The third day of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival saw Afghanistan being given its fair share of attention.
An early morning session entitled 'Dispensable Nation: Afghanistan after the US withdrawal' had Barnett Rubin, Ben Anderson and Mark Mazzetti discuss the issue moderated by William Dalrymple.
The topics covered included the Afghan war, American foreign policies, CIA tactics and America's role in world politics.
At the talk, Barnett Rubin, a political scientist and a leading expert on Afghanistan, spoke about one of the hot topics - the interaction between the US and certain sects of the Taliban regarding the Afghan war.
He also mentioned that the changes in Afghanistan are irreversible and unsustainable. The immediate threat to the country is instability and the promise of stability.
He goes on to say, there's a huge ethnic difference in Afghanistan that has nothing to do with colour or race.
There's a struggle for power and patronage. Everyone wants peace but is waiting for the enemy to surrender. He also stated that if the US agrees to release prisoners from Gauntanamo Bay, it's possible that the basis of the peace process will be laid.
The Pulitzer prize-winning American journalist Mark Mazzetti meanwhile spoke about the fact that Afghanistan was not high up on the priority list for the Obama administration.
“China, India and Afghanistan are rising as big players in the world and especially with their vested interests in Afghanistan,” says Mark, adding that he doesn't think that the US is threatened by their interest.
He says that the countries are being very open about it and there are no secrets, "There is a kind of jockeying going on, but their interests are more towards an economic view point, and in some part towards the redevelopment of Afghanistan. But no, I don't think the US feels threatened as such."
We went on to discuss the trend of foreign intervention, constant surveillance in the name of 'defense and security' and the tactics of the CIA. Mark explained that in terms of interrogation, the CIA is on a very tight leash.
He goes on to say that they do realise that if they try to get away with certain things, they will get caught and there would be hell to pay.
Of late the CIA has been more cautious and Mark says, "With Afghanistan in particular, the CIA or at least some members of the CIA didn't like the way things were done, so if they could unload some of the operations related to interrogation to the military, they would like that."
Mark went on to talk about how thanks to the revelations from men like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, the world knows a lot more about constant surveillance.
"Just as any other citizen, the idea that all of this data is being stored scares me. I think that one of the interesting things about these revelations is that it has forced a debate on surveillance."
One of the most interesting things about the US surveillance of other countries streams from the notion that it creates an advantage with respect to political dealings, even with countries that are its allies.
Mark says, “I think most countries do this. It is more about finding out what their position on a particular topic is before the president walks into a room. It's not new but the emergence of this technology has certainly expanded the scope of it all."
In the session, there was a discussion about the fact that Hamid Karzai, the current president of Afghanistan, seems to think that the US and Taliban are in collusion with each other and thus blocks in the peace process.
“I think Karzai sees a lot of different factors conspiring against him. I think he saw the proposed talks between the US, Pakistan and the Taliban as a joint plot.
If you have been paying attention over the past few years then it is certain that the US has not seen eye-to-eye with Pakistan over a lot of issues, and have been fighting the Taliban as well about ending the war. I think ending the war will be a good thing."
Another point Mark elaborated on was the fact that the US has been saying that there is a fair amount of fatigue in terms of troops, budgeting and other factors with regards to the Afghan war.
The US has however, set a tentative deadline and will allegedly be removing troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
“Whether that's all the troops or some of them, remains to be seen. I think that having American troops out of there will change the dynamic. I don't know if it's a good or bad but it just may accelerate talks between them, and that might lead to some progress in terms of ending the war."
Anyone who has attended the sessions at the JLF will realise that there is a lot of US-bashing going on. This isn’t limited to the festival – there is constant bashing of the US from media and practically people from all around the world.
The US has become somewhat of a soft target, being the focus of a lot of discussion about their policies and world politics.
"We've seen this period of 12 years, where there's been an extraordinary American insurgence throughout the globe. So what 9/11 effectively did was create this sort of global war and so America has asserted itself around the world.
The world thinks what America does or thinks is the centre of everything. But there does seem to be a sense at the Obama administration that it is time to get ourselves out of some things. We don’t have to be involved in the war in Syria.
All the Saudi countries say we have to deal with each other and we don’t get along but if the US is involved, we can deal with you guys. But I think that the Obama administration has been very stern with not getting involved."
What does Mark think of the festival? “I love it. It was the most extraordinary audience I've seen."