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How post 9/11 the world turned battlefield and soldiers spies

Named after Mazetti’s book, The Way of Knife, the second session saw policy expert Barnett Rubin, Adrian Levy who has written on the Mumbai attack, Mark Mazzetti and television journalist Ben Anderson, discussing various aspects of the CIA’s shape-shifting since the 70s.

books Updated: Jan 19, 2014 21:01 IST
Paramita Ghosh
Paramita Ghosh
Hindustan Times
mark mazetti,jaipur literature festival,jaipur litfest

If James Bond embodied the spirit of MI6’s cloak and dagger during World War II, Mark Mazzetti’s book, The Way of the Knife has been described as the tragicomic account of the CIA’s handling of the USA’s by-now famous slogan of The War on Terror.

Presented by Hindustan Times, the session, on the second day of the litfest, named after Mazetti’s book, had policy expert Barnett Rubin, Adrian Levy who has written on the Mumbai attack, Mazzetti and television journalist Ben Anderson, best known for his film, Taking on the Taliban, discuss various aspects of the CIA’s shape-shifting since the 70s.

“The 70s were the time of coups, espionage. Since 9/11, it has transformed into a paramilitary service that does lethal, targetted killing perceived to be hostile to American interests. It found it had less legal controversies on its hands over killing rather than if it chose the method of capture and interrogation,” said Mazzetti pointing to the series of drone attacks in Pakistan and the pre-dawn raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011. The definition of the battlefield had expanded to include the world; soldiers had become spies.

American policy under Bush and Obama, however, seemed to be more a difference of form than content. Drones, for example, have been accepted by both presidents as "effective".

Rubin, an adviser to Obama’s election campaign in 2008, talked of the contradictions that lay at the heart of successive American policies on the region. “Bush had databases made on Afghan tribes, a strategy bound to fail. When I considered Obama’s policy on Pakistan, each point seemed to have been written by different people. While it said it would engage with Pakistan’s government and strengthen its institutions, there was another point which said his (Obama) government would hit terrorists wherever they found them” with or without the Pakistan government. Writing to another of Obama’s advisers, Rubin had pointed out that the “more he would do of the second point, the less he would be able to do of the first.”

The ‘speak’ on War, also gave birth to romantic fantasies. Anderson recalled how many 19 year-olds eager to be off to Afghanistan, talked of wanting to do battle with “Taliban guerrillas…By 2010 I didn’t hear anybody say things like that.” Anderson talking of his reporting experiences made an interesting point about how locals would “willingly give intelligence to the Taliban” given the situation on the ground. “The Afghan government is corrupt, the police behave appallingly.”

The success of David Headley, the double agent who masterminded the 2008 Mumbai attack, was a “an extraordinary character in the history of south Asian espionage.” said Levy. Because of his complicated personal history, he was ambiguous, “he served himself, he was an asset,” added Levy.

The session, moderated by The Guardian journalist Jason Burke, ended with an open-ended question, thrown by Mazzetti, as it were, to the audience. “There are repercussions to strategies. Are we creating more terrorists by killing?” Societies that use the instrument of state violence in the name of counter-terror operations are still answering this one.

First Published: Jan 19, 2014 13:19 IST