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Times Square Bomb Attempt Puts Focus On Pakistan

American journalist David Rohde escaped last year from a Taliban stronghold in northern Pakistan after being held for seven months. It's the same region where the suspected Times Square bomber reportedly trained. Rohde, who is currently on leave from The New York Times, explains the conflicted history of the region.

26:12

Other segments from the episode on May 6, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 6, 2010: Interview with Howard Fischer; Interview with David Rohde.

Transcript

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Immigration Law One Of Many Changes In Arizona

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Arizona's controversial new immigration law is just one of several
controversial new laws passed by the state legislature this session. Journalist
Howard Fischer says this year, the stars have finally aligned for fiscal and
political conservatives in Arizona.

Fischer has been covering Arizona state politics since 1982. He now runs the
company Capitol Media Services and reports for news institutions around the
state, including Arizona Public Radio.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the immigration bill into law on April 23rd,
and it ignited a debate across the U.S. and Mexico. The new law requires police
to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect
they're in the country illegally.

After protests about the probability of racial profiling, a modification was
passed that says race or ethnicity cannot be the basis for questioning a person
and that an officer can only ask for a person's papers if the officer has
already stopped the person while enforcing another law.

Also, according to the new law, a legal immigrant who is stopped but it is not
carrying their immigration papers can be charged with a misdemeanor. Immigrants
unable to produce documents showing they're in the U.S. legally could be
arrested, jailed for up to six months and fined $2,500. It's up to the local
police to decide if they'll keep the immigrant in prison or turn them over to
federal officials.

Some local police departments don't want to carry out the law, but another
provision states that citizens can file lawsuits against police departments or
other government agencies if they're not enforcing the law. Arizona has an
estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants, and is the nation's busiest border
crossing point.

Howard Fischer, welcome to FRESH AIR. The immigration bill is one of several
very conservative laws that have been passed in this session of the Arizona
State Legislature. Can we just run through a few of those bills? Let's start
with guns. What did the Arizona State Legislature pass about guns?

Mr. HOWARD FISCHER (Journalist, Capitol Media Services): Oh, we were very busy
with guns out here. The most sweeping would allow any adult to carry a
concealed weapon without bothering to get a state permit, which means no
training, no background check. Only two other states actually allow that now,
Alaska and Vermont, clearly much smaller states.

There's also a bill that the governor signed which said if you manufacture a
gun in Arizona, you can possess it in Arizona without those pesky federal
firearms regulations. There's another bill also on her desk to preempt local
gun regulations that are stricter.

This is a governor who believes very much in the Second Amendment, as she sees
it. She spoke last year to the National Rifle Association national convention,
and she believes that there is an unrestricted right to carry weapons, and most
lawmakers apparently go along.

GROSS: So, in other words, if you want to carry a concealed weapon, you don't
need a permit? You don't need training? You don't need to be registered?

Mr. FISCHER: Up until now in Arizona, you could carry – anyone can carry
openly. And those are laws that date back to territorial days. You'd want to
walk around the street with a .45 strapped to your hip and everyone can see it,
you're free to do that.

If you wanted to carry a concealed weapon, you had to go through certain basic
training, how to handle the weapon, knowing when you can use deadly physical
force. You also had to undergo a background check.

Under the law that takes effect on July 29th, any adult who is allowed to carry
a gun - in other words, you're not a convicted felon or something like that -
will be able to carry concealed. The argument is, well, what's the difference
whether you have the gun outside your jacket or underneath your jacket?

There are obviously some folks who are very concerned that if everyone starts
carrying concealed, will there be more threats on each other? There are other
people who are saying, look, it's a right, not just under the Second Amendment.
Arizona actually has a version of the Second Amendment that's even more
absolute than the federal Constitution.

The federal Constitution talks about a well-regulated militia. Arizona's
Constitution says there is an absolute right of Arizonans to bear arms in
defense of themselves and the state, and there are a lot of people who believe
whether it's open or concealed, it's the same right. Clearly, this governor
also believes that, and that's why she signed the bill.

GROSS: What about ethnic studies? There's a new law about that in Arizona.

Mr. FISCHER: One of the largest school districts in the state, in Tucson, has
an ethnic studies program. The idea behind it, according to the proponents, is
that you build a certain amount of ethnic pride among the Hispanic students -
and again, a city like Tucson, which is an old Spanish presidio, was part of
Mexico long before it was part of Arizona, has a population down there that
perhaps would do better with looking at the contributions of Latinos to the
culture.

The concern has been that somehow, instead of building ethnic pride, it's
building ethnic solidarity and perhaps a reverse racism, and so the legislature
has enacted a bill to say you cannot have a course that teaches hatred of any
other race - which sounds great on paper, and Tucson Unified School Districts
insist they're not doing that now. The devil obviously is in the details, and
we're going to see what happens because the state school superintendent down
here has already said if the ethnic studies program in Tucson continues, under
this new law, he will take them to court, and he will take it apart.

