Cliff May

Almost a year ago, New York Times correspondent David Rohde was abducted by the Taliban. I was in Afghanistan at the time and, like many Westerners in the country, I heard about it but agreed not to write about it. Publicity, it was thought, could increase the danger Rohde faced. Even so, over the months that followed, many people figured he would not be seen again -- except, perhaps, on a videotape with hooded jihadis ecstatically applying a butcher knife to his infidel throat, as they had to Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

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But Rohde survived seven months and 10 days in captivity -- briefly, in Afghanistan, then in the Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan -- before managing to escape. His account of this period, published in The Times last week, is riveting. It is revealing, too -- though sometimes in ways Rohde does not articulate and may not even intend.

When Rohde's captors took him across the border into Pakistan, he was "astonished" to find "a Taliban mini-state that flourished openly and with impunity. ... All along the main roads in North and South Waziristan, Pakistani government outposts had been abandoned, replaced by Taliban checkpoints... We heard explosions echo across North Waziristan as my guards and other Taliban fighters learned how to make roadside bombs that killed American and NATO troops."

These tribal areas, "widely perceived as impoverished and isolated," in fact had "superior roads, electricity and infrastructure compared with what exists in much of Afghanistan. ... Throughout North Waziristan, Taliban policemen patrolled the streets, and Taliban road crews carried out construction projects. ... foreign militants freely strolled the bazaars of Miram Shah and other towns. Young Afghan and Pakistani Taliban members revered the foreign fighters, who taught them how to make bombs."

The obvious implication is that the Pakistani government and military were permitting the Taliban to control territory and maintain elaborate bases of operation, safe havens where combatants -- Afghans, Pakistanis, Arabs, Uzbeks, Chechens, Uighurs and others -- could rest, train and prepare to fight American and Afghan forces on the other side of the frontier.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.