A journalist ventures inside one of the world's most notorious terrorist groups
Jere Van Dyk has spent years in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he got to know leaders of the Haqqani network, responsible for many suicide bombings and kidnappings. His new book is Without Borders.
Other segments from the episode on February 2, 2023
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. The National Counterterrorism Center has identified the Haqqani network as a lethal and sophisticated insurgent group responsible for high-profile suicide bombings in Afghanistan and armed assault on the Kabul International Hotel and other targets. Our guest, journalist Jere Van Dyk, has spent decades reporting on Afghanistan and, in the early 1980s, lived with Haqqani network leaders while they were battling invading forces from the Soviet Union. Van Dyk returned to the region several more times in succeeding years, in part hoping to reconnect with the clan's leader and discuss the group's evolution into an organization willing to kill innocent civilians in its attacks. On one trip in 2008, Van Dyk was taken hostage by the Taliban and held captive for 45 days. He later advised the Obama administration on a reevaluation of its hostage policies.
Jere Van Dyk grew up in a religious community in Washington state. He was a track star in college and served in the U.S. Army before beginning his work as a foreign correspondent. He's reported for The New York Times, CBS and other news organizations and has written several books. His latest, published in September, is "Without Borders: The Haqqani Network And The Road To Kabul."
Well, Jere Van Dyk, welcome to FRESH AIR.
JERE VAN DYK: Thank you, Dave.
DAVIES: You say in the book that the Haqqani network is maybe the most powerful jihadist group and family in the world. Give us a sense of their power and what their operations are like.
VAN DYK: Today they are the largest military group - you want to call them militia - in Afghanistan, larger than the Taliban. They are a "separate front," to quote Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of Jalaluddin, the founder. They have more fighters for them throughout Afghanistan than the Taliban, who are centered in Kandahar. That is why they are, in my view and the view of Afghans, far more powerful than any other group in Afghanistan. Plus, they are backed by the Pakistani army.
DAVIES: And have they engaged in kidnappings, suicide bombings?
VAN DYK: One thing that bothered me terribly was how Afghanistan changed from when I lived with Haqqanis who never involved themselves in kidnapping, who never killed innocent women and children. They abided by their tribal law, called Pashtunwali, which goes back centuries - thousands of years, in fact. And along the way, they changed. And I believe it is because of the Afghan-Soviet war, which led to Arab involvement, which brought in Wahhabism, these very strict, most rigid, most violent of all Muslims sects. And they're tied today to the Arab world and what I call the Arabization of Afghanistan is why they have engaged in, without a doubt, suicide bombings and kidnappings.
DAVIES: All right, I want to turn the clock back to your first trip to Afghanistan. And this was in the 1970s. You weren't a foreign correspondent then. You and your brother, I guess - what? - essentially a recreational trip. You were kind of following a trail which others had taken before. Tell us about this.
VAN DYK: In 1973, I was going to school in Paris on a G.I. Bill. And I was a runner then, and I had read a book by James Michener called "Caravans." And talking to people, other students, I became involved or interested in Asia. And I heard at that time that, in Europe, you could buy an old car - Volkswagen; some people buy Mercedes - and drive it across Asia and sell it for a profit, take the profit and fly home.
DAVIES: In Afghanistan, you mean.
VAN DYK: In Afghanistan, as well as in Iran, as well as in Pakistan. It was before the black flag of radical Islam descended upon Asia. So I went to Northern Europe and Germany to run, to try what's called the international European track and field circuit to earn a little bit of money, came back, bought an old Volkswagen, called my parents and asked if my younger brother could drop out of school and join me. And to this day, my brother and I don't know why our mother said yes. And we drove a car, an old Volkswagen, across Asia on what today is called the hippie trail.
We ran out of money in Afghanistan. It was late summer in 1973. Afghanistan was what I would call a most romantic place. There were long camel caravans going silently through the streets. Schoolgirls wore knee socks and laughed, carrying their schoolbooks. At least half of the women dressed like women in Paris and in New York. There was a discotheque. There were 11 movie theaters. There were also 5- to 6,000 North American and European hippies there, and it is they who brought - this is the bad side of that time - brought Afghanistan into the international drug trafficking markets.
DAVIES: So you were describing how you and your brother had gone to Afghanistan, driven there like a lot of North American hippies and European hippies in 1973, and found it an enchanting place, just as the country was sort of unraveling into civil conflict. And, you know, the battle between pro-communist forces and others led in 1979 to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which made it a huge international issue. And in 1981, you go back to Afghanistan, to Pakistan and Afghanistan, for The New York Times. You find your way through the mountains to the Haqqani family, the ones that would later become the notorious Haqqani network. Just tell us what your experience was with them.
VAN DYK: During that time - well, it started in 1979. And I saw the Soviet tanks enter Kabul. And I said to myself, I have to return. The romance of Afghanistan that I knew in 1973 was still very much a part of me. So I was able, through - with The New York Times, to fly to Pakistan, make my way to - into the tribal areas of Pakistan along the Afghan-Pakistani border and hike with a series of guides who did not like me at all, riflemen, up into the highlands in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. It wasn't until we came upon a man who - being put on a camel, which I will call an ambulance, who had been hit by a Soviet machine gun from a Soviet helicopter for the three-day ride back to Pakistan, the only medical facility there. There were no doctors in the mountains, no doctors anywhere, no medical facility up in the mountains.
It was then when they saw that I had some - I think I had aspirin, and I gave him - that I was on their side. And then everything changed. I was their friend. I was with them, and they would protect me. And so we traveled. We walked higher up into the mountains and then down into a valley where the entire - a large village was - you could tell had been bombed and strafed. And it was silent. There was no one else there.
We came to a large compound, 10 feet high, very high, thick walls, opened the doors, and inside I entered the world of the Mujahedeen - Mujahedeen, again, meaning holy warrior. There were 18 men, and they took me up into a small room. And there were three men on their knees, on the floor, on a dirt floor, with a map in front of them. And a man came over with a white beard, solid, about 6 feet, spoke perfect English. And he gave me a plate of honey to go with my tea. And he said, we will talk soon. His name was Jalaluddin Haqqani. I had no idea who he was, what he represented or how powerful, of course, that he would become.
DAVIES: Yeah, he was - became one of the most infamous, you know, terrorist leaders in the world. You would eventually write magazine pieces, which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, based on this experience there, right? You kind of integrated into the Haqqani world. How did you spend your days there?
VAN DYK: That's exactly right. It's very awkward to talk about this today because people become weary of this. But they took me in as a brother. But even more importantly than that, I was a guest, and a guest has to be protected against all enemies even to their own death. And so we lived on literally gritty - old, gritty white rice and bread baked in a tent or an oven in the ground and tea. That's all we had. There was no such thing as hot water. I lived in a small room with a sandy floor. There was a British photojournalist with me, and we - it was cold. It went to snow and - from rain to snow.
But what I noticed always was that every day, five times a day, Jalaluddin would climb to the top of his house. He would cup his hands and call them in to prayer whether it was just - whether it was a sunny day, whether it was a rainy day, whether it was snowing, whether there was mud on the ground.
The men always put their rifles - and by the way, these rifles were not rifles that - they were not - no Kalashnikovs, no Soviet rifles then. They were simple, old six-shot Lee-Enfield rifles, the same rifles that we used in the U.S. Civil War. They had absolutely no modern weaponry whatsoever. The CIA operation to - what's called Operation Cyclone to later fund them did not yet exist or certainly hadn't manifested itself.
DAVIES: You know, I've seen pictures of you from this trip, and you are wearing traditional Afghan dress with a large turban on your head.
VAN DYK: (Laughter).