GROSS: And there's a new abortion law that was passed in Arizona.

Mr. FISCHER: Yes. They obviously can't go very far into overturning Roe versus
Wade, but they nibbled around the edges. There's new reporting requirements,
and then there's another one to tighten up on existing state law that prohibits
public funding for abortions.

This one goes after some cities where, if you're an employee, you can get
insurance coverage that includes elective abortion. This new law says no public
funds in any way, shape or form can go into funding an abortion, even if it's
only part of the coverage that you're getting as a city employee. How that's
going to affect city coverage is going to be very tricky, because they're going
to have to start separating out that kind of coverage.

This is not unusual for Arizona. The state has been tip-toeing around the edges
of that for a while. We also have some new bills on embryonic research. I want
you to know that officially now in Arizona, you cannot produce human-animal
hybrids. So if anyone was worried that we were going to be creating minotaurs
or mermaids in Arizona, I want you to know that's now against the law here.

GROSS: Why was that passed, a bill making it illegal to create human-animal
hybrids? Had anybody suggested that they wanted to create human-animal hybrids?

Mr. FISCHER: There are some folks here who are very worried that, left to their
own devices, scientists will look at – the old "Jurassic Park" question that
Jeff Goldblum asked, which is: The question isn't can we. The question is
should we.

And sometimes science does get ahead of the ethics, and the lawmakers here are
very concerned that somehow, some public moneys will be used, or even private
moneys would be used to do research into something that they consider to be
ethically improper.

Now, where's the line on that? I don't see anybody creating minotaurs, but I
certainly see scientists who would like to use animal genes to perhaps cure
certain human conditions. Whether this bill precludes that remains to be seen.

GROSS: One more bill I want to mention before we get to immigration, that is
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed legislation giving her the power to sue the
federal government over the new health care legislation. Explain that.

Mr. FISCHER: What happened was we have a Republican governor in Jan Brewer and
a Democratic attorney general in Terry Goddard. Terry Goddard looked at the new
federal law and concluded that there was no constitutional violation there,
there was no mandate on states to do anything because it came down to the
golden rule: If you want the federal government's gold, you live by their
rules.

Jan Brewer clearly didn't see it that way and wanted to make a political
statement. You have to remember that both Brewer and Goddard are running for
governor this year, and so she got the Republican-controlled legislature to
give her the authorization to join with the more than a dozen other states to
go ahead and sue the federal government to try to argue that this is an
unconstitutional mandate. It's beyond the scope of the federal government to
control. It's beyond questions of interstate commerce, which is within
Congress' control, and obviously, we'll see on a national level what a federal
judge and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court decides.

GROSS: So Arizona seems to be headed legislatively in a very conservative
direction. Governor Jan Brewer is Republican. She was preceded by Janet
Napolitano, who's now the head of Homeland Security, and Napolitano is a
Democrat. Are there bills that she would have vetoed if they came to her desk,
Napolitano's desk? In other words, is there a big shift going on now in
Arizona, a shift since Janet Napolitano left?

Mr. FISCHER: There's definitely a shift. In fact, some of the bills that are
being signed now are ones that Janet Napolitano did veto in terms of easing the
concealed carry laws, in terms of some of the abortion laws.

Janet Napolitano took a much more liberal - to the extent it's liberal and
conservative issues in here - liberal view of the role of government, what it
should be doing and the individual rights, the whole 10th Amendment states'
rights argument. And so these are bills that have been pent up.

Six years of Janet Napolitano has left a lot of very frustrated Republican
lawmakers. You have to remember, the legislature's been in Republican hands
pretty much steadily since the 1960s, with a few exceptions. But we have
elected Democratic governors. The Arizona voters seem to like that split
government. We've had Bruce Babbitt - again, a fairly liberal person. We've had
Rose Mofford. We've had Janet Napolitano.

But now, because of this peculiar accident, if you will, of politics, Janet
Napolitano became the Homeland Security secretary. Jan Brewer, the elected
secretary of state, became the governor once Janet quit. Nobody elected Jan
Brewer governor, but she's the governor now, and the Republican-controlled
legislature is bound and determined to take advantage of that, because it may
not last.

As I mentioned, there's going to be a very divisive race this year. Brewer has
three other Republicans running against her in the primary. Whoever survives
that will likely run against Democrat Terry Goddard. And I think that the
thought of Republican lawmakers of Governor Terry Goddard scares the you-know-
what out of them, so they figured, you know, you've got to strike while the
iron's hot.

GROSS: So this is the context in which the immigration bill was passed in
Arizona.

Mr. FISCHER: This is the context of the immigration bill, because many of these
bills, including the immigration bills, had been up before. For example, one of
the provisions in the bill deals with day laborers, whether people can stop on
streets to pick up day laborers near your Home Depot stores. Janet Napolitano
vetoed that legislation. It's now part of the new immigration bill that's
gotten all the national attention.

Some of the issues about identification cards, the issues about quote-unquote
"sanctuary cities," one of the provisions in Senate Bill 1070 says it is
illegal for a city to have a policy that precludes its police officers from
enforcing federal immigration laws to the full extent permitted.

Janet Napolitano vetoed that bill, said it's none of the business of local
police to be enforcing federal immigration law. In fact, she said, it actually
works against local police because victims and witnesses won't come forward.
Now it's part of the bill that Jan Brewer signed.

And so there is a sea change that's occurred here in Arizona because of the
shift of who's in charge.

GROSS: Yeah, now let's talk more about the immigration bill. Basically,
immigration is a federal issue. It's federal law. It's the Immigration and
Naturalization Service, the INS, that oversees that. So what does it mean to
make it a state crime to be in this country in violation of federal immigration
laws?

Mr. FISCHER: I think what you're seeing is a certain amount of frustration that
the federal government has not done the job and particular in the case of
Arizona.

We have seen, over the years the hardening of the border in California. It used
to be you could run across the line right at Tijuana without any problem, or at
Otay Mesa or something. Getting across the river at the Rio Grande in Texas was
fairly easy. Those have been hardened.

That leaves 370 miles of Arizona-Sonora border, much of which is three strands
of barbed wire. And so all of that pent-up demand in this country for labor,
all of the drug traffic is now traveling through Arizona.

And so we've seen an increase in shootings. We've seen in increase in border
crime. We've seen an increase in the number of drop houses. It is a frustration
that's taken place that if the federal government isn't going to the job, if
they're not going to add more border patrol, if they're not going to do more to
catch illegals, that the state should do something.

And, again, remember, this isn't the first time Arizona has done something.
Back in 2006, Arizona enacted the first ever employer sanctions law, which
makes it a state crime for an employer to knowingly hire an undocumented
worker. And - the idea being if we can't block the border because we don't have
the troops to send down there, then at least try to get rid of some of the
magnet. This is a product of years of frustration.

I mean, I lived in Southern Arizona. I've lived within 10 miles of the border,
and it's not the old days where a few farm workers would come through and
they'd stay for a few weeks and go back. You now have a criminal element coming
in with drugs and coming back with guns, and a lot of people have had it and
said what can the state do? This, they believe, is the answer.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Howard Fischer, and he's reported
on Arizona state government since 1982. For the past 16 years, he's reported
for Capitol Media Services, which he runs. He's a former associate editor of
the Phoenix Business Journal, and his reports on Arizona state government are
often heard on Arizona Public Radio. Let's take a short break here, and then
we'll talk some more about what's going on in Arizona politics. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Howard Fischer, and he reports on Arizona state government.
He's been doing this since 1982, the last 16 years for Capitol Media Services.
His reports are often heard on Arizona Public Radio.

So looking at the new Arizona, the controversial new Arizona immigration law,
do you think that the Department of Justice will be challenging it because
Arizona is, you know, requiring its police to investigate the legality of
people who they may suspect of being illegal immigrants? The whole immigration
law is basically a federal issue, not a state issue.

Mr. FISCHER: I think there are going to be two basic legal challenges. You hit
on one of them, which is what the lawyers like to call field preemption. In
other words, the federal government has determined: Only we set the policy of
who is entitled to be in this country legally.

Now, there are exceptions. I mentioned earlier Arizona's employer sanctions
law, and in fact, Congress did build an exception in to allow states to take
away the business licenses of companies that knowingly hire undocumented
workers. And the 9th Circuit has upheld Arizona's law there.

The argument of the proponents is that they are simply enforcing what's already
federal law. They're not changing the law and they're not broadening the law in
terms of who can be here legally, and Senator Russell Pearce, who crafted the
measure, said that there is an inherent authority of local police to enforce
federal law, and he claims to have the case law to back that up.

I would be very surprised if the Justice Department did not challenge that. We
already know that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is
going to challenge it, along with the ACLU.

The second legal issue is going to be whether the law results in racial
profiling. Now, that's going to be what the lawyers like to call an as-applied
challenge, that once the law takes effect - assuming it does take effect -
whether people are being stopped by virtue of the fact that they're brown.

And while the law specifically says racial profiling is illegal - it's illegal
under the U.S. Constitution - the law, after it was passed, was further amended
to say you may not use race, ethnicity or national origin as a basis to stop
someone.

