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Jere Van Dyk is a journalist and author who has focused much of his writing on Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the early 1980s, working as a correspondent for The New[…]

Van Dyk’s captors insisted that bin Laden is no longer in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and, for various reasons, he believes them.

Question: What is the difference between the Taliban and al Qaeda?

Jere Van Dyk:  The Taliban are Pashtuns, Pashtuns being rnthe largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and across the border in rnPakistan.  The members of al Qaeda who first came to Afghanistan in the rnearly 1980's are foreigners.  They are primarily Arabs, mostly rnEgyptians.  Some from Chechnya, different countries.  We certainly don'trn know today where they all come from.  Their goal, the Taliban told me, rnis international.  The Taliban's goal is what we'll call regional, or rndomestic.

When I was in prison I had to listen to Taliban rnrecruitment tapes, Taliban suicide recruitment tapes.  And in those rntapes, which we listened to for hours, they spoke of Pashtun history, rnPashtun geography, Pashtun nationalism.  So the Taliban have a rncombination of Islam and Pushtun nationalism deep inside of them, and rntheir goals are to create a deeply pure Islamic culture in Afghanistan rnas well as in Pakistan. And al Qaeda's goals are worldwide. 

Once,rn in Kunar Province, the first time I met with the Taliban, November rn2007, long before I was kidnapped, I was with it looked to be about rneight members of the Taliban.  The commander was Pashtun; however, in rnthe corner I saw one man with Palestinian headdress.  He was about 5'8”,rn looked to be about 21, carried a rifle, he seemed to weight about 130 rnpounds.  He was al Qaeda.  The Taliban were in charge.

There rnwere many reports during the 1990's how al Qaeda led the fight against rnthe Northern Alliance, that al Qaeda was the strike force of the rnPashtun's – or the Taliban – against the Northern Alliance.  They were rnthe strongest fighting force.  Today, it's completely different.  The rnTaliban are in charge.  They said to me that they sometimes brought in rnal Qaeda when things got really tough, that al Qaeda is subservient to rnthe Taliban in Afghanistan.  In Pakistan, apparently—and I can't prove rnthis, but they told me—the money comes from abroad, that al Qaeda bringsrn money.  But still, al Qaeda is subservient to the Taliban.

Many rnmembers of al Qaeda have intermarried with Pashtuns.  They say they rnunderstand Pashto.  I don't know if this is true because most, of rncourse, al Qaeda members would speak Arabic or their native rnlanguage—certainly not Pashto.  But there is a tie together among them, rnand it's no longer just al Qaeda and the Taliban.  What you have now is arn specter of what we'll call the Punjabi Taliban.  These are these rngroups: Lashker Tiber, Josh Mohammed; most famous attack was against rnIndia in Mumbai in Thanksgiving 2009.  These people are also in the rntribal areas.  They are Punjabis.  So you have the Taliban, the Pashtun rnTaliban, 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 thern al Qaeda leadership is in the tribal areas.  Just last week the rndirector Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, said on ABC when asked rnwhere Osama Bin Laden is, he said, “He's hiding or he's in the tribal rnareas of Pakistan, the most difficult terrain in the world.”  It is not rnthe most difficult terrain in the world.  I've had long experience rnworking for National Geographic hiking the Himalayas and the Andes—it's arn lot tougher mountains than where I was in the tribal areas.

I rndon't believe that the United States in some way—I know you wouldn't getrn into all this—is leveling with us.  But, not one single al Qaeda leaderrn has ever been captured or killed in the tribal areas of Pakistan.  The rnUnited States and NATO with it's high technology and all its skills has rnbeen able to pinpoint and target successfully a number of Taliban rnleaders.  They have never hit Ayman al Zawahari, nor have they hit Osamarn Bin Laden.

Where I was kept, they said, was in a village rncalled...near a village called Damadola.  In January 2006, the CIA rnpublicly announced, it was in all the newspapers, a drone missile attackrn at Damadola where a number of children were killed in order to hit rnAyman al Zawahari, who they said was going to be there.  Different rntribal leaders also heard, they told me along the border, “Yes, al rnZawahari is going to be there.”  However, as time passed, more and more rnsaid, "Under Pashtunwali, panah, which is the tenet in Pashtunwali whichrn means “I will protect to the death a guest.”  Which is why Mullah Omar rnprotected Bin Laden in the 1990s, which is one reason why I was not rnkilled was under Pashtunwali.  To a man along the border there was not rnone single tribal or peasant who said that Osama Bin Laden can be kept rnalong the border.  He is too big to hide.  Tribal law no longer counts.

Anotherrn thing was, a very small example, is that where we were we had—we rnwere—because we were – when we were washing for prayers and bathing we rnhad to pour water over ourselves.  Some of that water was seeping rnoutside and damaged a neighbor's wall.  Everything is made of mud, and rnthe water was making it disintegrate.  We had to stop this because we rnknew – would find out that more men than normal were in this house.  Howrn could Bin Laden hide in a Pashtun village where we could not hide for rnmore than six weeks and had to watch how much water we kept?

Anotherrn part of Pashtun Wali is called Taberwali, and that is cousin warfare.  rnCousins fight over land, money, women, to be the most powerful person inrn the clan.  When my jailer's family came to visit us, he was armed to rnthe teeth.  He had more weapons on him when his family came than when hern came into the cell to feed us.  Your cousin will go against you. How rncan Bin Laden hide in a village made up of a clan where cousins are rnafter one another when you have a 50-million-dollar bounty over your rnhead?

There are many, many reasons I feel that, I no longer rnbelieve that Osama Bin Laden is hiding along the border.  The Taliban rnwho had me and others said he is being kept elsewhere, and I don't thinkrn they're wrong.

Recorded June 29. 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller