A Rope and a Prayer

By: David Rohde


For Pashtunwali: Tahir Luddin and Captain Nadeem.

For countless hours: Mary Jane Mulvihill, Lee Rohde, David McCraw.

For never giving up: Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.

For steadfast support and encouragement: Bill Keller, Jill Abramson, John Geddes, William Schmidt, Craig Whitney, Susan Chira, Matt Purdy, Christine Kay, and so many other longtime friends at The New York Times.

For friendship, insight, and bravery in Afghanistan: Afghan colleagues and friends, Carlotta Gall, Chris Chivers, Tyler Hicks, Dexter Filkins, Rich Oppel, and many others.

For friendship, insight, and bravery in Pakistan: Ismail Khan, Salman Masood, Beena Sarwar, Pir Zubair Shah, Jane Perlez, and many others.

For pointing Kristen in the right direction: Richard Holbrooke, Karl and Ching Eikenberry, Marin Strmecki, Tim Golden, Kay McGowan, Samantha Power.

For consistency, clarity, eloquence, and humor: Michael Semple.

For working on the case: “John,” Mike Taylor, Duane Clarridge, Jack Holly, Dwight, Mark, Chris, Wayne, and all the incarnations of Team Kabul.

Thank you to the government officials who tried to help us, especially Jim, Tom, Joe, John, Cathy, Phil, Leanne, Ken, Tenzen, Mike, Eric.

For help in Washington: Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt, Douglas Frantz, Milt Bearden.

For expertise: Ahmed Rashid, Rina Amiri, Barnett Rubin, James Alvarez, Nancy Dupree, John Dixon, Tom Gregg, Patricia Ferrari, Kelly Moore.

For support and understanding at Cosmopolitan, especially: Kate White, Abby Greene, Ann Kwong, John Lanuza, Micah Rubin, Heather Pfaff, Miriam Friedman, Micaela Walker, Maggie Hong, Rebecca Hessel.

For maintaining privacy: Catherine Mathis, Diane McNulty, and Vanessa Palo.

For friendship, empathy, and holidays: Eric and Sylvan Wold.

For support, guidance, confidence: Jonathan and Katie Moore, Chloe Breyer, Marcello Picone.

For happy memories: Vincent Manoriti, Denise Morgan, Julian Borger, Kathleen Reen, Ivan Obregon, Greg Scholl, Lisa Ferrari, Kannan Sundaram, Jay Solomon, Don Nay, Dan Morrison, Paul Haven, Victoria Burnett, Tomas Munita, Bob Nickelsberg, Celia Dugger, Barry Bearak, Shelley Thakral, Anthony Loyd, Gary Bass, Stacy Sullivan, Emma Daly, Laura Pitter, Kit Roane, Katya Jestin, Joel Brand, Mike O’Connor, Tracy Wilkinson, John Pomfret, Roger Cohen, Ben Ward, Mark Dennis, Fred Abrahams, Leigh Cheng, John Bastian, Pete Brandt, Al Erickson, Matt Borger, Rod Peterson, Damon Struyk, Jim Williamson, Bob Perkins, Eric Mabley, Ian Marsh, Steve Cote, Jim Webb, Chris Charters, Peter Boisvert, Jay, Joe, and Doris Brenchick, Rocky and Martha Manoriti, John Atwood, Ed Quinn, and many others in Fryeburg.

For sustenance and support from friends, including: the Moss family, the Chivers family, the Bissell family, Andrea Elliott, Salman Ahmed, Chuck Sudetic, Cindy Searight, Renannah Weinstein, Josh Brown, Claire Mysko, Judson Wright, Madeleine Arthurs, Adivije Sheji, Arthur Belebeau, Juliette Merck, Natalie Hawwa, John Lin, Tamara Schlesinger, Jamal Rayyis, Neal Lesh, Erinn Bucklan, Jim Ledbetter, Erik Swain, Noah Green, Frances Northcutt, Amy Waldman, Megan Re, Sarah Smith, Elliot Thomson, Mariane Pearl, Kati Marton, Nic Robertson, George Packer, Leon Wieseltier, Peter Bergen, Somini Sengupta, Elizabeth Rubin, Jonathan Landay, Faye Bowers, Mary Anne Schwalbe, Sandra Cook, P. J. Anthony, Hari Kumar, Chuni Lal, Pan Singh.

