Talibanistan

David Rohde's riveting account of his captivity provides immense detail on the nature of life under the Taliban and the de facto Taliban state that stretches across southern Afghanistan and into northwestern Pakistan.

The trip confirmed suspicions I had harbored for years as a reporter. The Haqqanis oversaw a sprawling Taliban mini-state in the tribal areas with the de facto acquiescence of the Pakistani military. The Haqqanis were so confident of their control of the area that they took me -- a person they considered to be an extraordinarily valuable hostage -- on a three-hour drive in broad daylight to shoot a scene for a video outdoors.

Throughout North Waziristan, Taliban policemen patrolled the streets, and Taliban road crews carried out construction projects. The Haqqani network's commanders and foreign militants freely strolled the bazaars of Miram Shah and other towns. Young Afghan and Pakistani Taliban members revered the foreign fighters, who taught them how to make bombs.

Also the glimpses into the background and the world view of the Taliban are simply extraordinary.

Most of the guards were Afghan men in their late 20s and early 30s. Some had grown up as refugees in Pakistan. All had limited educations from government schools or religious institutions, known as madrasas. Some did not make it past junior high school. None had seen the world beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan.

They all had relatives or friends who had been killed by Soviet or American troops. They grew up in a culture where teenage boys reached manhood and made a name for themselves by showing their bravery.

I tried to get to know one of the guards, who was preparing to be a suicide bomber. A young man in his 20s with a slim build and brown eyes, he said he had studied engineering in high school. He never attended college but was relatively well educated compared with the other fighters.

When I asked him why he wanted to die, he replied that living in this world was a burden for any true Muslim. Heaven was his goal, he said. Earthly relationships with his parents and siblings did not matter.

How does one combat the view that the Earth does not matter?  Or that Earthly relationships do not matter? Changing this world view is a project timed in decades.

Tags: Afghanistan, Foreign Aid, Taliban, US Foreign Policy (all tags)

Comments

9 Comments

Re: Talibanistan

The Gnostics felt exactly the same way...  The Catholic Church still managed to find a way to wipe them out.  Of course, the Gnostics weren't known for violence.

by LordMike 2009-10-19 08:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Talibanistan

Ever read Charles Freeman's The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason? Great book on the history of early Christianity.

I still get a kick over the lengths the early Church went to suppress the Arian heresy.

by Charles Lemos 2009-10-19 08:49PM | 0 recs
Way Off Topic

I'm still currently reading the Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics.  The bridge Gnosticism represents among ancient mythology, Hellenistic mysteries and Judeo-Christian theology is illuminating.  I see Revelations now in a completely different context.  How did the Council of Nicea let that creep into the canon?

by Shaun Appleby 2009-10-19 09:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Way Off Topic

Because Constantine dictated the terms of the Council of Nicaea. Constantine wasn't concerned about the manifestations of the Trinity but rather how schisms within Christianity were affecting the stability of the Empire which in the early 4th was coming under increasing threat from diverse threats. The greatest of these was actually in the East, the Sassinids though Goths would take Ephesus in Asia Minor in 253 and the Alemanni would sack Milan in 260. Athens was also ransacked in 267 by the Heruli, a tribe about which little is known. Still it was the Sassinids that in the late 3rd century and early 4th began capturing large swaths of Anatolia and present day Syria.

The debate over the nature of God was largely one in the East. Not one bishop from Italy attended, most were Greek-speaking not Latin, though the Bishop of Cordoba was one of the main participants in the deliberations that led to the magic formula - the homoousios formula. The Creed is a political settlement and who knows why Constantine favored the Trinity concept over the Arian concept of Jesus distinct from the Godhead. Moreover the Creed had little effect near-term. In the East the debate raged on though Arians were expelled from the Church. Constantine also granted tax exemptions to non-Arians setting in motion an increasing role for the Church to be loyal to the Emperor.

