Jere Van Dyk is a former TV correspondent and Taliban expert (and was once held captive by them). He believes the Taliban is poorly understood in the West, but that better understanding is key for US foreign policy. He shares his views with RT.
RT: Can you tell me what the war on terror looks like through the eyes of the Taliban?
Jere van Dyk: No one has ever asked me that, very, very good question, very interesting question. When I was a newspaper reporter in Afghanistan in the 1980s for New York Times, when we were tied with some of the members of the Taliban, today we call them mujahidin, which means ‘holy warriors’, the Taliban told me that they were the sons and the grandsons of the mujahidin. When I was captured by the Taliban and when I was prison I had to listen for hours and hours and hours to Taliban recruitment tapes, suicide recruitment tapes. They talked of – or they said or chanted- Pashtun history, Pashtun geography, Pashtun poetry. This is a nationalist movement in their view. They are simply trying to free themselves of foreign infidel invaders, exactly like their fathers and grandfathers in order to have what they feel is a proper Islamic government. The Taliban have become somewhat different. And that is a result of their ties to al Qaeda, which is comprised of foreigners: primarily Arabs, Egyptians, Saudis, Chechens, Uzbeks, those from western China and even some from Europe. So, al Qaeda is a different entity entirely, it is strictly interested in international jihad. But the Taliban have become because of the ties to al Qaeda and because of 24/7 news cycle, they have become far more international. But deep down in their hearts they are interested in one thing and that is an Islamic government and a Pashtun Islamic government. Now, Pashtun – I don’t want to make it too complicated for viewers – but for them the Pashtuns are Afghanistan and they were at war before we came with what we call the Northern Alliance, the Tajiks, these are different ethnic groups in the north. So, this is also an element here, there is an ethnic war at play here as much as anything else. But deep down more than anything else they want a unified Pashtun land, they want an Afghanistan that is deeply Muslim, their interest ultimately is certainly not to attack the United States. But because of their exposure to the international world now, they are far more capable of trying to go across to Soviet Central Asia to expand perhaps into Iran, yeah, there is this element there.
RT: You were held hostage 45 days by the Taliban, correct? What was that experience like for you?
Jere van Dyk: Frightening. Humbling.
RT: What did you learn that you didn’t know about them?
Jere van Dyk:I thought initially I would be killed immediately. But what I learnt and what surprised me was – that even though I was a prisoner, even though I lived in constant fear – that I was also treated with respect and I was treated as a guest. Because – and this goes to the heart of your question – ultimately tribal law, Pashtun tribal law called Pashtun tribal code, take precedents over Islam and deep down they are Pashtuns, they are members of tribes more than they are Muslims. And I think that is one reason why I survived. I’m not sure why I survived.
RT: Why did they let you go after 45 days?
Jere van Dyk: I still don’t know the answer. I’m trying to find it out.
RT: What did they say to you as they were unlocking the chains from your arms?
Jere van Dyk: They said: ‘’Congratulations on escaping death. About a year ago I got a call from someone foreigner, European and they asked me to go down to an apartment in New York. Two men, who were Pashtuns from Pakistan here by the State department on the way back to Pakistan getting ready to catch a flight. And the very first question they asked me was: “Who kidnapped you?” The Taliban or the government? My jailer said to me: Not a shot would be fired in Afghanistan without the backing of the Pakistani government. So were the Taliban in touch with the government? Did the government of Pakistan know I was there? Did the government of Pakistan intervene and ultimately save me? Did Jalaluddin from the Haqqani network that we are at war with and with which I lived in the 1980s and whose name I use constantly to try and save me? And whom I was trying to get to, because I thought, by getting to Haqqani I can find out about Al Qaeda. Did he ultimately hold on to the tribal law and save me? I have heard so many different things. That is why it is a very murky complicated place in the war that is far, far different from the way we perceive it in the media.
RT: Speaking of tribes, what are U.S. intelligence capabilities among the tribes? Do you believe that Washington has enough knowledge when it comes to language and cultural experience of the particular regions in Afghanistan that need to be fully understood?
