April 20, 2007:
The Taliban in Afghanistan and
Pakistan have come into quite a lot of money lately. Tens of millions of
dollars. That's been the main reason behind the increased Taliban violence in
the last two years. The money pays young tribesmen to join the "holy war"
against the Afghan government, and the foreign troops who are helping out. The
money also buys help within the government. Many members of the government are
either paid off by drug gangs, for information or more personal involvment. The money buys
intelligence on what the police and army are up to. As a result, NATO and American
troops have to be careful about how much information they share with Afghan
Some of the new Taliban cash comes from wealthy
Islamic conservatives in the Persian Gulf, but most comes from drug gangs.
These are Pushtuns, as are the Taliban, and they have been making a lot of
money growing poppies, processing them into opium and heroin, and transporting
most of the drugs out of the region. The drug lords need protection, and the
Taliban has a history of providing it. When the Taliban ran the country, they
taxed the drug trade heavily, but otherwise left the drug lords alone. When the
UN threatened to cut off aid because of this, the Taliban declared that, for
one year, no poppies would be grown. It later turned out that the drug gangs had
built up a huge surplus of drugs, more than they could get out of the country.
The Taliban "drug ban" took care of that surplus problem, and kept the foreign
But this time around, the Taliban have declared the
drug business Gods Work if it is used to help fight the infidel foreigners. And
now that there's lot of cash around, the money is proving to be one of the most
useful weapons in the Taliban arsenal. That's because the biggest Taliban
weakness has been intelligence. The foreign troops have UAVs and recon aircraft
that are too quick to spot large groups of Taliban fighters moving around.
Often, it's Afghan troops and police who are fed the information on where the
Taliban appear to be. But by spreading around enough cash, the Taliban are increasingly
able to get someone to tip them off. More and more, Taliban groups spotted,
either from the air, or by villagers, have scattered before the security forces
can confront them.
Before all that money came along, there were a few
leaks. Mostly from cops who were conflicted over fighting the Taliban. But now
there are a growing number of wealthy police and soldiers, who have valuable
information to sell. And the Taliban is able and willing to buy.