Okay, well, then, what do you use as a basis to stop someone to ask questions
about whether they're here illegally? You know, if you happen to be 6'2" and
blonde, odds of you being questioned are probably a lot less than if you happen
to be 5'3" and dark-skinned.

And so it's going to be a really tricky - real tricky question in terms of how
do police enforce this without it being racial profiling. And I'm sure there'll
be a challenge on that, also.

GROSS: Arizona's controversial immigration bill was sponsored by Russell
Pearce. Tell us a little bit about him.

Mr. FISCHER: Russell is very conservative. I mean, his background is law
enforcement. He was a sheriff's deputy. He was a justice of the peace. He has a
child who was shot by an illegal immigrant. Russell sees things in very black-
and-white ways.

I mean, I don't think there's racism there. I mean, Russell's son married a
Hispanic woman. He's got Hispanic grandchildren. I've never seen Russell
mistreat anybody personally, in all the years I've known him, based on race,
color, ethnicity.

But Russell sees it in a very black-and-white way. If you ask for a single line
that describes one of Russell's quotes, it's: What part of illegal don't you
understand? You shouldn't be in the country. We're going to do what we can to
enforce the rule of law. That's the way Russell sees things.

And he's obviously been tarred with being racist and everything else. Again, I
think that's oversimplifying what's a much more complex problem. I think he
believes that there's financial burden on the state. We talked a little bit
about the number of kids in schools. We know that perhaps 17 percent of all
prisoners in state prison are illegal immigrants who violate state law.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. The federal government has a State
Criminal Alien Assistance Program. They are supposed to reimburse the states
for the cost of housing illegal immigrants in state prisons. The federal
government has reimbursed the states pennies on the dollar. So the feds haven't
even stepped up for that.

So Russell said if you're not going to step up, then we're going to do what we
need to do. And he sees it, again, as a law enforcement officer.

GROSS: Just one more question. Arizona does not practice Daylight Savings
Time...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...which I'm sure makes it really confusing when you do things with
people who are out of state. So why don't they recognize Daylight Savings Time?

Mr. FISCHER: Well, the running joke out here is that there are lawmakers who
believe that Daylight Savings Time is a communist plot, and I'm sure there are
probably a few of them who do. I suppose the more practical answer is if you're
in a state where it goes up to 120 during the day, the last thing you need in
the middle of summer is another hour of daylight.

GROSS: Arizona politics is so controversial now. Is it hard for you to report
on Arizona politics without becoming partisan?

Mr. FISCHER: Well, you have to look at it, I suppose, through an eye of - that
this is a show being put on for my benefit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FISCHER: And I know that sounds very self-centered as a journalist, but
I've been covering the legislature since '82. I've been covering politics since
1970. And you have to just look at it as – with sort of bemusement. There are
always characters that come through Arizona politics.

We had a birther bill this year, for example, that actually got out of the
House, that said if Barack Obama wants to run for reelection, he'd actually
have to produce a birth certificate to the satisfaction of our secretary of
state before he could be on the ballot here. I can't make this stuff up.

We had a lawmaker, name of Barbara Brewster, who, a number of years ago, put
out a memo equating homosexuality with bestiality and cannibalism, who also
went up to Senator Barbara Leff - who is a Jewish senator from Paradise Valley
- and said to her: You can't be Jewish. You don't have a hooked nose.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FISCHER: How can - you can't make this stuff up. I love covering Arizona
politics.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, good luck with your continued coverage. Howard Fischer, thank you
so much.

Mr. FISCHER: You're very welcome.

GROSS: Howard Fischer runs Capitol Media Services and reports on Arizona state
politics for Arizona Public Radio and news organizations around the state.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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Times Square Bomb Attempt Puts Focus On Pakistan

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross.

As investigators continue to probe the attempted car bombing in Times Square,
there are increasing concerns that radical groups based in Pakistan may have
played a role. Court documents indicate that suspect Faisal Shahzad admitted
traveling to the Waziristan region of Pakistan for training and bomb-making.

Our guest, David Rohde, believes North Waziristan has become the prime
sanctuary for extremists who launch attacks against American troops in the
region, extremists who are increasingly capable of planning and supporting
terrorist attacks in the United States.

It's a region David Rohde knows all too well. He covered Afghanistan and
Pakistan from 2001 to 2008, and was held captive for seven months by the
Taliban, mostly in North Waziristan. While he was there, he saw radical groups
training their followers and foreign extremists in making bombs.

David Rohde is on leave from The New York Times while works on a book about his
experiences. He spoke, this morning, with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.

DAVE DAVIES: Well, David Rohde, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

When you heard that Faisal Shahzad, the man who has been arrested in connection
with the failed New York Times Square car bombing, had been trained in
Pakistan, what was your reaction?

