By Mark Memmott
New York Times reporter David Rohde, who along with Afghan journalist Tahir Ludin and driver Asad Mangal was held captive by a Taliban commander in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than seven months, today begins a five-part series in the Times about their experience. Along with the dramatic tale of their capture, captivity, treatment and the successful escape he and Tahir made, David writes today about what he learned of the Taliban:
Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of "Al Qaeda lite," a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.
Living side by side with the Haqqanis' followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.
I had written about the ties between Pakistan's intelligence services and the Taliban while covering the region for The New York Times. I knew Pakistan turned a blind eye to many of their activities. But I was astonished by what I encountered firsthand: a Taliban mini-state that flourished openly and with impunity.
The Taliban government that had supposedly been eliminated by the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was alive and thriving.
(Note from Mark: As I've said in previous posts, Tahir is a friend of mine. We worked together during most of my half-dozen trips for USA TODAY to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003. We've had many conversations in recent months and he is doing remarkably well for someone who went through what they experienced. So is David, who I have come to know through Tahir. Asad, the driver, was released by their captors a few weeks after David and Tahir escaped.)