DAVIES: I can imagine what it was like to get used to that. Did you feel, in a way, transformed kind of into a somewhat different version of yourself?
VAN DYK: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. But I also knew - and this came later in a serious fight down in Kandahar - that this was not my war. I was on their side because I admired them. I admired that they had nothing, that they would always make sure when we ate that gritty rice at night and that tea that I ate first. They always made sure that I had bread before anyone else. And once when I said there's no hot water here, they actually boiled hot water for me, so I could, you know, take a sort of bath. It was this brotherhood, this sense that I was one of them.
They were also sophisticated enough, or Jalaluddin was, to know that I represented maybe the most powerful newspaper in the world and was perhaps, you know, going to write about him. I don't know how - to what degree he knew that then. But even so, I was taken as one of them, and they would - when they would walk by me, they would always, as many Afghans do, put their hand on their heart and lower their head and say, you know, (speaking Pashto) - may you not be tired, and God be with you. And it was that way when we would hike through the mountains. They always made sure I was protected.
And the most vivid memory I have of that is when it came time for me to leave. And I did so reluctantly, but I knew I had to keep going. But on the way out, Jalaluddin bought two camels. I don't know how much a camel cost - and half of his men. That means nine, maybe 10 men were - and we walked single file through where the Soviets had, with their helicopters, dropped mines that afternoon - through a minefield. And those men walked in front of me. Two of those camel - both our camels stepped on mines. They were slaughtered there. Their scream was loud in the night 'cause by then, it was nighttime. But those men were willing to walk through a minefield single file ahead of me to protect me, a guest. That told me so much. I've always held on to that.
DAVIES: In writing about this, you use the term, we - you know, we went on these missions. And they - you write that they gave each man a Lee-Enfield rifle. Did you carry one?
VAN DYK: I've never said this before. Jalaluddin loaned me his AK-47 once. And that's when I realized that this was dangerous. I had met in Washington before I went with - I had the opportunity to go with the Times - with The Washington Post. And a fellow said to me - who had been in combat elsewhere. He said, if you - if it gets really delicate, if it gets dangerous, there will be a weapon around. Take it. And I remembered that. And so when Jalaluddin gave me his Kalashnikov, I carried it. Yes, I did.
DAVIES: And did you ever fire it? Did you participate in the attacks?
VAN DYK: No. I couldn't do that. No, I didn't. No.
DAVIES: But they understood and respected that.
VAN DYK: I hope so.
DAVIES: It's interesting because, you know, I know that from reading the book, decades later, Jalaluddin's brother Ibrahim would speak of you with a certain level of reverence, which I assume was rooted in that time. So there was a bond formed, wasn't there?
VAN DYK: Yes. Yes. That's what makes it very awkward today. He holds on to that time and the fact that I was with them when their backs were against the wall. And at that time, I was the first correspondent to go into Afghanistan for a major newspaper, so they had never seen anything like this before. Who is this man? And he comes from America. At that time, America was something they knew about on the radio, and maybe it was going to supply them. But America - where is America? What is America? It was that isolated.
So I walked into their world. And the fact that I was willing to be with them when the - sit in a room and - when the Soviet Mi-24 helicopter gunship is hovering above us - and men are scared. They're shaking, looking up. And I - what am I going to do? I'm there. I was with them. And Ibrahim has always held on to that. I was with them when they had nothing. And he said to me once - I went to see him. And I'm getting far ahead of myself.
But I went to see him - 2017, by myself, no interpreter - in Pakistan. And he could tell that I was a bit nervous because they're now the Haqqani network. And they are at war with America, and they are killing Americans, and they are kidnapping Americans. And I was nervous. And he said - he could see it. He sensed it immediately. And it was just the three - he and his son and I were together.
And he said, do not worry. Do not be afraid. You were with us when we were fighting jihad. If you have no friends in the world, you can always come and stay with us. We are your friends. It all goes back to that time that I came up and lived with them when they didn't think that they might make it because they were fighting the mighty Soviet Union before the United States really got - really ramped up its efforts to help them.
DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with Jere van Dyk. He is a veteran foreign correspondent who's written extensively on Afghanistan. His latest book is "Without Borders: The Haqqani Network And The Road To Kabul." We'll talk more in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOLANGE SONG, "WEARY")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Jere van Dyk. He is a veteran correspondent who's written extensively on Afghanistan. His latest book is "Without Borders: The Haqqani Network And The Road To Kabul."
So you had this remarkable experience in 1981, spending time with the Haqqanis when they were fighting the Soviets in the mountains of Afghanistan. You would later go back in the mid-2000s to Afghanistan. What was your goal then? What were you up to?
VAN DYK: The day after 9/11, CBS hired me as their Afghanistan, Pakistan, al-Qaida, Taliban analyst. And I began to travel back to Afghanistan. And I found myself - in addition to doing my work, I found myself anxious to find Jalaluddin again, anxious to find the men I was with, particularly the Haqqanis, from that time. It was the romance of that time that was still with me. And it was a bit awkward because everybody there - every foreign correspondent from any nation in Afghanistan, everybody in America - hated al-Qaida. And they put al-Qaida and the Mujahideen and Afghanistan all together as one. And I felt separate from everybody because I held on to the past when we were allies and when Jalaluddin and his men protected me and other men protected me in Kandahar.
DAVIES: And maybe we should just note what had happened in the intervening years. You know, in 1989, the Soviets left, and the country kind of broke into civil war. And eventually, the Taliban came in and took over in 1994 until 9/11, when people will remember the United States invaded, overthrew the Taliban. But by the mid-2000s - right? - you had a U.S. government-supported regime in Afghanistan. But there was then a Taliban insurgency - right? - supported by Pakistan?
VAN DYK: Correct.
DAVIES: Right. So that was the context. And so others kind of thought of all of these folks as terrorists and enemies. But you had a different perspective.
VAN DYK: That's correct. At that time, I remember it was 2002. The first suicide bomber blew himself up in Afghanistan. I had never seen that. I'd never heard of that, anything like that during the Afghan-Soviet War. It was a totally new world - had changed. Afghanistan had changed and become a different nation. I could see it. And I was holding on to the past. And I wanted to find those men I knew, particularly Jalaluddin, with whom I had this close tie, and any other men and his - my interpreter, any other man that I could find tied to the Haqqanis because that Egyptian army major who had lived with us, I knew, instinctively, was somehow tied to al-Qaida. And therefore, I deduced from that that Jalaluddin and the other men of the inner circle of the Haqqani network were linked to al-Qaida. If I could get to Jalaluddin and his brother and those men I knew from before, I could find out about bin Laden.
It was during this time that I got a call one day from - or an email. And every writer, every journalist wants this type of email. It was from the editor of Times Books, and he wanted to meet. And so I was - went back to New York. We had breakfast in a diner. And he said, it is clear that the CIA does not know where Osama bin Laden is hiding. The tribal areas of Pakistan - which, by the way, are about the size of Connecticut, are on the Afghan-Pakistani border in Pakistan - are like a blank space on the map. You know that area. Can you go there? And it was something that he and I had talked about some time before. And I said, definitely.
And my - the foreign editor at CBS knew that I was biting off perhaps more than I could chew. But she said, OK, go ahead. And so I went up into the mountains. And for the first time in over 20 years, I put on a turban; I put on Afghan clothes. And I realized that I was going back and trying, on one hand, to relive the past, which, of course, is impossible. But I also knew that I was the enemy now. And I had no idea that Jalaluddin would remember me, but I held on to that belief that we were still friends. But at the same time, I also knew that everyone around him and everyone else I would meet would see me as an American and therefore the enemy. So I was playing with fire. I realized that.
