In 2014, the Taliban was named the world’s fifth wealthiest terrorist group (after ISIS, Hamas, FARC and Hezbollah). Although it is difficult to ascertain, estimates of the group’s annual revenue range from between $400 million to as much as $2 billion. This wealth is used not only for funding deadly IED attacks, but also for buying influence and bribing government officials. The fact that the Taliban is able to manage such large sums of money whilst in hiding in the Afghan and Pakistani mountains has led many to believe that they have had significant assistance; not only from hawala operators but also from conventional banking services, particularly in Pakistan.
The group is primarily known for its involvement in the Afghan drug trade. Although the Taliban is deeply entrenched with drug rings, it is not their sole source of income, and the group has a fairly diversified funding model. The Taliban has demonstrated an ability to exploit aid and reconstruction projects in post-war Afghanistan, taking advantage of the corruption and unstable security environment they themselves have helped create. Besides these two fields, taxation, extortion, kidnappings and involvement in illicit mining provide important funding sources. This has made some suggest that the group is acting more and more as ‘godfathers’ in a criminal syndicate rather than as a terrorist group or parallel government.[i]
Despite the seemingly opportunistic nature of Taliban funding, the group clearly has both a strategy and an infrastructure aimed at maximizing revenue. The Taliban also uses a redistribution model, in which local Taliban financial commissions with abundant revenue sources, such as in Helmand province, send money to Quetta Shura to be distributed to areas with fewer sources of income. Below, some of the more prominent means of funding shall be explored further.
The drug trade
Although the Taliban has diversified its funding, the main source of revenue remains their involvement in Afghanistan’s drug trade. Primarily, this concerns the trade in opiates, such as opium or heroin. Some estimates have placed its share of Taliban income at 95%. Such percentages are likely overstated, but as we will see, the Taliban’s involvement in this trade and drug trafficking in general is a vital part of their existence.
First, the usual question mark surrounding zealous extremist groups and ‘immoral’ commerce such as drug trade often misses the point, which is that terrorist groups are not as ideologically devoted so that they will let millions of potential funds go untapped. The Taliban serves as a case in point. Given the vibrant and large trade in poppy plants and opiates in Afghanistan (and the revenue it provides) it would almost be senseless not to take advantage of it. Afghanistan’s poppy plant export stands at $2.8 billion and represents 13% of the country’s GDP. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that opium production reached as high as 18.3 kilograms per hectare in 2015, with a selling price of more than $200 per kilogram. As a result, Afghanistan supplies between 70-90% of the world’s heroin. To make matters worse, the UNODC in October 2016 released new figures showing that opium production in Afghanistan had increased by 43%.
According to most accounts, the Taliban are not involved in the physical production of heroin or other drugs, but they have shown a capacity to remain present at almost every stage in the supply chain, from cultivation to trafficking.[ii] The group taxes farmers using a land tax (ushr), a 10% tax on harvest. It has been found that whenever the Taliban is able to exert pressure over local populations, they will introduce this tax on farmers. This is not exclusive to poppy plants, but eyewitness reports from Paktia Province in 2013 revealed that the Taliban travelled the region on motorcycles to collect tax from marijuana farmers. In these cases, the tax was reportedly based on the size of the marijuana fields.[iii] Some estimates suggest that the land taxes issued upon poppy and marijuana farmers provide one third of the Taliban’s annual income. Given that the Taliban also still controls many important roads, they also tax traffickers at checkpoints and sometimes extort them to pay protection fees.
However, given the international efforts to quell Afghanistan’s opiate trade, the Taliban also offers financial incentives for poppy cultivation, and seem to have been able to provide better reimbursement than the alternative livelihood programmes initiated by the international community.
The Taliban’s involvement in the opiate trade has inevitably made them form relationships with crime rings in Afghanistan. Two types of lucrative relationships between the Taliban and criminal organisations in drug trade have been identified in the course of this investigation: one in which the Taliban uses criminal networks to generate assets, and another in which drug lords use their proceeds from narcotics trafficking to finance the Taliban. In the first type, the case of Abdul Habib Alizai is a good example. Alizai is one of the prominent Talibans working in illicit drug trade in Kandahar Province, and used brothers Atiqullah Ahmady Mohammad Din and Sadiq Ahmady to set up several companies meant to launder money made from drug trafficking in Kandahar. Proceeds were later sent back to Alizai.[iv] Alizai, along with Mohammad Din and four of his money funneling companies have been designated by the US Department of Treasury. Three of Mohammad Din’s companies were based in Kandahar: Etehad Brothers, a hawala agency; Etihad Group of Afghanistan, a manufacturing and distribution business; and Etehad Beverage Company LTD. Interestingly, the fourth company that was designated was Atiqullah General Trading Company LLC, which was based in Dubai. A second case of this first type of relationship concerns Lahore Jan, who was designated in the US Treasury Kingpin Act for having moved large amounts of money to the Taliban through his hawala Lahore Shanwari Exchange.
