CHARLES DUNBAR: There were and I think we need to get into the issue that I am sure you have covered elsewhere of act versus process. The Pakistani formulation in looking at the , the two chapters of the agreement, that is Datar Cordovez four part agreement. That is to say Soviet troop withdrawal, and cessation of outside support for the resistance. Pakistanis took the view early on which we accepted that there should be, that the cessation of assistance to the Afghan resistance was an act and that withdrawal must necessarily be a process. Our sense was we accepted that, fine, that the withdrawal should be, if the withdrawal were over short enough time period, the Kabul regime would not survive. Now the point it began to become a reality, you got into another term of art of the day, which was the question of positive or negative symmetry. i.e. would the Soviets stop their assistance to the Kabul regime as assistance was stopped to the Afghans. That was negative symmetry. What ultimately happened, was that and I don't know the details of how this looked on paper, was that there was an understanding that there would be positive symmetry. That is to say that assistance would continue to the resistance and to the Kabul regime, and as I understand it that was the way the way the agreement was ended. One final point is that it was on that question that there was major differences between the state department, probably elements in the NSC and then elements on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon.
INTERVIEWER: Because there is you know there was a time when people like Michael Pillsbury was furious that someone like John Whitehead from the state department was about to actually in a forthcoming speech give agreement to guarantee the Geneva Accords and Whitehead is later quoted as saying he had to make 95% of the speech anti-Soviet to please the evil empire people as he called them. He was referring to hard liners, so there was obviously a major sort of influx from one of these hard liners to try and sell out the accords, why was that?
CHARLES DUNBAR: Because I would say it would come back to that whole question of positive versus negative symmetry. There may have been other elements in it as well and of course a third chapter of the Cordo Robes Framework Agreement was the question of guarantees and we had agreed early on with the encouragement of the Pakistanis to stand as a guarantor if the Soviets would stand as the other guarantor of the entire agreement. I think that there was concern on the part of people like Michael Pillsbury that the rest of the agreement wasn't good enough and they homed, zeroed in rather quickly on this issue of positive versus negative symmetry, and came to the conclusion that the US was prepared to sell out the res, the US and Pakistan because of course Pakistan was the one that was signing the agreement, not the United States and we were to stand as guarantors, but in some way we were going along with a sell out of the reand that was the that was the nub of the problem.
INTERVIEWER: I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about the policy differences between the State Department and the Pentagon about how the US should proceed with the Accords and the peace process?
CHARLES DUNBAR: Well the first point to bear in mind is that I was not present as the as this whole process ended, but I just wanna stress that our sense in the state department was that the key thing that needed to happen was that the Soviets needed to withdraw quickly. We wanted it that way because we were confident that the Kabul regime could not survive without Soviet support. They obviously had to get out quickly if there were to be a cessation of support to the resistance because although there were a lot of weapons and that would have been in the pipeline and that would have gotten there and that were already there, a certain after a certain length of time the resistance would become less effective, and that was what we hung onto very strongly. I wanna make the point that when Under Secretary, Deputy Secretary Whitehead made his speech in late 1985 he was speaking of a willingness on the part of the United State to guarantee an agreement that was suitable and that was the key point. That we said we wouldn't guarantee an appropriate agreement, we would not buy a pig in a poke and the key point was the quick withdrawal of the Soviet forces. That didn't happen, no agreement, no guarantee from the United States, no agreement. That ultimately did happen, what changed was the this question of positive versus negative symmetry. The sense that having been originally that both sides, sorry the Soviet's would withdraw fast and that the, the Soviet, the assistance to the resistance would be stopped, but that because the Soviets would be out quickly Najibola would fall. I think everybody miscalculated what was, how long Najibola was going to be able to stay in power, but naturally he did fall. everybody thought it would be much quicker, but that was the nub of the argument as far as we were concerned, the short timetable for the Soviets to get out. They were serious, they should get out, the logistical time that we figured was reasonable was 90 days and that we should be counting days above that length of time, not months of how long it took them.
INTERVIEWER: Well obviously in 85 when all the parameters were sent, Whitehead was about to agree I know things changed later on, but Whitehead was about to agree in 85,
CHARLES DUNBAR: But remember what was he about to agree to , I wanna bring you back to that point he was about to agree to guarantee a suitable agreement. If there were not a suitable agreement we wouldn't guarantee it, and I think that may have been a point that was lost on the people in the Pentagon and perhaps on the Hill at the same time. Although it's interesting I think that the history of this, the relationship, the working relationship certainly between myself working on the resistance and the people working on the Hill and in the Pentagon remained very positive throughout 1986 and much of 1987. because I was working on strengthening the resistance and that's what they wanted as well. But it's terribly important to remember, we, Whitehead was prepared to guarantee a suitable agreement, not to guarantee any agreement and I can't overstress that.
INTERVIEWER: But what was the Defense Department upset about then with regard to his speech?
