The crucial question to be answered is how has the Taliban succeeded to finance the eighteen years long-lasting war in Afghanistan, and why their revenue is getting hard to target?
The response to the question, while it would be difficult to find out the exact financial figure of the Taliban because the funding insurgency is an “open secret” that nobody wants to talk about the controversial issue, and yet the unwanted fact is clear to everyone that the richest source for funding insurgent groups in Afghanistan is foreign aid, while the Taliban generate resources from both internal and external components.
To begin with, the Afghan Taliban generates external reliefs through donations from sympathy and support from Muslim countries under the name of zakat and extortion. They have support of different “secret” agencies, such as those backed by Saudi Arabia’s strategy in Central and South Asia, which is to build a wall of Sunni radicalism against its Shia rival to contain Iran. Saudi Arabia has spent billions of private money to funnel to Sunni organizations, madrasas, and universities to shape the attentions of Sunni generation towards Shia rival. In this regard, Riyadh has transferred millions of dollar to radical groups in the regions. The external resources of the Taliban generate more than $100 million dollars per years from donations, Zakat, and sympathy.
The harboring of insurgent groups, such as Pakistan as a difficult and disruptive neighbor of Afghanistan, has been part of the problem. Islamabad has designed and persuaded a double-standard policy toward Afghanistan and their combat against terrorism is doubtful, and as such have been accused of providing the safe haven, funding, and training to Afghan Taliban inside Pakistan. It is well known fact that Taliban has resided inside Pakistan, a case in point being Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Muhammad Omar died in Pakistani hospital in 2013 and the newly elected leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor visited Iran to meet Russian delegation before he was killed in drone strike in Pakistan Baluchistan on May 21, 2016, and also it should be mentioned the current leader of Taliban Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada was elected in Quetta Pakistan. Pakistan is the house of the terrorists not only who make trouble in Afghanistan, but they also filter terrorist groups into Kashmir where civilians are killed.
Despite Islamabad, Russia has been in touch with insurgent groups in Afghanistan since 2007, with Moscow collaborating with radical groups in the region to protect their strategic interest in Central Asia. Mantytskiy, the Russian ambassador to Kabul told Reuters, “We have ties with the Taliban to ensure the security of our political offices, consulates and the security of Central Asia” therefore Russian government is providing ammunition and fund to the warning groups and this lead to precarious security situation over Afghanistan.
Meanwhile the Russian official claimed that their limited and sole purposes is to bring the Taliban to the table of negotiation with Afghan government but Afghan government considered that lending support to radical groups fighting against Afghan Army and NATO backed troops will not open the door to peace rather it will prolong the ongoing war.
Beyond Russian and Pakistan, Iran has been deeply involved in Afghanistan affairs since 2001. The port of Chabahar in Sistan Baluchestan, which is an trade outlet to and from Afghanistan to Central Asian Countries has secured the soft power position of Iran in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, Tehran has been accused of providing ammunition, fund, safe haven and supply of hardware materials to the Taliban which operate against the Afghan national army.
Prior to that, some reports stated that during 2016 Iran has delivered drone planes to insurgent groups to make films of their suicidal operations.
The reason for Tehran doing such acts in Afghanistan is they want to disable some of the Afghanistan water dams so that Iran can get larger share of water from Helmand river, block illegal ways of drug trafficking between Afghan-Iran border sides, step down the growth of so-called Islamic States militants, counters western sway and prevents the role of Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan. Therefore, Iran has been providing funds and safe haven for Taliban leaders in Mashad, Yezd and Kerman cities.
Tehran’s backing of the Taliban has increased instability in the western part of Afghanistan as Iran pays cash to the rebel militia in Farah and Nemroz provinces. According to the Wall Street Journal report of June 11, 2015 when Abdullah a Taliban commander was arrested he said, “whenever we need any things we turn to Iran and Iran pay us $580 dollar as salary”. In the meantime when Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was on his way to Pakistan he was killed — reports specified that he was tracked inside Iran and after investigation it was confirmed that he had multiple visits to Iran and his passport had stamp of entry and exit from Iran.
Internal Components Which Flow Funds
As a matter of fact, the Afghan government has been financing their own enemy through donations, sympathy, drug trafficking, extortion, illegally mineral excavation, taking and business and taxes. Prior to that, the Afghan government failed to prevent above-mentioned elements that generate financial sources for the insurgency that is why; the Taliban illicit source of income has been so hard to target.
With attention to that, the internal revenue of Taliban has risen to up to $250 million per year. In addition of internal revenue the Taliban relies on taxing, kidnapping, drug trafficking, donation from local populations, extortion, foreign donations, commercial business of mine, smuggling, poppy cultivations and larger companies in Afghanistan have started paying taxes to the Taliban to allow them to operate without threat in the areas under the control of Taliban.
According to the New York Times the Taliban “collecting electricity bills from thousands of homes in provinces such as Kunduz and Helmand, the insurgent’s levy taxes on potato harvests, flour mills, teachers’ salaries, marriage ceremonies, and fuel and vegetable trucks crossing their checkpoints”.
Electricity is one of the most vital factors from which flows fund to the insurgent groups in Afghanistan. According to a 1TV report of December 19, the Taliban receive nearly 290 million Afghani annually by collecting electricity bills in Afghanistan. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan export about 300 megawatts electricity into Afghanistan and more than 60% of Kabul’s electricity is imported from Central Asian Countries and the power transmission lines are passing through the areas that are not in government control so the Taliban have stronger tapped on the power transmission lines which supply electricity to Kabul.
For diversification of revenue, the Taliban have funded new tactics of generating incomes they are collecting electricity bills in areas which are not under government control. If the government cut off electricity for the zones which are under the control of the Taliban, it will raise public anger and Kabul will frequently face power cuts. In reaction, Taliban militants will cut the transmission line supplying electricity to major cities of Afghanistan. On 14 and 15 April of this month, Kabul was dark because the Taliban cut the transmission lines in Baghlan province.
Beyond electricity, narcotic trade and hashish production is the most important generator for the Taliban, as they are not directly involved in production, cultivation, and distribution; they just collect taxes from individuals because the country is the world largest producer of drugs. In due time, according to United Nation Office on Drag Crime Afghanistan is producing “95 percent of world heroin” and the annual estimations of heroin production in Afghanistan is 6,400 tons. According to the Global Post, it is believed that the Taliban has more than $500 million dollar expenditure per year. Despite that, some intelligence agency admits that the real budget of Taliban is closer to one billion dollars.
In spite of poppy cultivation, the Taliban has been assisting the individuals in trading and smuggling heroin out of Afghanistan or illegally takeout mines, like marble, and export them to other countries; or take taxes from citizens and businessman in order to allow them to operate without threat in areas which are not under government control or them have some contribution to them. Also, Telecom companies have been paying protection money to the Taliban, it is believed that insurgent groups taxed the telecom sector by 10 percent just like any other business in the areas under their control.
In conclusion, we can say that the degree of cooperation and coordination between the Taliban and aid workers is surprising and would most likely make funders extremely uncomfortable. To conclude it that narcotic trade and electricity bill is the fundamental sources of financing insurgency in Afghanistan.
*Muhibulllah Hemmaty is from Afghanistan and completed a Master in International Relations from International Islamic University Islamabad Pakistan and conducted a Master thesis under the title about reconciliation with Afghan Taliban. Currently working in Ministry of Commerce and Industries of Afghanistan as “WTO Notification Specialist”.