DAVIES: Let's take a break here. I need to reintroduce you. We're speaking with Jere van Dyk. He's a veteran foreign correspondent who's written extensively on Afghanistan. His latest book is "Without Borders: The Haqqani Network And The Road To Kabul." He'll be back to talk more after this short break. I am Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE TURRE'S "AFRICAN SHELLS: SECOND INTERLUDE - THE DREAM")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We're speaking with journalist Jere Van Dyk, who's reported extensively from Afghanistan and, in the early '80s, lived with fighters of the Haqqani network, then battling forces of the Soviet Union in the Afghan mountains. The Haqqanis evolved into one of the most feared terrorist groups in the region. On one of his reporting trips to Afghanistan, Van Dyk was taken hostage by the Taliban and released after 45 days. His latest book is "Without Borders: The Haqqani Network And The Road To Kabul."
So let's just remind people that, you know, this is in the mid-2000s. You know, Osama bin Laden, after 9/11, had escaped from Tora Bora and was at large. So if you were to locate him, it would be a story of the century. And meeting some of your old associates or friends from the Haqqani network could be a way in. But you had to move carefully because, as you say, you know, Americans were not welcomed. They were the enemy of a lot of these groups. You had to reach out, make connections, trust people when you could. Tell us how this led to your capture.
VAN DYK: That's exactly right. Everything is based upon instinct. You have to look at a man. And he has to decide whether he trusts you. And I have to decide whether I trust him. And it worked at the beginning. It was 2006. At that time, no American had - no American journalist had been kidnapped. Daniel Pearl was taken in Karachi - of The Wall Street Journal - was taken in Karachi after 9/11. And he was slaughtered in Karachi by al-Qaida. Al-Qaida is not the Taliban. That was separate. Al-Qaida, they are made up of foreigners. And so I felt that I was OK.
And what I did, what I was able to do, is meet with a man named Yunus Khalis, who was still alive, lived in the mountains near Jalalabad. He was the man who sent me up to live with Jalaluddin. I was the only journalist to get to him. I felt, I got to him, therefore I can, perhaps, get to Haqqani, and through Haqqani, to bin Laden. And so it took a long time, seven months of living off and on along the border, meeting with the Taliban, playing with fire, except that I'm not married. I didn't have children. I don't have children. Therefore, I could live like that. And I was also driven to do this out of my desire to reconnect with Haqqanis for reasons I could not explain at the time. People asked me. And they were rather incredulous that I would want to do something like this.
After seven months, I finally found someone I felt I could trust. We made our way down to - again to Jalalabad, along the border, with a group of men. The night before we were to cross into Pakistan, into the tribal areas, I got a call from a member of parliament, a former Mujahedeen leader, who I'd used to - as my guide to - not just to set this up, but to encourage me to go and to say that I would be fine. And he called and said, in so many words, that what you're going to do is dangerous. And I advise you not to go. But I did not, for the first time, listen to my instincts.
DAVIES: So I believe you've said that you took these trips with the Taliban four times when they said that you can trust our word - you will be safe. And then the fifth time, you weren't. Do I have this right?
VAN DYK: That is correct. Over that seven-month period, I met with the Taliban four times.
DAVIES: So tell us about that fateful trip where it went badly.
VAN DYK: On the morning of February 16, my fixer, whom I thought I trusted, my driver and I and a member of the Taliban, who had crossed the border and was to be our guide, in a car from Jalalabad toward the Pakistani border. We took a gravel road off to the side. We stopped in a field. I remember hearing a bird sing. And I looked at a tree. And I knew now that I was now going, really, into a world that I had no power in, and that it was going to be very delicate. But I knew that I would not turn back. And I was getting ready to go up, start to climb. And my fixer said, be sure to pay the driver money. And I said, that's right. I owe him because he had been driving me for the last week.