There have also been several cases of the second type of drug ring engagement. One case involves Hajji Juma Khan, whose drug trafficking organisation (the Hajji Juma Khan Organisation) was designated under the Kingpin Act in 2009 for his alleged intent to distribute narcotics proceeds to the Taliban. Moreover, in 2011 it was revealed that money exchange service New Ansari Money Exchange had conducted money laundering for the Hajji Juma Khan Organisation with the help of its Dubai-based subsidiaries Green Leaf General Trading LLC and al-Adal Exchange. Helmand drug lord Hajji Azizullah Alizai has been heavily involved in New Ansari Exchange, and has previously been named as a major financer of the Taliban. Another Helmand based drug producer and smuggler, Shah Mohammad Barakzai, who was arrested in 2011, is also believed to have donated money to the Taliban through his two hawalas, the New Ahmadi Ltd and the Mohammad Wali Money Exchange.[v]
The Taliban’s foothold both in Helmand Province and among drug rings is further demonstrated by the cases of Hajji Fatah Ishaqzay and Hajji Lal Jan. It has been proven that Ishaqzay, who runs a drug syndicate, has provided financial assistance to the Taliban. Ishaqzay is also said to have close relatives fighting for the Taliban. Moreover, a hospital run by the Ishaqzay syndicate reportedly offers free treatment for Taliban fighters. Most of the syndicate’s funding is said to have arrived through the aforementioned Abdul Habib Alizai and former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, which demonstrates how deeply engaged the Taliban is with local crime rings.[vi]
Hajji Lal Jan has, on his part, been mentioned as one of the highest profile traffickers convicted of financially supporting the Taliban. After being convicted in 2014, he managed to escape from prison. Lal Jan has been identified as the Taliban’s most important financer in the Sangin District in Helmand Province – a district that the Taliban has been struggling to take and maintain control of in recent years. Lesser known is that the Taliban’s sustained efforts to gain control over Sangin, according to Afghan security officials, is because of the heroin labs in the area. This highlights Lal Jan’s role as both a provider of funds for military operations in the area, but also as a provider of future business at a successful conquest. This once again demonstrates how vital drug smuggling and the connections it brings are for the Taliban.[vii]
This intimate relationship is in itself not surprising, given that the Taliban movement received vital funding in its early stages from narcotics cartels headed by the likes of Hajji Bashar Noorzai, who himself remained a respected adviser to Mullah Omar. Another sign of the close relationship between the Taliban and drug rings is the case of Hajji Kotwal Noorzai, who as the head of a drug processing network in Helmand and Farah Province provided financial and logistical support to the Taliban, in addition to transporting arms to them. To show their gratitude, the Taliban left Hajji Kotwal’s poppy fields untouched and facilitated his drug transports through Helmand. As a sign of their close relationship, Hajji Kotwal was appointed to collect zakat from other drug smugglers in Girdi Jangal in Pakistan by the Quetta Shura.[viii]
Besides the trade in opiate drugs, it has been estimated that hashish gives the Taliban between $100-150 million each year. Afghanistan has more than 50,000 acres that are used for hashish cultivation, and the country supplies more than 4,000 tonnes annually. For farmers, it is also seen as a more profitable crop, as they can make as much as a $4,000 per acre.
Cigarettes are, after narcotics, the second most significant item smuggled in Afghanistan, which imports approximately two billion dollars’ worth of foreign cigarettes each year. This is remarkable given that official estimates have placed smoking levels in Afghanistan at 20%, as well as the fact that Western cigarettes sell at around $1 per pack compared to a local cigarettes pack at $0.30. However, there seems to be an overwhelming presence of the Western cigarettes on the Afghan black market, in which the government’s excise tax and required documentation are largely ignored. The Taliban has inevitably found a way to tap into this trade, and cooperates with the TTP with bringing illegal cigarettes across the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Illegal mining and emerald smuggling
Another sector in which the Taliban yields significant profits is within illegal mining and emerald smuggling. The most noted case of this is their engagement in marble mining in Afghanistan, which seems to be, like their narcotics operations, primarily based in Helmand. In 2014, between 25 and 30 illegal mines were operated in Helmand. Many of the mines are close to the Pakistani border, which allows marble to quickly be moved onto the international market. The UN’s Afghanistan Monitoring Group stated that marble mining gives the Taliban at least $10 million per year.[ix] Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, the Afghan presidential envoy to Helmand, has put the figure at $18 million per year, or a staggering $50,000 to $60,000 per day. This is, in part, unwittingly funded by the Afghan government, which buys marble from contractors who in turn pay the Taliban, either for the extraction rights or for protection money.
