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'Taliban militants have more money than they need'

October 19, 2009 13:51 IST

The United States might have eliminated some top Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, but it is struggling to cut off their increasingly diversified terror funding, which continues to keep the insurgency's coffers brimming with cash.

A report in The New York Times on Monday said the Taliban in Afghanistan have expanded their revenue generation mechanism from traditional illicit drug trade to kidnappings, extortion and foreign donations, which America is struggling to cut off. Only recently, the Special US Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke has begun focusing on the issue of Taliban's fund generation mechanism, and has created a separate inter-agency unit, led by officials from the Department of Treasury, to block their sources of funding.

"In Afghanistan, the Taliban have imposed an elaborate system to tax cultivation, processing and shipment of opium, and other crops like wheat. In the Middle East, Taliban leaders have sent fund-raisers to Arab countries to keep the insurgency's coffers brimming with cash," it said.

By diversifying their revenue stream beyond opium, officials say, the Taliban are frustrating American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's efforts to weaken the insurgency by cutting off its economic lifelines. Holbrooke himself traveled to the Gulf, a major source of these outfits' fundings, mainly routed through the illegal hawala network in South Asia. But, the Taliban source of funding keeps on flourishing, the paper said.

Estimates of Taliban's annual revenue vary widely, with proceeds from the illicit drug trade alone amounting to $70 million to $400 million a year, according to Pentagon and United Nations officials.

"I don't believe we can significantly alter their effectiveness by cutting off their money right now," Adam Smith, a US Congressman, was quoted as saying. "I'm not saying we shouldn't try. It's just bigger and more complex than we can effectively stop," he noted.

Based on interviews with experts, The New York Times said the Taliban and other insurgent groups have more money than they need to run their operation, as they pay their fighters something between $200 to $500 per month.

"Their operations are so inexpensive that they can be continued indefinitely even with locally generated resources such as small businesses and donations," Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist at the Congressional Research Service and a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst of the region, was quoted as saying.

The paper said US officials now believe that foreign sources of funding are gaining more ground than their traditional source of illicit drug trade.

The Washington Post last month reported that CIA recently estimated that the Afghanistan Taliban received approximately $106 million from outside.

"The sanctions have worked to a certain extent but obviously not to the extent of being able to cut off all funds," said Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence officer now monitoring the Al Qaeda and the Taliban for the UN.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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