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Speaker Events - Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kidnapped by the Taliban: An Escapee's and Spouse's Tale

In November 2008, David Rohde, a correspondent for The New York Times, went off on a high-hazard trip in the Afghan hinterland to obtain an in-person interview with a Taliban commander for a book he was completing. He had just gotten married and had promised his new bride as well as his family and friends that he would never put himself at risk of capture again after having been taken hostage in 1995 by Bosnian Serbs and held for ten days.

The scheduled meeting, however, was a trap. Rohde was kidnapped, and as he was being driven away by his Taliban captors, his horror was mixed with intense guilt that he was about to expose his loved ones once more to the trials of becoming a hostage.

Over a seven-month period, Rohde was spirited from safe house to safe house in Afghanistan and in Pakistani tribal areas that are completely in hands of the most fearsome Taliban. One day, he thinks he may be freed. The next he is certain he is to die.

During that period, his wife Kristen Mulvihill navigates the labyrinth of government and intelligence officials in Washington and Islamabad, private contractors and editors at The Times and family members, all the while trying to hold down a new job at Cosmopolitan magazine.

Rohde finally effects a daring escape, recounted with breathless suspense in A Rope and A Prayer: A Kidnapping from Two Sides, the affecting book that he and his wife have written about the dramatic episode.

They held a large IPI audience rapt on the evening of February 24th, reading passages from the book, embellishing them with comments and stories, talking movingly of their faith and love and capping those personal observations with recommendations on how the West should deal with the Taliban.

"There is a tremendous amount of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, but that doesn't make you pro-Taliban," Rohde said. "They actually dislike the Taliban intensely at the same time and they’re sort of eager for some sort of third way forward.

"Everyone is looking for steady jobs, you know, a good education for their children and a government and a police force that sort of protects them instead of preying on them.

"The Taliban are saying that strict Sharia will deliver those three things. You know, we’re saying democracy will.

"And you know, we’re not succeeding. The effort is not working."

The moderator was IPI’s Vice President for External Relations, Warren Hoge.

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