David Rohde's Remarks & Acceptance Speech Video
I spent a great deal of time in the tribal areas with foreign militants and their views had shifted. They very much saw themselves as part of a global jihad; they very much saw themselves as working along side Al Qaeda in an effort to establish a hard line state that would span the Islamic world.
And I want to add a very large caveat here; I was in Waziristan, which is arguably the most dangerous part of the tribal areas, full of the most hard line Islamist and militants. There are many other Taliban in Afghanistan that may be primarily focused simply on control of Afghanistan and driving American and foreign forces out of Afghanistan but I can’t begin to tell you how troubled I was by the vehemence of the hatred I found for the United States among young afghans and young Pakistanis and their reverence almost for Sheik Osama as they called him.
They saw themselves as part of a great historic movement that was going to liberate the Muslim world from oppression.
I lived with a suicide bomber for about five or six weeks. He was amused by me; he saw the West as a decadent culture bent on enriching itself and forcing Muslims to give up their culture and their religion. He believed that a necktie was a secret symbol of Christianity. He asked me if it was true that all Christians wanted to live for a thousand years. He believed that the United States military was carrying out forcible conversions of Muslims across Afghanistan and Iraq. And he believed that Afghan women were being forced into prostitution across Afghanistan.
Obviously that is a very bleak picture but I want to be honest with you with what I found there.
I also found some skepticism among my guards. They viewed some of their commanders as more interested in money than in the jihad. But overall it was a very disturbing and sad state in terms of their view of the War on Terror and the United States’ goal in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Myself and Tahir, after seven months in captivity, had realized that our captors weren’t seriously negotiating for our release. We decided our only way to end our captivity and end the suffering of our families was to try to escape.
I won’t go into the detail here but we were extraordinarily lucky to get out and we were, I want to point out, saved when we went to a Pakistani military base. We climbed a wall at night out of the house we were being held captive and it was Pakistani moderates, Pakistani members of the local militia that took us on their base and saved our lives.
So I walk away from this experience surprised and disappointed by the depth of the hatred and the cynicism and the harsh fundamentalism I found among some Afghans and Pakistanis but also touched by the bravery and moderation I found among other Afghans and Pakistanis. In one sense, one Afghan lied to me and kidnapped me and kept me captive for seven months; another one, Tahir, helped me escape and saved my life.
Today, kidnapping continues in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Haqqani network, the group that kidnapped me and operates in Waziristan, continues to operate. There are serious questions about the Pakistani military’s commitment to confront the Haqqanis. Some Pakistani officials describe the Haqqanis and Taliban as a strategic asset that Pakistan should continue to use to counter India and Afghanistan.
And I’ll just finish with a final anecdote and please remember; I’m not disclosing any names tonight, but there are still journalists local and foreign and many, many other people, many average Pakistanis and Afghans still being held tonight prisoner in the tribal areas. This problem has not been solved and we were extraordinarily lucky to escape and others will not be. And the simplest anecdote I can think of that will describe the breadth of the problem we face there—And to be honest I understand the frustration and skepticism about what the United States can achieve in Afghanistan and Pakistan but I also don’t think it’s possible for us to simply walk away.
Thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis, frankly 5000 Afghans and roughly the same number of Pakistanis have died fighting the Taliban since 2001. And it is a widespread expectation among Afghans and Pakistanis that the United States will again abandon the region as they did after the Soviet troops withdrew in 1989.
Lastly, one of our last houses we were kept in as prisoners, at one point I met a young boy who was a student in a local school run by the Haqqani network. He told me that he did his chores and got money from his parents for doing his chores and he was donating some of his money each week to a local fund for suicide bombers. It was the thing to do for young kids to somehow help fund the purchase of materials for suicide bombing. And I then asked the young boy what did he want to be when he grew up. His first answer was, “I want to be a fedayeen and a suicide bomber”. And I said, “Oh come on, come you must have some other goal for what you’d want to be when you grow up, what’s your second choice?” And he said, “Well I want to be mujahideen and I want to be a holy warrior”. And I said, “Well what’s your third choice, come on there must be something else you want to be; a doctor a teacher something like that,” and he said, “I want to be a Muslim.”
And I leave you with that story. I apologize for not having a more uplifting message tonight but it is an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous situation in the tribal areas that is destabilizing both Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I hope that we can now have a conversation that will shed light on these issues and what role the United States could or can play in that region.