ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
GUY RAZ, host:
And I'm Guy Raz.
Kristen Mulvihill was married to the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent David Rohde for just two months when she received a call back in 2008. David Rohde's brother, Lee, was on the line.
Ms. KRISTEN MULVIHILL (Co-Author, "A Rope and a Prayer"): Lee is the person my husband has designated as first point of contact for all worst-case scenarios. In the event of a mishap during a reporting trip, the plan is that Lee will be alerted and will in turn contact me. He tells me that David never returned from his last interview in Kabul, a meeting he had arranged with a Taliban commander.
RAZ: David Rohde was abducted. And for seven months, he and his translator and driver would be the prisoners of a hard-line Taliban faction that operated out of Pakistan's ungoverned tribal areas.
In June 2009, Rohde and his translator mounted a daring escape. Now, he and his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, have written an account of that experience. It's called "A Rope and A Prayer."
And Kristen Mulvihill and David Rohde join me. Welcome.
Ms. MULVIHILL: Thank you.
Mr. DAVID ROHDE (Co-Author, "A Rope and a Prayer"): Thank you.
RAZ: David, first to you. Can you set the scene for us? I mean, you had just been married, but you got this opportunity to interview a Taliban commander about an hour outside of Kabul for a book that you were working on. What happened?
Mr. ROHDE: There is suddenly a car blocking the middle of the road. And the driver of our car stops our vehicle and two men with Kalashnikov assault rifles come rushing up to our vehicle. They're screaming commands in the local language and pointing the weapons at the driver and translator in the front seats of our car.
They ordered them to get in the back seat with me. One of the Taliban jumps in the front seat behind the steering wheel. Another one jumps in the passenger seat and he was sort of pointing his Kalashnikov at us. And we, with them at the wheel, we sped off down the road.
RAZ: David, you write that you feel like not having told your wife about the interview, 'cause you didn't. You said, well, I've just got to do a couple of things today and I'll talk to you later on. And it was supposed to last an hour and you don't want to worry her. You didn't want to tell her that you were going to interview a Taliban commander.
You write that that was an ethical lapse.
Mr. ROHDE: I definitely think it was. To be honest, I was sure she would tell me to not go to the interview. And, you know, we had just gotten married and if she had said don't go to the interview, I would have abided by her orders.
And I was on the final stage of this book, I think I lost perspective. I was trying to write something that I hoped would be the culmination of seven years of reporting, and the reason since 2001. But she was my new wife and I, you know, made a mistake. I should have told her.
RAZ: I know, Kristen, that you must have - your focus was about getting David out. But were you angry with him or did you just sort of defer that?
Ms. MULVIHILL: No, initially, I was shocked. We had each both taken a vow, and I took that very seriously. And I was a little angry. But I quickly realized that, you know, the blame for the kidnapping is on the kidnappers. Nobody suffered more from David's decision to go to the interview than David himself.
RAZ: David, when you - in those early days, you were moved around a lot throughout eastern Afghanistan. You eventually end up in the Pakistani town of Miran Shah, which is effectively run by the Taliban.
What was going through your mind when you realized that you were no longer in Afghanistan?
Mr. ROHDE: I thought we were doomed. I'll never forget. We were loaded into a car and driving down a highway, and the driver started driving on the left-hand side of the road. And then I saw a road sign in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.
Foreigners and many more Afghans and Pakistanis have been brought to the tribal areas of Pakistan. And it's a complete safe haven for the Taliban. And I knew we could be held for years or killed there.
RAZ: This book is written basically as two separate books. Kristen, it's your account of being in New York and of dealing with and working with the New York Times' lawyers...
Ms. MULVIHILL: Right.
RAZ: ...and investigators and experts on abductions and the FBI. And, David, obviously your recollections of being a prisoner in this terrifying period.
Early on, the Times made a decision that it was best to keep David's abduction secret.
Ms. MULVIHILL: Well, actually, the family had requested that it stay private, and the Times honored that.
Mr. ROHDE: I absolutely felt that was the right decision and would be the right decision in future cases. My captors were absolutely delusional about what they could get for a Western hostage. The initial demands for our release was $25 million in ransom and the release of 15 prisoners from U.S. detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
When you're dealing with insurgents and militants that want to defy Western public opinion, publicity just raises their expectations, it doesn't shame them. And it is better to keep the cases quiet.
