After David Rohde's Escape, a Taliban Feud
The FBI, the CIA and the New York Times worked quietly behind the scenes to secure Rohde's release, believing that news of his kidnapping could derail their efforts if it became public. But there was much confusion about the circumstances of the kidnapping, both in the United States and in the Taliban camps, before and after his escape.
During the kidnapping, one of the "security consultants" on the case was Duane "Dewey" Clarridge. Clarridge, 78, has a stormy past. Indicted for perjury in the Iran/Contra case in 1991, he was pardoned a year later by the first President Bush. Then Clarridge became an eager supporter of the discredited Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi.
Clarridge boasted to a small group of people that he had a network of sources with rock-solid information about the kidnapping. While Rohde was in captivity, Clarridge circulated information that some of Rohde's guards were Chechens, that Rohde had been separated from his driver and translator, and that he was held in a specific border village. Many of those claims turn out to have been erroneous, contradicted not just by The Nation's source but also by Rohde in his book.
Later, there were news reports that Rohde's escape had been engineered somehow by the people Clarridge claimed to be working with. ABC News reported that a security firm bribed Taliban guards, and that the Times "used a controversial former CIA official, Duane 'Dewey' Claridge [sic], to help plot the escape of Rohde." That theory, though, is contradicted by Rohde, who believes no guards were bribed, as well as by The Nation's source. (The claims that his escape was engineered are highly implausible anyway, since it was Rohde's decision, and his translator's, to escape that night, and they had no help or contacts.)
Clarridge declined to comment for this article.
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In Pakistan, Rohde's escape was devastating for the Taliban. Not only had they lost their prize prisoner but the loss caused the Haqqanis and Najibullah to turn on each other. They were both convinced, in a case of mirror imaging, that the other one must have released Rohde as part of a secret arrangement in which they kept the ransom money for themselves. Instead of suspecting incompetence on the part of the guards, they believed someone was cheating and getting rich.
"There was a big problem between Siraj [Haqqani] and Najibullah," the source familiar with the kidnappers told me. "A huge issue. Siraj was blaming Najibullah, that he's the one who took money from the Americans and let the guy go. And [Najibullah] was blaming him, that he did it, because it was his compound."
Even the Taliban Shura in Quetta got involved, the source said. They "thought that Siraj kept the money."
Semple, the Afghanistan expert, also heard about the crisis that hit the Taliban after Rohde's escape. "There was a witch hunt," he said, "to see who might have taken the money."
To arbitrate the dispute about the kidnapping, the Haqqanis turned to the Pakistan government's intelligence service, according to The Nation's source. Siraj, the source said, turned over the two guards affiliated with Najibullah to the ISI for questioning. "One of them," the source said, "was Najib's brother Timor Shah."
The guards were allegedly interrogated fiercely and tortured by the ISI. The interrogators demanded to know exactly how Rohde had escaped. Who had let him go, and why? Were the men paid a ransom they had not shared? In other words, the ISI was making sure that the relations between the Taliban factions weren't destroyed by anyone's betrayal.
Once the ISI was convinced that there had been no bribes and no ransom, Rohde's guards were set free. Despite their role in the kidnapping, they were not charged in court or handed over to the Americans. After more than a month in custody, they were let go.
I asked Rohde for his reaction to this information. "It's very disturbing that the Pakistani authorities would not keep in custody people that were involved in my kidnapping," he said. "If they had two of my guards in their custody and then released them, that seems to fit a broader pattern of the ISI sheltering the Taliban."
The senior ISI official who spoke with The Nation would neither confirm nor deny the report. "I don't know about it. I haven't heard about it," he said.
As this case shows, the corruption and profiteering that characterize the Karzai government, propped up by the United States, are often mirrored in the financial dealings of America's fractious enemies, who are propped up by Pakistan.
As Semple pointed out, "We need to think of Waziristan as this tribal criminal enterprise masking as jihad."
The Nation's source put it this way: "There is a lot of money. You have no idea how fragile things are within the Taliban. This is not a small war they are fighting. They are fighting over power. The money goes to whoever has the power."