April 30, 2018

Steve Coll, Dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Johns Hopkins SAIS welcomed Steve Coll, Pulitzer Prize winner and Dean & Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism, to talk about his book, “Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. This book is the sequel to “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the C.I.A., Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.”

Coll began the discussion by outlining the three themes of his book, taken from the perspective of the U.S. First are the war aims of the U.S. What is the U.S. interest in sending people to Afghanistan? Second is the view of Pakistan as a sanctuary on the one hand, and arguments that the U.S. is using Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) to destabilize Afghanistan on the other. Finally, the book notes the ambiguity of U.S. strategy in the region.

The discussion then goes into greater detail on the roles of the I.S.I. and the C.I.A. Coll likens the I.S.I. to Moby Dick–it is unclear where power really lies in the organization. And while the C.I.A. maintains close ties to the I.S.I. for counterterrorism activities, the two organizations skirt the issues of Kashmir or the leadership of the Taliban. After all, counterterrorism is the one thing that the C.I.A. can deliver on, compared to any other arm of federal government.

Looking forward, Coll identifies three fault lines in the relationship triangle between the U.S., Pakistan, and Afghanistan. First, the new generation is a powerful force in any country because they are constantly “plugged in” and can be factionalized. Second are the post-American geopolitics and the spoilers in the region in the form of Russia and Iran. Lastly, internal Afghan politics will determine what are the next steps in this complex issue.

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