There is a fantastic 5-part series in the New York Times by David Rhode about his experience being held captive by a Taliban commander of the Haqqani Network for seven months (so far they have published parts one, two and three).
Rhode offers a gripping story with some important observations. I am going to highlight a few of those observations here, but please read the articles for yourselves.
From part one:
Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.
Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.
I had written about the ties between Pakistan’s intelligence services and the Taliban while covering the region for The New York Times. I knew Pakistan turned a blind eye to many of their activities. But I was astonished by what I encountered firsthand: a Taliban mini-state that flourished openly and with impunity.
The Taliban government that had supposedly been eliminated by the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was alive and thriving.
The Taliban are an interesting case study in how a group with local and regional goals can take on a global agenda through a mix of conflict and exposure to other Islamist networks.
Another scene from part two:
For the next several nights, a stream of Haqqani commanders overflowing with hatred for the United States and Israel visited us, unleashing blistering critiques that would continue throughout our captivity.
Some of their comments were factual. They said large numbers of civilians had been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories in aerial bombings. Muslim prisoners had been physically abused and sexually humiliated in Iraq. Scores of men had been detained in Cuba and Afghanistan for up to seven years without charges.
To Americans, these episodes were aberrations. To my captors, they were proof that the United States was a hypocritical and duplicitous power that flouted international law.
Other accusations were paranoid and delusional. Seven years after 9/11, they continued to insist that the attacks were hatched by American and Israeli intelligence agencies to create a pretext for the United States to enslave the Muslim world. They said the United States was forcibly converting vast numbers of Muslims to Christianity. American and NATO soldiers, they believed, were making Afghan women work as prostitutes on military bases.
According to Rhodes, the Beatles might be the key to winning their hearts and minds. He recounts that his Taliban guards would ask him to sing Western songs:
The Beatles song “She Loves You,” which popped into my head soon after I received my wife’s letter from the Red Cross, was the most popular.
For reasons that baffled me, the guards relished singing it with me. I began by singing its first verse. My three Taliban guards, along with Tahir and Asad, then joined me in the chorus.
“She loves you — yeah, yeah, yeah,” we sang, with Kalashnikovs lying on the floor around us.
Also, there is another story you should read (on a different part of the world) from The Guardian:
For the first time since Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections nearly four years ago, the group is trying to Islamise Gazan society. In public, Hamas leaders say they are merely encouraging a social moral code, and insist they are not trying to imitate the religious police who operate in some other rigid Islamic countries. But to many it feels like a new wave of enforcement in what is already a devoutly Muslim society.