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Politics & Current Affairs

Jere Van Dyk: Captured Behind Enemy Lines by the Taliban

In 2008, journalist Jere Van Dyk crossed the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan. An expert on the history and culture of the region, Van Dyk had lived with the Mujahideen in the 1980s and still had connections with these men—many of whom were now part of the Taliban. His goal for the trip, then, was to use these connections in order to “go deep into the tribal areas to perhaps get to the Taliban leaders, and through them to Al Qaeda to find out who the Taliban really were, who was behind the Taliban, and to what degree they are tied to Al Qaeda, and where the Al Qaeda leadership was located.” Little did he know, he would spend the next 45 days as a captive of the Taliban. 

In his Big Think interview, Van Dyk not only told us about his terrifying ordeal but also gave us a history lesson on what everyone should know about Afghanistan. Despite being the site of America’s longest war in history, Americans know shockingly little about this impoverished country, known as the “graveyard of empires. For instance, the Afghanistan of 40 years ago was radically different than the Afghanistan of today: “Kabul was a city of schoolgirls dressed like Catholic schoolgirls in the U.S.—the short skirts and long socks—laughing in the streets,” he recalls. “In the afternoon, long camel caravans came slowly through the streets.”

Though Van Dyk was captured, he was still able learn important information about the interaction between Taliban and Al Qaeda. Unlike in decades past, “the Taliban are in charge,” he says. But at the same time there has been intermarriages between Al Qaeda and Pashtun women, so the lines are becoming blurred. And despite assurances to the contrary from the US government, there is another thing Van Dyk is quite sure of: Osama bin Laden is no longer hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas. “He is too big to hide,” Van Dyk insists. 

He also argues that Pakistan is not our ally and may have ulterior motives for supporting our war in Afghanistan: “Pakistan has a geopolitical goal of surrounding India, of preventing itself from being reconquered by the Pashtuns, and thirdly it wants to…recreate the mogul-Muslim empire,” Van Dyk thinks. Taking over Afghanistan would grant Pakistan “access to the most important resource it needs and is desperately in shortage of: water.” 

Afghans are therefore wary of U.S. ties to Pakistan, and this fear must be quashed if the American counterinsurgency is to have any success, he says. “Until such time as we convince them that we’re 100 percent on their side and that we’re not working with Pakistan, our long-time ally, you will never get the Afghans to go along with you.”


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