A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who escaped the Taliban in north-west Pakistan is to be reunited with his wife and family tonight more than seven months after being taken hostage.
David Rohde, of The New York Times, was seized with an Afghan reporter and their driver south of Kabul last November as they made their way to an arranged interview with a Taliban commander. Seized by other militants and held in the remote North Waziristan area of Pakistan, Mr Rohde and his colleague Tahir Ludin escaped on Friday night by climbing over the wall of the compound in which they were being held and seeking help from a Pakistani soldier. The fate of their driver is unclear.
“It is hard to describe the enormous relief we felt at hearing the news of David and Tahir’s escape and knowing he is safe,” Mr Rohde’s family said in a statement. “Every day, during these past seven months, we have hoped and prayed for this moment.”
After making contact with the Pakistani army scout, the two reporters were led to a military post. From there they were flown to Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase. It is understood that having been given an emergency passport by US officials, Mr Rohde then flew to Dubai to meet his family, including his wife of just nine months, Kristen Mulvihill.
The holding of Mr Rohde, 41, a highly respected, unassuming journalist, was remarkable for the news blackout that his employers were able to enforce. While Afghan officials confirmed the kidnapping in the days after the abduction, almost all news outlets respected a request from the newspaper to not report what had happened out of concern that the publicity would make it harder to free him.
Those outlets that did briefly report the news, including Al-Jazeera and several bloggers, were quickly contacted by the paper. Bill Keller, the NYT executive editor, said: “From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David’s family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several governments and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages. The kidnappers initially said as much.”
It has not been made public which militants seized the journalists. While Logar province where the men were taken is the home of militants loyal to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, it is also a stronghold of a renegade warlord, Siraj Haqqani. The US has accused Mr Haqqani of being behind beheadings and suicide bombings and placed a $5m bounty on his head.
Mr Rohde’s newspaper said it had been in off-and-on communication with him and his kidnappers during the past seven months but that no ransom money had been paid and no prisoners released in exchange. It is understood that several months ago, as negotiations were continuing, the captors signalled that they were not going to kill Mr Rohde, a fate that befell the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl who was seized and murdered in Karachi in early 2002.
The NYT reporter, who was researching a book when he was seized, was part of his newspaper’s editorial team that won a Pulitzer in 2009 for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also won America’s top journalism award in 1996 for his investigation into the Srebrenica massacre of at least 7,000 Muslims during the Bosnian war.
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s South Asia envoy, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her predecessor Condoleezza Rice, were all said to have been involved in efforts to obtain the release of the journalists. Mrs Clinton said: “I would like to thank the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan for their assistance in ensuring his safe return.”