Jere van Dyk: There was a General Flin, I think his name was, and this was about 2009-2010. Who was chief of intelligence under the military general Stanley McCrystal, who said and I quote: We are flying blind in Afghanistan. How many Pashtun speakers are there? When you find out in US intelligence community, when you look, when you talk to, for example, interpreters you find out that there is a huge underground network of interpreters all of whom have to pay bribes before they can work with the American soldiers. Who controls these interpreters? I’m not sure they are completely free at all. They tell them they can easily infiltrate, this is my only experience. I don’t think US intelligence capabilities are nearly not what they are portrayed to be. However, when you get to some place like Pakistan I think it’s possibly a bit different.We have drones overhead. We constantly- and with President Obama we have wretched up a number of drone attacks. And I’ve been under drones. How do they know where to attack? You have to have is information on the ground. What does this information come from? It comes from working closely with Pakistani military intelligence. When they chose to attack there, attack there- Why after so many years have we not been able to kill the leader of Haqqani network? Or why did we have to go and kill Osama bin Laden? Why didn’t Pakistani intelligence tell us where these people were? Maybe they knew and maybe they don’t know. I happen to think they absolutely know. But then we have to have that intelligence on the ground and I think it’s far better in Pakistan than in Afghanistan but it comes because Pakistan worked closer with these people and they workedcloser with the United States and who they want to attack. They wanted to allow the United States to attack.
RT: I started this interview by asking you about Afghanistan but I want to wrap it up by asking you about something you said about Pakistan because you've recently said you believed that the U.S. and its allies are fighting a proxy war against Pakistan.
Jere van Dyk: Without a doubt.
RT: Without a doubt?
Jere van Dyk: Oh, without a doubt.
RT: That could create even more dangerous dynamic clearly in that area of the world if the still don't know what they are doing in Afghanistan.
Jere van Dyk: Wait, is Pakistan our ally or is it our enemy? Now, the Taliban – and you take someone like the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who said that the Haqqani network is in arm of Pakistani ISI – Pakistani military intelligence, that we, the United states, have paid at least 12 billion dollars, given in aid and different forms, at least 12 billion dollars to Pakistani military since 9/11. But the Pakistani military – according to former Admiral Mike Mullen and in real everyone else – is backing the Taliban. So we are supplying money to the very people that are providing this money to the Taliban to attack US forces. Why would Pakistan back the Taliban? What is Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan? No single Afghan legislator in the history of Afghanistan has accepted the board between Afghanistan and Pakistan.Afghanistan was the only nation in the world to vote against Pakistan admittance to the United Nations in 1947 over one single thing – the border. In 1893 the British, when they ruled India, created what is called the Durand Line. They do not accept the fact that the land that once belong to them that the British took away should belong to Pakistan. And this is deep down at the heart of this particular never-ending war in the middle of which the United States and its soldiers who continue to die over a war what is ones started against al Qaeda, which evolved into something far deeper, far more complicated. There is an old Afghan saying: Afghanistan is very easy to enter, but it is very hard to leave. We are not leaving by 2014, we will still be there.
RT: Would a withdrawal in 2014 be a sign of victory or defeat in this so called war on terror?
Jere van Dyk: I don’t think it’s a sign of neither one, I think it’s a sign that US public is tired of this. We initially went in for one specific reason and that was to dismiss the government of the Taliban and to destroy al Qaeda. Now people ask: Why are we still there? How many al Qaeda are there? Under President Bush and in an early part of Obama administration we heard the number 50. There may be 50 al Qaeda left in Afghanistan. Are we there because of 50 al Qaeda members? No, it is more into something far larger than that. Is it because the former Soviet Union, the former, what we call the ‘Stans’: Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have the largest untapped oil and natural gas resources in the world. If you talk to the Afghans, you talk to the Taliban you’d think: Oh, that’s why the United States wants to stay here. People say it’s because we want to surround Iran. We have bases in the Gulf, we had bases once before in Iraq, we certainly have them in Afghanistan. Do we want Afghanistan and Pakistan not to go to war with one another? Neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration has been straight with American public about that. And finally we are responsible along with other nations for creating the very people against whom we are now fighting. These were all allies of the United States and its allies in the 1980s. We haven’t been straight with the American public why what we have created, which involved in some cases into parts which were involved into al Qaeda and which we are trying to dispel there.