And I went over, and I gave him some money. And he came up to me, and he did what no Afghan had ever done and has never done in all my years there, is he hugged me. And he kissed me on the cheek. And what he was saying was, goodbye. And I did not know that he was trying to protect me. But he was also saying that what you're doing is going to risk your life. You're going to risk your life. And you may not return. But I wasn't aware of that. I let my desire, my drive to go up into the mountains, to find Jalaluddin, to find bin Laden, to overrule everything.
And we - and so, over the next 8 hours, we began to climb. By then, there were four of us. I had two bodyguards. We were about 20 yards apart in single file - up into the mountain, a rifleman in front, 20 yards behind him, another rifleman, then me and then, 20 yards behind me, my fixer. We came down into a valley toward sundown, walking single file. And I looked up. And I saw a small piece of black move behind a rock. And I froze. I said, that's not a black goat. That's not a black sheep. And then that black - small black piece of what was actually cotton got larger. And it was a turban. Muhammad wore a black turban. The Taliban wear black turbans.
And he raised his rifle high. And he shouted. And then they came out, spread out, like, 12 men came running down the mountain. (Speaking Pashto), which, in Pashto, means get down. And my mouth was cottonmouth. And I said, I'm dead. I'm dead. And I watched them - their rifle barrels hit my - go after my two fixers and my two guards. And the lead man, who carried a - who had a radio, satellite radio. So I knew I was dealing with the Taliban. And this was extremely dangerous. And he asked where I was going. And at that time, I mean, I was dressed like an Afghan. I had absolutely no American clothes, except I had a pair of Timberland shoes.
DAVIES: And did they speak to you? What did they say?
VAN DYK: Where did you come from? And where are you going? And I said, in Pashto, we came from Jalalabad, going to Peshawar. And I used the word, as you and I, as people pronounce it, we pronounce it in the West - Peshawar. I'm not saying for one second that I could pass off as an Afghan, but I knew a little bit. I could meet - I could buy something in the bazaar and keep walking and people don't know. But after a sentence or two, then I'm finished. You know immediately that I'm a foreigner. And he saw it immediately. And that was it.
They took me higher up onto a ridge. They faced me west and sat me down, tied my hands behind me, and blindfolded me. And as soon as you become blindfolded, you lose all power, all sense of direction, all sense of the ability to do anything. And then I heard the rifle cock. And at that time, I was more like a sheep. I didn't think of trying to fight. I just looked west, and I could feel the soft wind. It was warm, flowing over me. And I thought of my father - my mother had died - and my brother and sister. And then, of course, they did not pull the trigger. And they grabbed me, pulled me up. We walked down a mountain - I'm blindfolded now - down a mountain fast.
DAVIES: Wow. Let's take a break here and then we'll talk some more. We're speaking with Jere Van Dyk. He's a veteran foreign correspondent who's written extensively on Afghanistan. His latest book is "Without Borders: The Haqqani Network And The Road To Kabul." We'll talk more in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE MOUNTAIN GOATS SONG, "PEACOCKS")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And our guest is Jere Van Dyk. He's a veteran foreign correspondent who has written extensively on Afghanistan. He was held captive by the Taliban in 2008. His latest book is "Without Borders: The Haqqani Network And The Road To Kabul."
So they took you blindfolded, I believe, put you in a car, drove you. You obviously did not know where. And you were kept there for many weeks. I believe you said you weren't tortured, right? You weren't beaten. But there was certainly a lot of psychological trauma, right? I mean, they actually - at one point, there were a couple of points at which you thought the end had come.
VAN DYK: They separated me from my guides. They drove me high up into a mountain, into a room, (inaudible) walls, chains by these cots. And I was there for 6 1/2 weeks as their - as a prisoner. The first two nights - I remember the first morning. I woke up, I was - best morning in my life because I woke up. I was still alive. The hardest parts were the mock executions. They came in late at night. They always do these things late at night, midnight it felt like, put me on - I'm on the floor. Walk in behind me, line up holding their rifles.
