the Cold War American foreign policy was very simple - The enemy of my
enemy is my friend. Anyone who could make the case that he was fighting
Communism would get a blank cheque and a blind eye to his flaws from
the CIA or the State Department.
thus it came
to pass that in Afghanistan in the 1980s the USA gave millions of
dollars and loads of guns to the very
people they are fighting in that country today. (Am I the only one who
remembers the standard journalistic rubric 'courageous Taliban freedom
T Rogers' new
play, an expansion of a short piece that was part of the Tricycle
Theatre's Afghanistan season last year, shows just how the US, and to a
lesser extent Britain, found themselves backing all the wrong horses
thirty years ago. And it is very much to the playwright's credit that
the very complicated story, with all its twists and convolutions, is
totally clear. (Whether it's successful dramatically is another
question I'll get to.)
army entered Afghanistan their opposition was a very loose collection
of local warlords, most hating each other almost as much as they did
the Russians. To avoid World War III the US had to keep its support
covert, which meant that the money had to be filtered in through
Pakistan, which meant that the Pakistanis determined who would get it.
This forced the Americans to open a second, even more covert line of
aid to the leaders they wanted.
everybody lied to everybody else about their real agendas, and of
course everybody made sure that some of the money that passed through
their hands stuck there. And while Rogers may be oversimplifying things
with his conclusion that the end result was the empowerment of the most
radical Afghan Muslims and thus the spread of fundamentalist Islam
throughout the region, there's little doubt that at least some of
today's problems were generated by the simplistic anti-Sovietism of the
Americans back then.
telling this story is to focus on a fictional American CIA operative in
Pakistan, dealing with his Pakistani intermediaries while going behind
their backs to find his own apparently moderate warlord.
playwright makes it clear that all geopolitics is ultimately
local and personal, dependent on how much two men - the American and
the Pakistani, the American and his pet warlord, the American and his
KGB opposite - can trust each other. And he makes it clear that in this
particular case there were limits to how much any of them could be
I said, that is
all always clear and generally interesting enough to hold your
attention through the almost-three-hours of Rogers' play. The problem
is that it is almost three hours, and there really isn't a lot of
suspense or forward movement.
hero is somewhat less naive than Westerners usually are in this sort of
play, there is still only one direction for his story to go - the
eventual discovery that at best he was riding the tiger and never
really controlling it.
Davies always lets us know where and when we are in the story, which is
an accomplishment in itself, though he might have done a greater
service by guiding his playwright to cutting the text by as much as a
Lloyd Owen leaves no doubt that the CIA man he plays is both intelligent and honourable and makes us believe his sincere pain when those qualities prove insufficient, and there are strong performances by Demosthenes Chrysan as the Afghan client who becomes a friend, and Matthew Marsh as the KGB man who does as well.
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- Blood and Gifts - National Theatre 2010