For prayers: Marie Chisholm, Maryann Zocco, Fabienne LeRoux, Father Renald Labarre, Monika Stedul, Ben Borger, Helen D’Elia, and many others.

For listening: Barbara, Roberta, Jan, Lynne.

For supporting David’s research: Aryeh Neier, Patricia L. Rosenfield, and Laura Silber. This book was made possible in part by grants from the Open Society Foundations and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

For making this book a reality: Sarah Chalfant, Clare Ferraro, Wendy Wolf, Carolyn Coleburn, Linda Cowen, Sonya Cheuse, Risa Chubinsky, Nancy Resnick, Jeffrey Ward, Emily Votruba, Margaret Riggs, Meredith Burks, Carolyn Freeman, Tracy Breton, Kate Toth.

For courage and bravery: Sultan Munadi, Daniel Pearl, Piotr Stanczak, Asad Mangal, Jere Van Dyk, Sean Langan, Stephen Farrell, John Solecki, Alan Johnston, Roxana Saberi, Maziar Bahari, Amanda Lindhout, Nigel Brennan, Laura Ling, Euna Lee, and all journalists who remain in captivity.

FOR EVERYTHING: our parents Carol, Harvey, Mary Jane, James, Andrea, and George; our siblings Lee, Laura, Erik, Karen, Jason, Joel, Daniel, Christie, Chris, Howard, Christina, and all of our family.


Abu Tayyeb: Taliban commander who invites David to interview and kidnaps him

Akbar: Guard who allows access to newspapers and radio; nephew of Akhundzada

Akhundzada: Taliban commander who serves as Abu Tayyeb’s “intelligence chief”

Asad Mangal: Afghan driver kidnapped with David

Badruddin Haqqani: Son of Jalaluddin Haqqani who provides houses and cash during kidnapping

Chunky: Heavyset guard who leads prayers

Jalaluddin Haqqani: Patriarch of the Haqqani family and famed anti-Soviet fighter who is supported by the CIA in the 1980s and who joins the Taliban in the 1990s

Mansoor: Guard who speaks broken English; son of Akhundzada

Mullah Omar: Leader of Taliban movement. Since 2001, he is believed to have been based in the Pakistani city of Quetta. Said to now lead a more moderate Taliban faction known as the Quetta Shura.

Qari: Taliban fighter who carries out kidnapping and later serves as guard

Sharif: Taliban commander whose house serves as a prison

Sirajuddin Haqqani: Son of Jalaluddin Haqqani who succeeded his elderly father as commander of the Haqqani network

Timor Shah: Chief guard, younger brother of Abu Tayyeb

Tahir Luddin: Afghan journalist kidnapped with David

Federally Administered Tribal Areas: Mountainous region in northwestern Pakistan—also known as the tribal areas—that is a Taliban and Al Qaeda stronghold

Helmand: Province in southern Afghanistan—also known as “Little America”—that was the focus of the author’s original book project

North and South Waziristan: Regions inside the tribal areas where the author was held captive

Frontier Corps: Pakistani-government-funded tribal militia charged with policing the tribal areas

ISI: Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani military’s top intelligence agency.


David McCraw: Assistant general counsel for The New York Times

Mary Jane Mulvihill: Kristen’s mother

Lee Rohde: David’s older brother

Carol Ruffo: David’s mother

Michael Semple: Expert on the region who works on case

AISC: American International Security Corporation. Security consultants hired to work on case

Clayton Consultants: The New York Times’ crisis management firm


This is not a story of triumph. Throughout our case we made numerous mistakes. We wrote this book in the hope of helping readers learn more about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the American effort there. This book’s central narrative is the seven months when David, Tahir, and Asad were held captive in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Kristen’s effort to bring them home. Woven throughout the narrative are sections of history and analysis that are based on David’s seven years of reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001. We also try to explore militancy, faith, and religion’s role as both a positive and negative force.

The second reason we wrote this book is in the hope of helping other kidnap victims and their families avoid the mistakes we made and survive their captivity. Around the world, the number of kidnappings is steadily rising, but governments have failed to develop a coordinated international response. Most hostages survive, but their panicked families frequently empty bank accounts, sell homes, or go into staggering debt to save the lives of their loved ones. We urge governments to develop a more unified approach to kidnapping.