Mr. DAVID ROHDE (Author, investigative journalist, The New York Times): I was
disappointed. For years myself and other reporters have been writing about
North Waziristan and we’ve seen attacks in Kabul linked back to North
Waziristan. We’ve seen assassination attempts in Pakistan, linked back there.
We saw the killing of Benazir Bhutto, the 2005 London subway bombings, and now,
you know, an attack in Times Square. And it’s been eight years and the area
just continues to be a Taliban mini state.

DAVIES: And this is an area that's in what people refer to as the border
regions of Pakistan near Afghanistan, right?

Mr. ROHDE: Yeah. The tribal areas are sort of the result of decades of really
poor British colonial policy, poor Pakistani government policy and actually,
also American government policy. They’ve been this neglected backward area
where people weren't allowed to vote. They are essentially cut off from the
rest of Pakistan and political parties are barred from being active there. And
it was used by the United States as a base to train and indoctrinate young
Afghans and Pakistanis to fight soviet troops in Afghanistan in the '80s. So
what we face today is really the product of 30 years of conflict, and beyond
that, sort of, decades of neglect.

DAVIES: And it is, in effect, Taliban mini state, right?

Mr. ROHDE: Yeah. What really struck me when I was brought there as a captive,
was that the Taliban regime that the, you know, U.S. felt it had toppled in
Afghanistan in 2001, I found had simply moved a few hundred miles to the East -
and it was alive and thriving in the tribal areas of Pakistan, particularly, in
two agencies as they're called. They're parts of the tribal areas, North
Waziristan and South Waziristan.

There were Taliban road crews repairing the roads, Taliban police patrolling
the streets, the Taliban run the schools and Arab and Uzbek foreign militants
stroll through the bazaars with complete confidence, and it really is a
completely militant-run state.

DAVIES: Now when you were on the show before you talked about your captivity in
the hands of the Taliban. You were taken in Afghanistan when you were on route
to interview a Taliban leader. And you said that you were, if I recall, you
were held by a group associated with a man named Sirajuddin Haqqani. Am I
getting that name, right?

Mr. ROHDE: Yes.

DAVIES: Yeah. Tell us about him and who he is and what his role is in the
Jihadist movement.

Mr. ROHDE: Yes, the thing about Sirajuddin Haqqani is again, he's an incredibly
important figure now, and he's also a small history lesson. His father,
Jalaluddin Haqqani, was one of the Mujahideen fighters that the United States
backed during the 1980s. And Congressman Charlie Wilson, who was the focus of
the movie, "Charlie Wilson's War," actually visited the Haqqanis, Jalaluddin
Haqqani, the father and stayed in Miramshah, the place where I was held
prisoner and actually went into Afghanistan with Haqqani's fighters in the
'80s. And he was so impressed by Haqqani's men that he called Jalaluddin,
Sirajuddin's father the personification of good.

Fast forward 30 years later, the son is now kind of running the operation. And
what happened is, that while Jalaluddin Haqqani was working with the United
States, he was also working very closely with Osama bin Laden. Osama bin
Laden's first camp in Afghanistan was based on territory controlled by
Jalaluddin Haqqani, so when the United States attacked in 2001, it's thought
that Jalaluddin Haqqani may have been one of the persons that helped Osama bin
Laden sneak over the border and go into Pakistan and he, you know, Osama bin
Laden today may be based in North Waziristan.

And Sirajuddin is a younger generation of Haqqanis. He's in his early 30s and
he's sort of grown up in this milieu of Arab and hard line foreign militants.
And he just posted a sort of question and answer session on the Internet where
he was sort of reaching out to other Muslim radicals, talking about the
oppression of Muslims in Chechnya and calling for them to fight - to retake
Jerusalem from the crusaders and encouraging Jihadist in Somalia and many
different places around the world, Iraq and the caucuses.

So it's, you know, it's again it’s a family that was helping the United States
originally and now sort of turned into this Frankenstein.

DAVIES: So we have this father-son organization which was active in helping the
United States fight the Soviets way back then, were close to Osama bin Laden,
and now the next generation has this very militant base in North Waziristan,
this area of Pakistan where it appears a lot of the training for some of these
terrorist attacks has been occurring, right?

Mr. ROHDE: Yeah, my guards would take turns, you know, several would stay and
guard us when we were prisoners and others would go and get bomb-making lessons
from Uzbek militants. They were taught about how to make roadside bombs that
they would, you know, then cross the border into Afghanistan and use to kill
American soldiers. There was young Afghans and Pakistanis were also being sort
of indoctrinated and trained to be suicide bombers.

During these bombing-making classes, large explosions would go off in the
middle of Miramshah, that's the largest town in North Waziristan, and there are
Pakistani military bases, but the Pakistan soldiers essentially never came off
the bases. And we'd hear these explosions, there'd be no reaction and my guards
were very relaxed and very excited about these classes.

