident in Khartoum in the early 70s but it sort of like when a policeman is shot, the police force gets very exercised and goes after the problem and I think that this is what happened in the US government, this was an unprovoked attack, an ambassador is killed and this soured the relation between whatever relation there might have been between the Afghan communist government and the US.
INTERVIEWER: I mean who do you really feel was to blame for the death of Dubbs?
DR CHARLES COGAN: Well I think to a certain extent the Afghan government and the Soviets themselves were to blame for not taking swift action.
INTERVIEWER: You don't think in any way that the whole thing was masterminded by the KGB or anything?
DR CHARLES COGAN : I don't rule it out, but I don't think so. I don't think it happened in such an open and shut manner.
INTERVIEWER: I mean do you think that events in Iran with the fall of the Shah altered the sort of strategic importance of Afghanistan in the eyes of the US?
DR CHARLES COGAN : The question of the fall of the Shah I think certainly peaked US interest in Afghanistan. This was a long simmering crisis. It really began when the Shah's illness became apparent, not to us but to the French, very early on 72. And I think we finally became aware of the gravity of it in 76 and we were unaware of the weakness of the monarchy and therefore thought that perhaps the monarchy could whether it. And it didn't turn out to be the case and it was a considerable setback, we didn't know what the Soviet position was in the immediate aftermath of the Khomeini revolution because at that time, leftist organizations such as the Mujaheddin "Carq" were still very strong in the revolution. It hadn't been purged yet, so the potential Soviet threat toIran seemed to be a strong possibility. And then of course coming on the heels of the Khomeini take-over there was the attack on the Mecca mosque and the riots in Islamabad and we didn't necessarily put that to the Soviets account no but there was a sense that the US was being threatened throughout the area, whether by Islamists or by the Soviets. And then although there had been a rudimentary operation against the Soviets in Afghanistan since the middle of 79 the invasion, this transparent invasion in December 79 was as they say in the US a "wake up call". And especially a wake up call for President Carter.
INTERVIEWER: I mean how did the loss of listening bases affect the US? Listening bases in Iran?
DR CHARLES COGAN : Can I cut it here, I'd like to think about this for a second as to how to handle this.
INTERVIEWER: I mean for me it's how events in Iran affect US interests in Afghanistan, does it alter your view of Afghanistan does it make it any more important? Does it make your relationship with Pakistan more important?
INTERVIEWER: Chat about the affects of Afghan on his digestive system!
INTERVIEWER: How did the loss of the intelligence listening bases affect the US?
DR CHARLES COGAN : Well I think in a general sense the US had to turn towards Pakistan and shore up the relationship with the Paks which had as I mentioned before many ups and downs since the 50s. The actual listening bases which we had considerable trouble dismantling in Iran because of the revolution sort of overtook the situation, caused us to shift our attention towards Pakistan and then the threat to Pakistan seemed to be very paramount because here was a Soviet, a pro Soviet regime that had come into power in Afghanistan, India which had increased its strength vis a vis Pakistan continually since the early since 65 was a threat, and Pakistan seemed to be the most apt ally for the US in the area, and so we intensified this relationship. And to do anything in Afghanistan you pass either through Iran which had become out of the question with the Khomeini revolution, or the Soviet Union which was our enemy, or Pakistan, so Pakistan was the logical choice for emphasis.