CHARLES DUNBAR: I think they were upset about the music rather than the words. They were upset about the notion of the United States being prepared to guarantee at that juncture. They weren't doing the negotiating as we were with the with the Pakistanis and I think that they just didn't want to think about the fact that we would only guarantee an agreement that we considered would to put it very bluntly, would lead to Najibullah's fall, following a quick Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
INTERVIEWER: Really with the Reagan directive one suspects that actually they actually agreed to up the entire cost of the war at that stage even though the Geneva Accords were about to be guaranteed by the State Department, Reagan had already given authority to up the whole conflict.
CHARLES DUNBAR: You keep saying the Geneva Accords were being guaranteed, we were prepared to guarantee something that was suitable. Upping the ante, with the in dealing with the Soviets was entirely consistent with that policy. You put on the pressure and you say okay, now agree to something that we consider to be reasonable and it did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that what we consider to be reasonable was an agreement that would lead to the fall of Najibulla.
INTERVIEWER: Great, great, I mean there seems to have been you know a fairly sensible suggestion and I'm sorry, don't worry if you go over old ground, I know it is just that, it is very difficult to try and I'm trying to get this Geneva Accords in a way that without mentioning positive or negative symmetry that people can understand with regard to continuing of aid. Continuing military aid, I'm just wondering you know you've got a UN attempt here you've got with possible it seems sensible coalition government, role of the king, it seemed a sensible peace process I mean why was, why was the Accords a failure? Why did military aid continue?
CHARLES DUNBAR: Well first of all role of the king was not in the Geneva, in the Cortorobes framework in the four-part framework. That didn't come up, the future political arrangements in Afghanistan were not covered by the agreement which if suitable the United States was prepared to guarantee. As I understand it, in the latter part of 1988 there was a lot of concern that if the Soviets were able to continue aiding the Kabul regime it might not fall. That was a judgement that was made at that time, it had not been the judgement earlier, the sense was that if the, that if the Soviets got out fast the Kabul regime could not survive no matter what the Soviets did. That judgement changed and therefore there was a symmetry agreed upon which was that both sides would continue to supply the their respective
[pause, phone ringing]
Should we do that again or what? Okay why don't we start that all over again, Can't you just unplug it.
INTERVIEWER: Right I was just wondering you've got UN attempts at what seemed like a sensible coalition, attempt at a coalition government which isn't very sensible with long term peace, yet if two superpowers do not want to actually agree to cut off military aid, I mean what, why?
CHARLES DUNBAR: Because there was a sense on our side and I guess on the side of the Soviets as well, that the playing field would not be level for the resistance and the Soviets might have felt that the playing field would not be level for Najibulla, if assistance were cut off, the soviets would never agree to cut off assistance. The Geneva the four-part Cordoberes Agreement did say that there would be a cessation of outside support to the resistance. and we simply decided that that wasn't good enough and agreed to a symmetry in the assistance. In order to make clear that speaking of a coalition government or a possible role for King Zahir was not anything that was in the Geneva agreement that I knew anything about at the time that I was working on it. But what I understand and I was not no longer working on the problem when this happened, it was, the concern was that the resistance would not, would be placed at a disadvantage vis a vis Najibullah if support did not continue.
INTERVIEWER: How was that? [sirens] Do you not really think that that failure to really reach to stop military aid to these various factions was actually a sort of lost opportunity for Afghanistan.
CHARLES DUNBAR: It's very hard to say, my sense is probably not, I think the Afghans would have found a way to fi, whether there had been assistance or not, and of course if we look at the subsequent history of the conflict assistance in which we were no way involved began to be rendered by various interested parties, most notably not the United States and the situation has continued it was. No I think that the failure of the Afghans and in the end of the day it was their failure was that they did not come up with a single leadership a United Leadership and a leader strong enough to take over from Najibullah and assert presumably in that society himself, as the next leader of the country.
INTERVIEWER: You don't think the superpowers should take any responsibility for that continuing unrest?
CHARLES DUNBAR: I think the superpowers, I wish the superpowers would and I guess now we only speak of one superpower and I'm speaking here of the United States should in a better world, it would be much better if the United States were involved. We certainly had a lot to do with what went on in the previous decade and I think, I certainly feel a sense of responsibility for being active in trying to help the Afghanis solve their problems. In the end of the day however they've got to work it out. I wish that we were prepared to make more material assistance available to them and yes also to have a really concerted political effort involving all the interested parties in the region, certainly the Russians, certainly the Pakistanis, the Indians and the Iranians, and others like the central Asian states. I'm afraid that's not gonna happen and I think it's too bad and yes I will say that I think we should be behaving more responsibly in terms of being more active in trying to help the Afghans help themselves. In the end of the day it's very much up to them to figure something out and they simply haven't been able to do it.
INTERVIEWER: I mean how did the Pakistanis feel about you know when the future development of the government was being talked about in Afghanistan how did the Pakistanis feel? Because just last time you said that they were not happy with the idea of making an Afghan government into an independent single body, they wanted to keep control you said of the government.