And then the Taliban commander, I had this CBS - small CBS camera that I had bought. They, of course, took everything. And he thrust it at me, and he said, how do I turn this on? And I said, oh, I'm going to help you film my own execution. And he was - eyes like cat eyes, as angry in his eyes as bright and shining and as scary as any man I'd ever seen. And I remember looking over at a man sitting on a small chair next to me, and he had a - or to my side in front of me, on the right side, his Kalashnikov on his knee. And behind me, the man pulled out the knife. And the knife is what they kill sheep with and water buffalo. It's about 12 inches long. And, of course, they put it back.
And so I went through two mock executions like this. And I remember it was the second one that was the most powerful for me, because it took forever for me to put my back up straight because once you put your back up straight and you're terrified inside and when you think of - well, when you think of Jim Foley, you think of Steven Sotloff or those people killed by ISIS, the incredible courage of them to be able to stand up - to keep your back up. It took me forever to show my - keep my back straight and then to look him in the eye. And I said, OK, it's you or me. And by then, I was - it was just him or me. And I didn't - no longer thought of my parents. It was just to stay alive. And the second time, they - when they put the rifle - Kalashnikov against my head, deeper into my temple without breaking skin, and then I knew. And so I took my arm around, and I knew I had to fight.
And it was the proudest and the worst moment of my life. I knew that my father would be proud that I was not a coward. I was not a coward. And, of course, they let me go. So, no, they never touched me. They never harmed me physically. I was their guest. You're always a guest. Like, Jalaluddin treated me well because I was his guest. Six and half weeks later, they released me.
DAVIES: I hesitate to ask you more about this because it's obviously still a traumatic experience for you. But you said you raised - you tried to fight them and then that's when they backed off or...
VAN DYK: No. I raised my elbow to prevent him from going at me with the knife, which I thought he was going to do. He didn't. But the fact that I was willing to fight, that I did not give in, that I held - that I was going to do that was - in that I kept my back straight and looked at them - at the at the commander and said, it's you or me, is - yes, it's the absolute worst possible night in my life but also the best because - I don't like to repeat this, but because I kept my back straight. And I looked him in the eye, and I was not - I was beyond fear. You enter a time when fear leaves you. It's now - everything becomes primal.
DAVIES: When you reflected back on the experience, what do you think was the point of the mock executions?
VAN DYK: No one has ever asked me that. To establish power, to establish fear, to humble me, to - was it pure theater? I don't know. But whatever it was, it worked. Whatever they wanted, I think they got.
DAVIES: For your most recent book, you traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Saudi Arabia and Turkey. And you relate the many, many people you spoke with in, I think, wanting to understand the reach and power of the Haqqani network, which they call the Haqqani Mujahideen. You wanted to reconnect with Jalaluddin Haqqani, who you had met in 1981 and had been so impressed with his piety and bravery. If you had found him, what did you want to ask him?
VAN DYK: I know exactly because when I got a book contract to embark upon what you just described, that journey, the secretarial woman walked me to the door. And she said, you're going to try and find Jalaluddin. What will you ask him if you find him? And you and her are the only two people who've ever asked me that. And I responded by saying, why did you change? Why have you started killing innocent women and children? Why are you using suicide bombers? What has happened to you? That's what I wanted to know because these men who treated me so well and Jalaluddin and the other men in the Mujahideen that I met during that time - how in the world had they become so violent, such anarchists without seemingly having hearts that they would kill women and children of their own, not just their own nation but their own tribe, their own people?
DAVIES: Well, Jere Van Dyk, thanks so much for speaking with us.
VAN DYK: Thank you, Dave.
DAVIES: Jere Van Dyk is a veteran foreign correspondent. His latest book is "Without Borders: The Haqqani Network And The Road To Kabul." Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new anthology of music from tenor saxophonist Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and organist Shirley Scott. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF JIM FARMER'S "STOLEN DOG JAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.