By 350 and Constantine dead, all it came undone anyway. The bishops in the East had been run out of their bishoprics and replaced with Arians. The Nicene Creed didn't really become part of orthodox (i.e. Catholic under control of the Bishop of Rome) belief until 395 when the three so-called Cappadochian Fathers came up with formula that exists to this day - hypostaseis formula - one God, three distinct personalities.

The evolution of the nature of the Christian God is something lost on most Christians. Most don't realize the inherent contradictions in the Gospels and especially the difference between the three Gnostic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) and the Gospel of St. John.

by Charles Lemos 2009-10-20 05:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Way Off Topic

Which would explain the conflation of the roles of Emperor and Bishop of Rome.  So the Pope was exerting, or attempting to exert, the vestigial power of the Empire throughout Medieval times.

I've always preferred the Synoptic Gospels and used to argue that everything after John was recidivism and the reestablishment of the intercession of the priesthood.

The thing that struck me in the Gnostic works, besides the stunning cosmology of elaborated heavens and the relegation of Yahweh to a lesser diety, was just how familiar the 'the whole multitude of the raving melons of Valentine' seemed in some respects to early Jewish mysticism and apocrypha of the Old Testament.  Everything's connected.

Fascinating comment, thank you.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-10-20 10:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Talibanistan


Changing this world view is a project timed in decades.

Yet withdrawing from Afghanistan is a matter of some urgency?

by Shaun Appleby 2009-10-19 09:32PM | 0 recs
It could be...

if you believe that the presence of "outsiders" is the root cause of the problem(s).

I happen to believe that a "surge" is warranted, and that the mission should shift from fighting AlQuaeda over Afghan/Pak soil to building roads/bridges and securing the local population from the AlQuaeda types.

by Ravi Verma 2009-10-20 06:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Talibanistan

How does one combat the view that the Earth does not matter?  Or that Eatthly relationships do not matter? Changing this world view is a project timed in decades.

I think there's a couple of things to keep in mind here, the first being that "one" does not or "we" (meaning Americans) do not have "combatting the view that the Earth does not matter" as our task. When we make that our task... we are bound, I think, to fail at it.

As an aside, I don't think the point of the man's comments is "the Earth does not matter" so much as "I do not matter." At the bottom of the kind of philosophy he's carrying - that his best service to others is ending his own life - is a sense of personal unimportance. And, I'd point out, that kind of self defeatism is fed, partly, by the fact that their cause does not succeed. The logic is circular - we have nothing, therefor we mean nothing, there for we can die for the cause... which will accomplish nothing. And back to the start.

I also think American liberals tend to be wary of the thing we have as Americans which helps to fight this - capitalist ideas about economic opportunities for all, and our secular, non-religious celebration of the individual and personal gratification. It's our sense of self-interest, that we matter, that we deserve good things for ourselves that really separates Americans from the kind of "fight for the cause, to my own death" notion of revolution. But if we think it's bad to take American notions of consumerism, success through economic strength, advertising, and rejection of extreme religiosity to the world... we've lost before we start.

I don't know that you can, ever, undo motives that argue for human self destruction. Isn't that, after all, the problem we've had trying to find solutions in Darfur, Rwanda, Serbia... and on and on? When people are so bent on killing themselves, or each other.... it seems impossible to stop. You can't simply use logic to undo it, and sending an army in to serve as another combatant seems more like pouring fuel on a lit fire. It is, yes, interesting and valuable to know what drives murderous and suicidal impulses... but knowing that, really, is also a dead end. The answer doesn't lay in knowing it, understanding it, or agreeing with it. The answer to fighting it lies in figuring out how to offer an alternative.

by nycweboy1 2009-10-20 04:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Talibanistan

So why blow yourself up if the world does not matter?  Is it because the infidels are in your country or have killed your "insignificant" family members?  Is it because you cannot commit suicide without a reason and killing "invaders" is a legitimate reason?  If we leave, how does he get to heaven, wait for old age, or find some other excuse (happily given him by his leaders) to martyr himself?  If the world doesn't matter, just what do one do with one's life?

by Do Something 2009-10-20 11:41AM | 0 recs

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