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NYT reporter David Rohde's kidnapping account: Lessons for Afghanistan policymakers?

New York Times reporter Davide Rohde has recounted his seven months held captive by a Taliban group in Afghanistan, and argues that convincing Taliban militants to make peace with the US and Kabul will be a tall order.

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Talking to the Taliban

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Rohde, who won a Pulitzer prize for his coverage of the Srebenica massacre while working as a Christian Science Monitor correspondent in the 1990s, and another as part of a New York Times team for coverage of the Afghanistan war, implicitly compares his efforts at negotiating his own release with the larger US policy goal of finding moderate Taliban with whom to deal. In the early days of his captivity, he thought he could identify moderates amid the irreconcilables among his captors.

"In my mind, Qari and Atiqullah personified polar ends of the Taliban. Qari represented a paranoid, intractable force. Atiqullah embodied the more reasonable faction: people who would compromise on our release and, perhaps, even on peace in Afghanistan," he writes of two of his captors.

At first, Atiqullah appeared to be more a gangster than an Islamist, motivated mostly by the prospect of squeezing a ransom out of Rohde's family or the US government, Rohde wrote. But as time went on, Rohde realized that Atiqullah was toying with him and had been lying about own identity. Rather than a low-level captor, Atiqullah turned out to be the Taliban leader Abu Tayyeb, the man Rohde was trying to meet when he was kidnapped along with his translator and driver last November in Afghanistan's Logar Province.

He and his translator eventually escaped in June after months of captivity, most of it in North and South Waziristan in Pakistan, just over the Afghan border.

In Waziristan, he witnessed what he calls a "mini-state" within Pakistan run by the Taliban and hosting a mix of Arab, Uzbek, Central Asian, Afghan, and Pakistani Islamist commanders.

For some American security experts, the reality of these enclaves of radicals puts boundaries on the discussion of peace talks.

Talking to Al Qaeda?

"At the district level and below, there are going to be individuals who can be dealt with," says Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal. But "as a whole, you are not going to negotiate with Mullah Omar, with the Haqqanis. They are in bed with Al Qaeda – they are part of the movement."

The multiplicity of Taliban factions across the Afghan-Pakistani border, and the nebulous connections between them, complicates the debate on the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

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