I remember one day one of them came back and he had skinned his knee running
away from a big explosive they had been setting off with a timer, and they were
just completely confident and comfortable and at ease in North Waziristan.

DAVIES: Yeah. I want to talk a little bit more about the role of the Pakistani
military in all this. But you were actually at this area where it appears that
Faisal Shahzad, the man accused in the Times Square attempted car bombing, was
trained. And you saw, firsthand, bombing-making training and explosives
operations going on.

Mr. ROHDE: I did. I mean I heard about it. I was always kept in houses, but I
just - my guards brought back their notebooks from their bomb-making classes
and, you know, talked about what they were learning. And it was sort of eerie
in that the notebooks they had, the diagrams they had for bombs were very
similar to notebooks that myself and other journalists have found in Kabul in
2001 when the Taliban fell, and we had found these houses that were used by
militants for training. And it was the, you know, exact sort of classes that
had been carried out in Kabul before 2001. And again, you know, this entire
training infrastructure had simply moved from Afghanistan into North
Waziristan.

DAVIES: And, just to clarify to folks who might be just tuning in, you were
there not really as a journalist, but as a captive, and therefore, had a look
inside this camp that a journalist wouldn’t readily get.

So we’ve been talking this organization, the Haqqani group, these militants
that are in North Waziristan. And, of course, after the Times Square incident,
there was a video released in which the Pakistani-Taliban claimed credit.
What's the relationship between the Haqqani group and the Pakistani-Taliban?

Mr. ROHDE: One of the things that was clearest to me in my time in captivity
was that the Haqqanis and the Pakistani-Taliban worked seamlessly together.
There are some Pakistan military officers that differentiate between the two
groups. They are believed to tacitly support the Haqqanis because they see the
Haqqanis as assets that Pakistan can use to exert Pakistan's influence in
Afghanistan and prevent India from gaining influence in Afghanistan. And
there's been frustration among American officials because the Pakistani
military will crack down on the Pakistani-Taliban, who they see as enemies of
the Pakistan state yet, they won't crack down on the Haqqani network.

And one of the fears is that one of the reasons that the Pakistanis have not
gone into North Waziristan yet, and why it's the only place that they have not
manned an offensive, is because it is the base of the Haqqanis who they still
see as proxies they can use. One of the telling moments of our captivity was,
the Haqqanis were worried about drone strikes, they believe the drone strikes
were actually trying to kill me and they saw me as this very valuable hostage.
So they actually moved me from their territory, North Waziristan, to the
territory of the Pakistani-Taliban in South Waziristan and we were actually
held in a district controlled by Betulla Masood, the head of the Pakistani-
Taliban.

He was killed actually, in August 2009 on a drone strike. But, you know, our
fear was, you know, oh no, the Haqqani network is going to, you know, sell us
to the Pakistani-Taliban or we would be kidnapped by the Pakistani-Taliban. We
saw them as rival groups, but instead, our Haqqani guards brought us to the
Pakistani-Taliban territory. They were welcomed there. We were given a house to
stay in and the Pakistani-Taliban sort of provided area security and the
Pakistani-Taliban sort of provided area security while our Haqqani guards lived
with us. And then when we left and went back to North Waziristan, the sort of
stronghold of the Haqqanis, the Pakistani-Taliban let us go.

Again, the two groups worked seamlessly together. And I think, more broadly
speaking, they sort of support each other. The Haqqanis are very strong in
North Waziristan and I think they're giving shelter, both to Arab militants and
the Pakistani-Taliban, now, in North Waziristan.

DAVIES: We're speaking with David Rohde. He's on leave from The New York Times
working on a book. He was held captive by the Taliban in Pakistan for seven
months in 2008 and 2009.

We'll talk more after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, we're speaking with David Rohde. He covered
Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2001 to 2008. He's now on leave from The New York
Times, working on a book about his experiences. You may also know his name
because he was captured by the Taliban and held captive in Pakistan for seven
months in 2008 and 2009.

Well, David Rohde, it sounds as if you believe that there's a serious security
threat to the United States from the activities in North Waziristan. And the
United States has put a lot of pressure on Pakistan to pursue military
operations against the Taliban, and they’ve done a lot of that over the last
year. Are they doing anything in North Waziristan?

Mr. ROHDE: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in January, went to Pakistan and
specifically urged an offensive in North Waziristan; because again, it seems to
be the one last stronghold of all these different militant groups. And the
response of the Pakistani army was that they did not have enough troops, they
were overstretched, and they would only be able to launch an offensive in six
to 12 months.