CHARLES DUNBAR: Oh okay yeah that's a good point, I will say that again, so that you have it. I think the Pakistanis were clearly after having made a tremendous effort were interested in having a government that was not hostile to them. What I don't know specifically is how they felt this should be made to happen in the 90s. I mean we had the sense now that the Pakistanis have been active in support of the Taliban the very reactionary group that is now ruling much of Afghanistan, because again they were a group that they understood. I think the Pakistanis have a conception that all of Afghanistan really, in all of Afghanistan that really matters is the so-called north west frontier area and that what lies beyond is not of great concern and that the leaders who are there, clearly are going, always going to be secondary to those from the north west frontier area. I wish I could understand better why it is that the Pakistanis are prepared to support a group as noxious as the Taliban but they seem to be and that is a matter of Pakistan policy it seems.
INTERVIEWER: Well that's the things you talked about last time,....I just wondered as the Geneva accords came to their fruition, what was the attitude of the US and your own personal feelings about the resolution of the conflict and getting the Soviets out.
CHARLES DUNBAR: Well my own personal feelings first of all as I said before, I got back into the Afghanistan business in 1985 because I hoped that the resistance would be able to win for the reasons that I just explained that that ..... I wanna say that the, as the Geneva accords appeared likely to come to fruition, my feeling was as it had always been that it was important for the resistance to be able to win, in order to show the world that a national liberation movement could come from somewhere other than the extreme left side of the political spectrum and that is what the Afghans were up to . I initially had been skeptical that they were gonna be able to do this, my view changed very quickly in 1985 and I began to think that the resistance could be in this with a very long haul, and I know that the what I was trying to do in making a more coherent, helping them to be more coherent politically and to function as a government, both domestically and internationally. I had the PLO very much in mind as I did that, the PLO created something that could not be brushed aside, so I viewed the success, the beginning to come to fruition of the Geneva accords as very, very positive. I think now and I am not sure, I cannot say frankly what my view then was, it would have been better had it been possible for both sides to stop military assistance. A good way to end a war is to remove the lethal weaponry from the hands of the people who are doing the fighting, that was something that did not happen and the Afghans went on fighting. I wanna make it very clear also that the Afghans would have gone on fighting, whether there had been a cessation of supply or not, and I wanted to make it also clear that I think the key problem was the failure of the resistance to coalesce into a single movement led by a person confident to run the country and be accepted throughout Afghanistan. That did not happen and I think that is the problem that they face today, what is going on has been complex and unpleasant and I don't see very frankly that they have gotten very much farther towards solving that problem than they had at the beginning, and it was absolutely crucial to their success.
INTERVIEWER: I mean what do you think was really responsible for the soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan?
CHARLES DUNBAR: Very difficult to say it would be important to see more of the archives and to see what it may have been. At this juncture and my own view is that it had a lot to do with president Reagan's making clear that he was prepared to up the ante in the whole confrontation with the Soviets, with Afghanistan being a relatively minor part of that, and with Mr. Gorbachev's making a decision that he simply did not want to play at this any longer, that the Soviet Union had to take a different course. How much Afghanistan was responsible for Mr. Gorbachev's change of views is something that I simply do not know at this juncture. I think it is quite conceivable that it could have played a substantial role, when it was made clear by a following the Stinger decisions that the helicopter which was the terrifying weapon aboard, that the Soviets employed against the resistance could be shot down and I think also as there began to be enormous resonance in the Soviet Union and this was something that we knew about at the time of the casualties. The numbers never published and hence a sense that the casualties were perhaps far greater than they had been and now I gather that there is thinking that they were in fact far greater than we thought they were at the time. That this could have influenced Mr. Gorbachev's thinking. So I think the jury is very much out on how much Afghanistan played a role in his, in his decision to do what he did. But it could have been a very substantial role indeed.
INTERVIEWER: I mean looking back at the 10 years of the war in Afghanistan and all the death and destruction and the suffering and given that the conflict is still going on, how does it make you feel?
CHARLES DUNBAR: I do not like suffering and lots and lots and lots of innocent and uninvolved people being killed and wounded, deprived of their homes, deprived of their livelihood, their education and their ability to lead a decent life. At the same time, I've got to say that I think the Afghan resistance was something that was very heavily supported by the whole Afghan people. It would not have succeeded, if it had not been. We could have, and it was done throughout the cold war, other groups in other places were armed there was no resonance. In Afghanistan there was tremendous resonance and there was a gewar of national liberation being fought. I think that we made the right decision in the context of the late 1970s early 1980s to support that resistance. I think the Soviets made a terrible miscalculation in not realizing earlier that they needed to cut their losses and get out. Perhaps they could have learned from oexperience in Vietnam themselves and they did not do that, and they did not give us the kind of signals that would have enabled us to come and the Pakistanis to come to terms with them more quickly and that's very unfortunate. The Afghans themselves were unable to come up with a leadership that was able to assert itself over the, over the whole country and that also is very unfortunate. So how does it make me feel? It makes me feel that we did the right thing at the time, and I'm very very sorry that it did not work out better for the Afghans and that the Afghans were not able to make it work out better for themselves.