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How the "Taliban diet" helped a French photographer escape his captors

Screen shot 2013-06-28 at 9.29.30 AM
Peter Borghi/Facebook

It was his second week in Afghanistan on his second visit to the country and French photographer Pierre Borghi had just finished having drinks at a bar in Kabul.

With thoughts of watching a zombie movie on his mind, Borghi decided to walk back to his guest house. After all, he figured, the 500 metres would  take him 10 minutes at the most.

But Borghi never made it.

He was stopped on the side of the street by four bearded men who would later identify themselves as Taliban. Borghi was shown a gun to ensure his cooperation, was  stuffed into the trunk of a Toyota Corolla, and was driven through a series of supposed army checkpoints.

It was Nov. 27, 2012. For the next four and a half months, Borghi was a prisoner of the Taliban. He joined an already long and growing list of foreigners who have been kidnapped in Afghanistan.

"They told me that they had no problem with me personally, they had a problem with my country," Borghi says in a riveting first-hand account of his capture on the BBC's Website. "They said they had taken me because I was a Westerner and my country was at war with Afghanistan.

"I was given a piece of paper to write down information about myself, to be passed onto a Taliban "cabinet" for background checking. They needed to check I wasn't a member of the special forces or a spy or a diplomat - all of which would have meant my immediate execution. After the background checks, this piece of paper was to be passed to the French authorities as proof I was alive."

Borhgi says he kept a scrap of graph paper and a pen and began writing notes to himself about what he planned to do with his life if he survived the ordeal. "Sleep, cook, books, hugs, call friends," he wrote. "After this, everyday of your life is bonus!"

After his first 10 days in captivity, Borghi says he was moved to live with an Afghan family, and was guarded by two Taliban fighters.

"It was surreal," he writes. "We ate together, slept together, watched videos on their cellphone together. I even taught them some card games that we played for hours and hours. It's utterly frustrating to play cards with a guy that could put a bullet in your head at any moment, especially when he is cheating."

On March 28, after he was told he would soon be killed because France was not meeting the Taliban's ransom demands, Borghi says he began plotting his escape. About a week later, on Apr. 7, he used some furniture to climb to a window in the barn he was being hidden in.

Borghi writes that as he climbed through the window, "when I reached my hips, I got stuck. I freaked out. But after a few twists I fell in a heap on the outside. I would never have been able to do that without the 11kg I'd lost over the last four months. You might call it the Taliban diet."

After making his way to a Afghan army post following a 10-hour walk, Borghi was taken by military convoy to French authorities in Kabul.

After enjoying his first shower in four months, Borghi, who is now in Europe, called his mother on what he said was "the happiest day of her life."

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead



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