What surprised some observers was that the Pakistani army just recently held a
military exercise on the border with India with more that 50,000 troops. And
many people point to that and say the Pakistani army has, you know, definitely
has enough troops to carry out an offensive. It's just that it continues to see
India as its primary enemy and is not, you know, facing the militancy that's
such a tremendous problem up in the border areas. So yes, there are 50,000
Pakistani troops sitting on the border with India, yet the Pakistani army says
they don’t have enough troops to move into North Waziristan.

DAVIES: Do you think it's more a matter of preserving resources so that it has
force to be pointed at India or is it that they also see that Haqqani group and
groups like that as of strategic value to Pakistan in the region?

Mr. ROHDE: I think it's both. And I one current in the years I covered
Pakistan, was the deep distrust Pakistanis felt towards the United States. They
felt that after being very active in the region in the '80s and frankly,
helping spread some of the fundamentals and that's such a problem now, during
the anti-Soviet Jihad, that the U.S. basically abandoned the region when the
Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 and they feel the United States will
abandon the region again. So they want to hold their cards. They want to have
forces deployed to counter any threat from India and they want to continue to
have the Haqqanis as potential proxies in Afghanistan.

There's rumblings, now, that they might launch an offensive - this was actually
before the Times Square case. Clearly, this increases the pressure on them to
launch an offensive. And one other piece of reporting we found, was that the
United States has provided more than $5 billion in reimbursements to the
Pakistani military for operations in the tribal areas and a lot of that money
was overcharging, we found, and Pentagon auditors found, so I think it's a
difficult situation for U.S. officials. They can't publicly criticize the
Pakistanis. That tends to just not be effective and frustrate them. Lecturing
them doesn’t really get much results. But this is clearly a critical time and
there's clearly a great deal of frustration in Washington about north
Waziristan.

DAVIES: Now last summer, the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a
drone strike, which I don’t know if the Americans actually acknowledged credit
for, but it was widely believed that that's what happened. And this was seen by
a lot of analysts as an important victory in the fight against terrorism in
that part of the world. What's your sense of the impact of the killing of
Baitullah Mehsud?

Mr. ROHDE: I think the killing of Baitullah Mehsud did have a significant
impact and, you know, I saw firsthand in north and south Waziristan that the
drone strikes do have a major impact. They generally are accurate. The strikes
that went on killed foreign militants or Afghan or Pakistani Taliban that went
on around us. There were some civilians killed but generally the Taliban would
greatly exaggerate the number of civilians killed. They inhibited their
operations. Taliban leaders were very nervous about being tracked by drones. So
they are effective in the short-term I would say. They do eliminate some top
leaders. But as we’ve seen by Baitullah Mehsud, new leaders emerge and I think
the only long-term solution is to have Pakistani forces in north Waziristan
regain control of that area.

I don’t think the answer is, you know, endless drone strikes. The answer is
definitely not sending American troops into Pakistan, into the tribal areas.
That would just create a tremendous nationalist backlash. It has to be the
Pakistanis doing it.

And I want to be fair to the Pakistani army. They have lost 2,000 soldiers
fighting the Taliban since 2001. That's twice as many Americans have died in
Afghanistan since 2001 and going to north Waziristan will be a tremendously
bloody fight. Again, you’ve got almost the most hard line fighters all hold up
there. So it’s a very serious thing.

There are many many brave Pakistani soldiers out there. We were able to escape
because we did actually make it to one of these bases and the brave Pakistani
soldiers on that base let us inside. So I - you know, there's criticism of the
Pakistani military and, you know, clearly something needs to be done in north
Waziristan, according to analysts but, you know, I don’t want to not recognize
the sacrifice of many many Pakistani soldiers.

DAVIES: Sure. You know, I believe I read somewhere that there's - that some
analysts believe that the killing of Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban leader, in
some ways complicated things by leaving a vacuum of power which was filled by a
lot of contending groups.

Mr. ROHDE: I would disagree with that. Baitullah Mehsud launched just a deadly
wave of suicide bombings across Pakistan. More people died in terrorist-related
attacks in Pakistan, roughly 8,600 people were killed or wounded in 2009, than
Afghanistan or Iraq. And Baitullah Mehsud was believed to be behind the vast
majority of those attacks. So, there's no question that his killing, I think,
you know, limited his organization's effectiveness and it's really, you know,
Pakistanis who are suffering the most from these attacks.

You know, there's lots of talk of the drone strikes creating resentment against
the United States. Polls show that, but polls also show that the one part of
Pakistan that actually supports the drone strikes is the tribal areas. And what
I saw as a prisoner was that the Taliban run a police state in the tribal
areas. They're obsessed with local people spying on them and guiding the drone
attacks.

