Taken Across the Afghan Border: David Rohde Recalls Captivity and Humanity in Rural Pakistan

 David Rohde

When asked why he put himself, his guide, and driver at risk, guest speaker David Rohde boiled it all down to competitiveness.  The need to “get the big story”.  “It wasn’t to uncover mass graves in Bosnia, to help the UN and local groups form testimonials to war crimes convictions”, he admits, alluding to the hubristic nature that often sends young journalists into dangerous situations, rather than turning to their wiser, and more experienced colleagues in the news industry.

Another night and the room ebbs with Clark students, faculty and locals, and another night where there simply aren’t enough chairs for Rohde’s audience.  War correspondent for New York Times, Thomson Reuters and columnist for the Atlantic, David Rohde won the Pulitzer Prize for his news coverage in Srebrenica revealing war crimes as they happened.


His point tonight?  To focus on the multifaceted ways in which one global conflict may be seen.  When it comes to US involvement in democratization initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa, “we (the US) put too much of ourselves and not enough of local people into the framing and process”.  During his seven months of captivity with the Taliban in the villages of East Pakistan- characterized by fear, contradiction, confusion, and brief moments of humanity- David recalled senior Taliban leaders taking credit for unrelated American tragedies and cultivating a “culture of death” for the young, often illiterate 20-somethings recruited to their ranks.  Yet despite the information explained to them, he remembers the young jihadists unyielding curiosity to understand news that unfolded on the BBC and in American media, expressing a deeper yearning for understanding of their place in conflict and their purpose as human beings under the eyes of God.  Our reporter drew connections in his mind- while the humanity among people remained the same.  What we did with the news all boiled down to the particular forms of information we receive and the subjective explanations we are taught and form ourselves.

He often mused on the morale of his captors and the compassion of the moderate Afghanis and Pakistanis who helped him escape.  Moderates who act on their beliefs are often suppressed and endangered in countries with US involvement. They act on humanist principles without US protection and while being vilified by local extremist factions in power- yet they are the best hope for democracy and individual rights in the Middle East.  American democracy, however, is often implemented without the leadership of this largely forgotten sector of society- essentially giving them a shoe that doesn’t fit.  Democracy for all should be a constantly negotiated process that takes into account existing culture, values and even diversity of religion- but the process of negotiation is just as vital as the outcome.

A student from the audience asked further, “What did you notice that seemed to humanize Taliban soldiers.  You know, that brought them out of that doctrine of extremist jihadist beliefs?”

“Family ties” he replied, “Family pulls young men closer to their conscience…In any military structure, whether it is the US Army or anti-American paramilitary in the Middle East”.

 student ar rohde

For more David Rohde commentary, you can catch him in his many publications or books, or follow his blog via Reuters http://blogs.reuters.com/david-rohde/.

-Bridget Healy

Photography, as always, by Demet Senturk.


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