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Taliban money trail: How funding continued over 20 years

Kabul

The blitzkrieg of the Taliban in Afghanistan is an issue of debate among experts. Apart from determination, a military conquest is also a battle of resources, so where did the Taliban get the funds to conduct their blitz through the nation while they kept negotiating in Doha?

Sergio Restelli, writing in The Times of Israel said that this brings to the fore the question that even after 20 years of constant efforts to root out the Taliban, how did they have the strength and the capacity, not to mention the wherewithal to press for a military offensive and take the entire nation in a handful of days?

Terrorist groups, like criminal organizations, aren’t very keen on transparency and accountability so much forensic financial intelligence is required in these cases to connect the dots and trace the source of funds. Recently, British media organizations have invested deeply to discover the Taliban’s funding network, reported The Times of Israel.

Apparently, the Taliban financial network is far more complex than was earlier expected. It is a sophisticated financial network with a disciplined system of taxation that pays for insurgent operations as well as salaries and general services.

Their annual revenue is estimated at around USD 400 million though some experts peg it to have increased substantially over the last few years to around USD 1.2 billion, said Restelli.

It is suspected that a large part of their income is derived from the narcotics trade. In fact, the Taliban apparently collects about 10 percent as cultivation tax from opium farmers and 15 percent as heroin tax from laboratories and smugglers that smuggle narcotics into Pakistan. This, by itself, is a revenue stream estimated at USD 250-300 million.

However, contrary to popular belief, it is not really the poppy business that is at the core of the Taliban’s income, said Restelli.

In areas within its control, the Taliban maintains a taxation regime meant to act as a security/protection tax.

Interestingly, there is a Taliban Financial Commission that issues regular diktats to traders and transporters to pay taxes while traveling in areas that are controlled by them. Oddly enough, the other major source for income generation for the Taliban is energy, telecommunications, and mobile operations.

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In a letter that was made public by media outlets, the Electricity Company of Afghanistan went on record to state that the Taliban had been earning more than USD 4-5 million annually by billing electricity consumers in areas that it had controlled, Restelli said.

Afghanistan is rich in minerals and precious stones, which were exploited by all sides in the decades of conflict. Most extraction done so far has been done illegally and on a micro-level, though the potential of the industry is estimated to be around USD 1 trillion. Simply by placing roadblocks on routes connecting these mining sites with towns, the Taliban has easily taken control of these mining locations.

In fact, most trucks leaving these sites are forced to dump half of their cargo at gunpoint. Extortion from legal as well as illegal mining operations has increased manifold over the years.

The United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, in their annual report of 2014 of the had stated that even then the Taliban controlled around 35 mining operations in Helmand province, thereby earning over USD 10 million a year.

The most significant and dangerous source of funding that the Taliban receives is political, from external states. Though Afghanistan’s civilian government and the US have accused regional governments like Iran and most importantly, Pakistan, of financing the terrorist group, such claims have been largely ignored, reported The Times of Israel.

If there was any doubt about the intention and the nexus between the Taliban and Pakistan one just needs to see the days after the fall of Kabul.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan declaration that ‘the Taliban insurrection in Afghanistan is a holy war against the occupation by foreign forces.’ shows Pakistan’s support of a terrorist organization that they have received billions of dollars in aid to destroy.

Private high net worth individuals from Pakistan and other Gulf countries have been under surveillance for contributing substantially to the Taliban to the tune of USD 200 million as per a classified CIA report from 2013 which was leaked.

Under the tag of aid for the war on terror, Pakistan has obtained arms, equipment as well as ammunition from the US that have been sold at large profits or at times donated to the Taliban. There is no other plausible justification to why the Taliban has access to US arms and ammunition, reported The Times of Israel.

The reaction of the global community to a Pakistan-run, terrorist-led Afghanistan, of which the cabinet is a list of terror incorporation’s most wanted, will decide the future of global security, said Restelli.

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