TranscriptQuestion: What is the difference between the Taliban and al Qaeda?
Jere Van Dyk: The Taliban are Pashtuns, Pashtuns being the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan. The members of al Qaeda who first came to Afghanistan in the early 1980's are foreigners. They are primarily Arabs, mostly Egyptians. Some from Chechnya, different countries. We certainly don't know today where they all come from. Their goal, the Taliban told me, is international. The Taliban's goal is what we'll call regional, or domestic.
When I was in prison I had to listen to Taliban recruitment tapes, Taliban suicide recruitment tapes. And in those tapes, which we listened to for hours, they spoke of Pashtun history, Pashtun geography, Pashtun nationalism. So the Taliban have a combination of Islam and Pushtun nationalism deep inside of them, and their goals are to create a deeply pure Islamic culture in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan. And al Qaeda's goals are worldwide.
Once, in Kunar Province, the first time I met with the Taliban, November 2007, long before I was kidnapped, I was with it looked to be about eight members of the Taliban. The commander was Pashtun; however, in the corner I saw one man with Palestinian headdress. He was about 5'8”, looked to be about 21, carried a rifle, he seemed to weight about 130 pounds. He was al Qaeda. The Taliban were in charge.
There were many reports during the 1990's how al Qaeda led the fight against the Northern Alliance, that al Qaeda was the strike force of the Pashtun's – or the Taliban – against the Northern Alliance. They were the strongest fighting force. Today, it's completely different. The Taliban are in charge. They said to me that they sometimes brought in al Qaeda when things got really tough, that al Qaeda is subservient to the Taliban in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, apparently—and I can't prove this, but they told me—the money comes from abroad, that al Qaeda brings money. But still, al Qaeda is subservient to the Taliban.
Many members of al Qaeda have intermarried with Pashtuns. They say they understand Pashto. I don't know if this is true because most, of course, al Qaeda members would speak Arabic or their native language—certainly not Pashto. But there is a tie together among them, and it's no longer just al Qaeda and the Taliban. What you have now is a specter of what we'll call the Punjabi Taliban. These are these groups: Lashker Tiber, Josh Mohammed; most famous attack was against India in Mumbai in Thanksgiving 2009. These people are also in the tribal areas. They are Punjabis. So you have the Taliban, the Pashtun Taliban, the Punjabi Taliban, and al Qaeda.
Question: Is Osama bin Laden still in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan?
Jere Van Dyk: No. I don't believe for a minute that the al Qaeda leadership is in the tribal areas. Just last week the director Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, said on ABC when asked where Osama Bin Laden is, he said, “He's hiding or he's in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the most difficult terrain in the world.” It is not the most difficult terrain in the world. I've had long experience working for National Geographic hiking the Himalayas and the Andes—it's a lot tougher mountains than where I was in the tribal areas.
I don't believe that the United States in some way—I know you wouldn't get into all this—is leveling with us. But, not one single al Qaeda leader has ever been captured or killed in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The United States and NATO with it's high technology and all its skills has been able to pinpoint and target successfully a number of Taliban leaders. They have never hit Ayman al Zawahari, nor have they hit Osama Bin Laden.
Where I was kept, they said, was in a village called...near a village called Damadola. In January 2006, the CIA publicly announced, it was in all the newspapers, a drone missile attack at Damadola where a number of children were killed in order to hit Ayman al Zawahari, who they said was going to be there. Different tribal leaders also heard, they told me along the border, “Yes, al Zawahari is going to be there.” However, as time passed, more and more said, "Under Pashtunwali, panah, which is the tenet in Pashtunwali which means “I will protect to the death a guest.” Which is why Mullah Omar protected Bin Laden in the 1990s, which is one reason why I was not killed was under Pashtunwali. To a man along the border there was not one single tribal or peasant who said that Osama Bin Laden can be kept along the border. He is too big to hide. Tribal law no longer counts.
Another thing was, a very small example, is that where we were we had—we were—because we were – when we were washing for prayers and bathing we had to pour water over ourselves. Some of that water was seeping outside and damaged a neighbor's wall. Everything is made of mud, and the water was making it disintegrate. We had to stop this because we knew – would find out that more men than normal were in this house. How could Bin Laden hide in a Pashtun village where we could not hide for more than six weeks and had to watch how much water we kept?
Another part of Pashtun Wali is called Taberwali, and that is cousin warfare. Cousins fight over land, money, women, to be the most powerful person in the clan. When my jailer's family came to visit us, he was armed to the teeth. He had more weapons on him when his family came than when he came into the cell to feed us. Your cousin will go against you. How can Bin Laden hide in a village made up of a clan where cousins are after one another when you have a 50-million-dollar bounty over your head?
There are many, many reasons I feel that, I no longer believe that Osama Bin Laden is hiding along the border. The Taliban who had me and others said he is being kept elsewhere, and I don't think they're wrong.
Recorded June 29. 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller