Reporter's path twice crossed by Holbrooke

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LISA MULLINS: Journalist David Rohde had an unusual relationship with Richard Holbrooke. David is now at The New York Times office in New York. Would you describe for us, David Rodhe, what Holbrooke did for you when you were in Bosnian Serb custody in 1995, and then again after you were kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2008?

DAVID ROHDE: On both occasions he made my release a priority. At the Dayton peace talks, he pressured Serbian president Milosevic to pressure the Bosnian Serbs to release me. I was freed in ten days. In Afghanistan, I was kidnapped and then taken to Pakistan and he basically pressured Pakistani officials to try to win my release. That didn't work. In a sense, I kind of made this journey with him from the Balkans to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we both saw frankly how much harder Afghanistan and Pakistan is.

MULLINS: Well, tell us more about how your relationships kind of mirrored each other in a way. At least the trajectory from Bosnia to Afghanistan.

ROHDE: One thing I'm going to say up front is that he mellowed over the years. And to be honest, when I was in captivity the second time, after I escaped from captivity one of the calls I feared most was to him because I felt this guy was going to be like: "Why do you keep getting taken prisoner when I get this major diplomatic assignments?". He was incredibly gracious, and has been. I saw him last Wednesday; he just had grown as a person. There's this reputation of him being abrasive and a bulldozer. Maybe some of that was true in the Balkans but he was a tremendous statesman and not this monster that some people made. He was really an incredibly committed public servant.

MULLINS: Get back to the idea of growth. How did you see him growing?

ROHDE: I saw him become more subtle and more understated. In a sense, and I'm just processing all this myself, but it feels like he had a very strong hand to play in Bosnia. United States was extremely powerful in 1990's after the fall of the Berlin wall. If you fast forward to 2009 and 2010 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, The United States frankly just doesn't have as much leverage. And I think he had a much more difficult time trying to force Afghan and Pakistani leaders to do what he wanted them to do, and I also got a sense from him that the American policy process, the national security apparatus had grown to become more unwieldy and more difficult to use to develop a clear policy. And, frankly, the military facts on the ground in Afghanistan were much worse. The Taliban are stronger. Most importantly, the Taliban have sanctuaries in Pakistan. And as long as those sanctuaries exist, it's going to be impossible for Holbrooke or any American official to force the Taliban to the bargaining table.

MULLINS: Does that mean it might have been beyond any diplomat, let alone the chief cowboy among diplomats?

ROHDE: Yes, I do. And I think he, you know, he literally died on the job. He was tireless, working people whether he is in Washington or Islamabad or Kabul. He was always on the go. If he can't achieve it, I'm not sure anyone can. It's a very different situation in terms of the military ballots.

MULLINS: You said you spoke with him last Wednesday?

ROHDE: I did. He actually came to a book party for a book my wife and I have written together about my time in captivity. He was incredibly gracious. I gave him a book and wrote in it: "Thank you for saving my life twice". And he was so touched by it and it was true. I'm just very grateful to him.

MULLINS: Thank you. Journalist David Rohde who co-wrote with his wife Kristen Mulvihill the book A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping from Two Sides about his abduction in Afghanistan. David Rohde, thank you.

ROHDE: Thank you.

MULLINS: We have a lot more at theworld.org on ambassador Holbrooke. His life in pictures and interviews. And reporting from Jeb Sharp on his role in ending the Bosnian war.