And at one point there was a drone strike carried out just outside of our
house. Two cars were hit. There were foreign and Pakistani militants in them.
And they - local Taliban and foreign Taliban arrested a local farmer, accused
him of being a spy that guided the attack. He denied it. They then disemboweled
him and chopped off his leg. At some point during that he, you know, allegedly
confessed to being a spy. They then decapitated him and hung his body in a
local market.

You know, day after day there were stories of local people being rounded and
executed by the Taliban. So, they're incredibly oppressive and I don’t think
they have much popular support in the tribal areas. And I would - again, the
key is getting the Pakistani military and Pakistani government into the tribal
areas and finally giving the people in the tribal areas the economic and
educational and political opportunities they haven't had for decades.

DAVIES: We're speaking with David Rohde. He's on leave from The New York Times
working on a book. He was held captive by the Taliban in Pakistan for seven
months in 2008 and 2009.

We’ll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, we're speaking with David Rohde. He covered
Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2001 to 2008. He's now on leave from The New York
Times, working on a book about his experiences. You may also know his name
because he was captured by the Taliban and held captive in Pakistan for seven
months in 2008 and 2009.

You know, I don’t know if this is something you feel comfortable commenting on,
but it struck me that if Faisal Shahzad had gone to these experienced
explosives experts and bomb trainers in Pakistan, he certainly did an
amateurish job of putting together a car bomb in New York. Does that make sense
to you?

Mr. ROHDE: It does. I mean, this is the - it's very hard to explain the
contradictions that I found in north Waziristan and the contradictions that are
inside these movements. They're very sophisticated in some ways. They were
constantly searching the Internet and getting lots of information and they
interact with the world. They read about it. You know, they're very effective
at mounting their own propaganda. But then they were amateurish in other ways,
so I'm not surprised that he got this kind of training and then seemed to carry
out this sort of slapdash plot.

You know, my guards were, you know, many of them were sort of poorly educated
young Afghans who really hadn't seen the world beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan.
One little anecdote that illustrates the situation there and this dichotomy,
when I was in captivity in the spring of 2009, there was a gunman opened fire
in an immigration office in upstate New York and killed about a dozen people.
And at that time, the Pakistani Taliban took credit for that attack. My guards
were elated at that time. They were firing their guns in the air. They were so
excited at the prospect of payback to the United States in a successful attack
in New York.

Later, there was a radio broadcast that explained that the gunman was in fact a
Vietnamese-American. And my guards, you know, were puzzled and they still
assumed that this was, you know, an attack carried out by this greater Taliban
movement. And they turned to me and they said, you know, are Vietnamese people
Muslims? And they just don’t know - they know very little about the outside
world, yet they're eager to kind of carry out these international attacks. So,
you know, it didn’t surprise that this combination that was seen in the Times
Square case of seeming international reach but then some amateur aspects to how
it was carried out.

DAVIES: You know, the other puzzling things is it's been reported that Faisal
Shahzad has been cooperating with authorities. And we’ve seen this in a number
of other cases in the United States of alleged terrorists who, when captured,
actually are quite forthcoming. Does that make sense to you?

Mr. ROHDE: Absolutely. I mean, one of the amazing things is the strength of the
ideology that they follow. He's very proud of what he's done. He wants other
militants to know what he's done. There's an entire sort of counter-narrative
starting with 9/11, which they view as this sort of American-Israeli plot, that
the United States secretly carried out the attacks on 9/11 to create a pretext
for the United States to go occupy Muslim countries.

There's this completely different world view they have of the United States as
this sort of greedy, nefarious, immoral country that's just stealing Muslim
resources, forcing Muslims to convert to Christianity, just sort of dirty
animalistic West. And they really see themselves as defending their culture and
their faith from this unprovoked onslaught from the West. And so, I think he's
very proud of what he's done.

One of the things I saw with one young suicide bomber that was being trained
there was that I would talk to him and I would say that I miss my family and he
would say, you know, why do you care so much about your family? The only
relationship that matters is your relationship with God. And I saw that as
these young men are indoctrinated, they're told to not care about their
families and to focus more and more not on this life but on, you know,
paradise, where they’ll be going after they achieve martyrdom.

And what that does is it very practically kind of removes young men from the
influences that might keep them from adopting radicalism and it sort of moves
them into this orbit where they're just completely focused on the next life.
They have a sense of identity, a sense of passion. They're part of a great
movement that's, you know, defending, you know, a people that are being
oppressed. And so I'm not surprised he's talking and that he's proud of what
he's done.

DAVIES: Well, David Rohde, thanks so much for sharing some of your insights
with us.

Mr. ROHDE: Thank you.

GROSS: David Rohde spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Rohde is on
leave from The New York Times while he writes a book. You can find a link to
David Rohde's New York Times series about being captured and held by the
Taliban on our website freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts
of our show.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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