Monday, 1 June 2009

Kill the Dragon: The Militant Money Trail

In an earlier posting, I mentioned the Atlantic Council's Afghanistan Report. I'd like to pick out a key point around extremism and the Taliban insurgency that continues to destabilise both Afghanistan and Pakistan. We learn from the report that Narcotics form an under-belly economy, but that this could be effectively be made non-viable if the rural Afghan per capita goes from $1 to $4. Afghanistan is rich in farmland and agriculture is a sustainable livelihood, so (with external support and subsidy) meeting the $4 mark can really turn the situation around.

But coming to the insurgency - and a discussion around the why the Taliban appears to have grown in strength since their ousting from power in 2001. It's difficult to pinpoint this one - the American-led NATO presence in Afghanistan is fast losing public support, especially since ground troops have not policed Afghanistan well and drone attacks into Pakistan (where there is currently no international remit to be there) target innocent villagers. Add to this the fact that clumsy operations in Afghanistan itself leads to an alarming number of civilian deaths and reconstruction efforts are not always coordinated well or concentrated in the Pashtoon belt (from where the Taliban draw their support).

And whilst, many don't agree with their methods or their ideology, the Taliban appear to have positioned themselves as a legitimate militia in order to fend off the advances of the many battalions of foreign troops sitting in pockets around the country. The Taliban is just one of many competing forces for control. There are still any number of other outfits and warlords, with internal and external sponsors able to raise private militias should a major stand off or continued power vacuum occur.


The Taliban issues is now more complex today than it was when the they controlled Afghanistan - they have regrouped, become more covert and find natural allies amongst people disappointed at NATO's lack of progress. Many Taliban recruits are being paid to be "day" Talibs whilst going about regular business at other times, ready to take up arms when commanded by a local chief. The day-Talibs are not driven by ideology, notions of world destruction or a version of rigid theological/tribal society. They are often unemployed youth who are easily manipulated and who are being paid to take part in an insurgency. There's been a whole lot of discussion on education for girls in Afghanistan, but little on the need to create vocational training opportunities to stop male youth drifting to paid Taliban employment.

The Taliban, when they held power, virulently ended the narcotics trade, so I'm not sure how much of this is involved today in financing them. The question to which I seek answers over and over again is another simple one. Who is financing the Taliban? There are rumours of wealthy patrons in oil-rich countries, covert agencies in neighbouring countries, the CIA and so on. Years on from their ousting of power in Kabul, the Taliban in their various guises control whole areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Confusion remains over who really is in control - but clearly somebody knows. If we are serious about removing them altogether, we have to end the money-trail.


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