Before David Rohde escaped, a flurry of efforts to win his release
The team working to free the New York Times reporter reached out to kidnappers and debated whether to go public.
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A few people involved in working on Rohde's release say that during his captivity they feared he was being held by members of the Haqqani network, a group founded by Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani with the support of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan during the in the 1980s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Since that war, Haqqani's group became fellow travelers of the Tailban without ever being subsumed into that group's command structure.
Jalaluddin's son, Sirajuddin – believed to have assumed the leadership of the group and deemed by the US military one of the most dangerous warlords in Afghanistan – has a base of operations in the lawless Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan, where Rohde was held for much of his captivity.
Multiple efforts to win release
Samim says the team assembled to secure the three men's release were sometimes at cross-purposes. Some reporters working on his release were more inclined to go public, while private security contractors assisting the family and US officials favored a quieter approach.
Cultural factors were also at play, with some Afghans like Samim feeling that the tone of discussions with kidnappers was sometimes overly "American" rather than Afghan.
Only one person would speak through a translator for the team on the phone to the kidnappers at a time. Anyone who wanted something conveyed during the conversation needed to write the suggestion on a piece of a paper that was passed around for multiple approvals. As a result, the dialogue was halting, says Samim.
"I think it would have been good to do it in an Afghan way," he says, for instance by working more often through tribal intermediatries. "Talking as a Westerner with a Taliban who is an abductor creates a feeling of not trusting each other.... If I'm on the phone with somebody and somebody pauses and [then] talks, that makes me worried."
Samim also enlisted the help of Afghanistan's thriving community of local journalists. He convinced some who cover the Taliban to call up their Taliban sources every other day and ask for the three men's release.
"One of my friends actually got very serious about this. He said to the spokesperson of Taliban, 'Hey, man, you've got a journalist, you have to tell your people you have to release them or no one will come cover your operations.' "
Journalists: more valuable as hostages or reporters?
Telling insurgents that journalists should be protected to help get out their side of the story is a traditional, and often successful, tactic in securing their safety.
"Traditionally, if you could convince people that were somewhat unsavory that you were there to listen to their concerns and convey them to the world, that could go a long way," he says.
"But today militant groups have so many alternate means of communication, for instance, the Internet, and the message they want to send is often one of fear and one of terror," he continues. "If that's the case, then holding a hostage is a pretty good way to do it. These groups potentially have no interest in Western media, so the fact that a journalist comes from the West may make them doubly vulnerable."