RAZ: Now, throughout the book, both of you describe - and, Kristen, obviously more so - this kind of cat and mouse game of the Times really constantly asking journalists not to - who found out about this - not to publicize it to the point where the Times correspondents are constantly removing references to it from David's Wikipedia entry. And it was successful.
I mean, very few people knew about this.
Ms. MULVIHILL: Yes, I mean, there was amazing camaraderie among his colleagues. And I think, you know, the Times had worked with other news organizations in the past who had reporters held and they did not report on it. So there was a real reciprocity and that was a tremendous benefit.
Mr. ROHDE: And I would add that my captors, you know, people think about the Taliban as people who sort of live in caves. They actually Googled me all the time. They Googled my brother, Lee, who you talked about earlier. He is the president of a tiny aviation consulting company. It has four full-time employees.
But my captors found him on Google and announced to me: Your brother is the president of an aviation firm that manufactures jumbo jets. And if your brother would just sell one jumbo jet, you know, they could pay the millions of dollars in ransom we want.
RAZ: You write that you actually were surprised at how radical they were, that you had the impression beforehand that the Taliban included a sizable faction of moderates.
Mr. ROHDE: I think there arguably are some moderate Taliban. I was in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The most hard-line Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are based there. They work hand in hand with foreign militants and al-Qaida members.
I was held in the same place where Faisal Shahzad, the young man who failed to set off a bomb in Times Square, was trained. It's North Waziristan. And the U.S. has asked the Pakistani army to go in there, and they have not to date.
RAZ: So, David, at one point did you come to the conclusion that escape was the only way out?
Mr. ROHDE: I would say about in the last, you know, couple of months. Our guards got lax and our captors moved us to a house that was only roughly 3/10ths of a mile from the one Pakistani military base in Miran Shah.
RAZ: Can you describe how you did it?
Mr. ROHDE: It was sort of simple plan and it was in stages, 'cause we were sure it would go wrong. Myself and the Afghan journalist basically agreed that I would get up first and pretend I was going to the bathroom and see if our guards woke up.
RAZ: This is Tahir Ludin, the journalist you were working with.
Mr. ROHDE: Yes. We tried to keep the guards up late, actually playing a board game. And then I sort of got up. And as I crept out of the room, I tugged on Tahir's foot to try to wake him up. And we went and grabbed a rope that I had found when we moved into the house. And we had planned this all out.
We lowered ourselves down the wall that surrounded the house and then walked to this Pakistani military base. Walked up in the darkness. You know, I had a beard that was at least 4 to 5 inches long, and we were nearly shot by the Pakistani guards on the base. They thought we were suicide bombers.
They made us take off our shirts. They made us lie on the ground. And then finally, after about 15 or 20 minutes, they allowed us inside the base.
And the amazing thing was that there was this young moderate Pakistani, Captain Hadim(ph), who let me make a phone call to New York. And I called and the answering machine picked up. And I said, Kristen, Kristen, it's David. Please pick up.
And then someone picked up the phone and this unfamiliar voice said hello. and I realized it was actually my mother-in-law. And she did an extraordinary job of taking down, you know, the name of the base, exactly where we were. And then Kristen did an incredible job of then making sure we actually got off that base to safety.
RAZ: It must have been - I mean, I can't imagine how terrifying that must have been.
Mr. ROHDE: I guess we had just gotten so angry with them and disgusted with them that we were ready to take that risk. And I didn't think it would work. I mean, I thought they would capture us and, you know, that would be it and we would be punished.
The actual moment, you know, the realization that they were going to actually let us on the base, you know, it was an extraordinary thing. And it was just magical. The Pakistani soldiers actually apologized to me for the kidnapping.
And I just - I don't want most, you know, readers and people to think this represents - that our kidnappers represent most Afghans and Pakistanis. They don't. They're a very small, very dangerous, very extreme group that's using religion to gain political power.
RAZ: That's New York Times correspondent David Rohde and his wife Kristen Mulvihill. Their new book, "A Rope and a Prayer," is an account of their separate experiences during the seven-month period when David was a prisoner of the Taliban.
David, Kristen, thank you so much.
Ms. MULVIHILL: Thank you.
Mr. ROHDE: Thank you.
SIEGEL: And you can read an excerpt from the book at npr.org.
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.