Arabic media has also noted how the Taliban has expanded their reach into lapis lazuli mining. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the biggest suppliers of the stone, and in Afghanistan it is found in the Badakhshan Province, an area which the Taliban traditionally has not been able to wield significant control over. However, it has been found that the Taliban has managed to increase their influence in the lapis trade. In 2013, the Taliban earned only $1 million out of the $20 million earned by armed groups involved in lapis mining in Badakhshan. In 2014, that share rose to $4 million, with estimates suggesting that the Taliban earned half of the entire proceeds in 2015. It has been reported that the Taliban may extort as much as $1 million from those who wish to exploit the mines in the Kuran wa Munjan district in Badakhshan, and that the Taliban demands as much as $1,200 per transport truck at various checkpoints around the mines. Industry specialists assume that there are around 200 and 300 trucks transporting lapis from mines in the region per year, which means that the Taliban could raise between $240,000-$360,000 per year from transport operations alone.[x]
Moreover, Arabic sources have reported that the Taliban are gaining as much as $22 million on taxes levied on talc transport from Afghanistan to Pakistan, a trade which is in turn driven by a demand for cosmetics, paper and ceramic products in Europe. Leaked diplomatic cables have also revealed that the Taliban operated emerald mines in the Swat district in Pakistan as early as 2007, earning them as much as $10,000 per week.
In sum, three major types of Taliban activities in the mining sector have been identified. One involves the group being directly involved in or having control over extraction (such as the aforementioned marble quarries in Helmand), and the second includes extorting assets from both licensed and unlicensed mining operations (such as with the lapis lazuli mines in Badakhshan). In the third, the group acts as service providers for unlicensed mining operations.
In the latter type, the Taliban may prevent government forces from infiltrating areas in which an illicit mining operation is underway, thereby ensuring the project’s security. The UN’s Afghanistan Monitor Group has noted a case at a ruby mine in Jagdalak in Kabul Province where this is the case. The Taliban allegedly demands 15% of the proceeds for this service, money which is sent to the Quetta Shura through various hawala services. Industry specialists have stated that this service alone could render the Taliban an income of $16 million per year. Besides this service, the Taliban charges illicit mining operations for the transportation of rubies across the Pakistani border at around 20% of the proceeds.[xi]
Although kidnapping for ransom is prohibited in the Taliban code of conduct (so is forced taxation of ‘common people’), this has clearly been ignored as the Taliban has become known as one of the most kidnap prolific insurgent groups in the world. The list of individuals that the Taliban has kidnapped is too extensive to list here, but includes both Westerners and Afghanis. The Taliban has continuously kidnapped people since at least 2003, and although it was originally an instrument of intimidation, it seems now to have a primarily money making function. The Taliban is believed to have made tens of millions of dollars from kidnappings throughout the years. According to reports, a Westerner’s ransom can be placed as high as $200,000, and in some cases the Taliban has demanded (and received) between $15 and $20 million for the release of hostages.
Although many captives are executed, such as American Cydney Mizell in 2008 and British-born David John Addison in 2005, many are kept alive awaiting ransom payment. American Caitlin Connemara Coleman, who was abducted by the Taliban in 2013 along with her Canadian husband Joshua Ainslie Boyle, is even believed to have given birth to two sons while in captivity.
Whilst a range of countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, normally refuse to pay ransoms to the Taliban (often resulting in hostages being executed), there have been several cases where ransoms are believed to have been paid, although this is not usually admitted by governments. One example of this is the release of French journalists Stéphane Taponier and Hervé Ghesquière, who according to the French government were released as a result of successful negotiations. However, according to Afghan and Taliban officials, their release was the result of an approximately $20 million ransom payment. Other cases which are said to have involved ransom payments include the release of Indian Jesuit priest Alexis Prem Kumar in February 2015, as well as the release of Czech tourists Hana Humpalova and Antonie Chrastecka in 2015.
In both of the latter cases, Qatar played a crucial role in facilitating negotiations. Given the Taliban’s diplomatic presence in Doha, Qatar has been able organise several hostage negotiations. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi even attempted to enlist Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al Thani’s assistance in releasing 39 Indian nationals captured by IS during the Emir’s visit to India in February 2015. Although it is commendable that innocent lives are spared, there have been concerns raised over Qatar’s eagerness to engage in hostage negotiations with terrorist groups, with some questioning the Gulf nation’s intentions. This will be discussed later in the report.
Afghan security officials have in 2016 noted a rise in kidnappings on part of the Taliban, according to Afghan media. This may be partly because new leader Hibatullah Akhundzada aims to make an early impression. Shah Husain Mortazavi, the deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ahsraf Ghani, said in October 2016 that the Taliban are targeting ethnic Hazaras in an attempt to flare up ethnic tensions in Afghanistan. These recent shifts indicate that the Taliban may resort to using kidnappings as an intimidation tactic as well as a source of funds, perhaps in its ongoing struggle with IS in Afghanistan. Some of the abductions the Taliban conducts are for human trafficking purposes, which Afghanistan is a vibrant market for. Occasionally, poppy farmers have been said to have sold their children to the Taliban in order to settle debts.
Taxation and extortion
The Taliban regularly extorts aid agencies working in Afghanistan. An Afghanistan country director for a major international NGO stated that the Taliban usually demand between 10-20% of an organisation’s total project budget as ‘protection money’. A Taliban body called the Commission for the Arrangement and Control of Companies and Organisations usually regulates agreements, rules and fees for international NGOs. According to Head Commissioner Qari Abas, organisations are required to register at senior Taliban level, where they have to promise to live up to certain conditions such as neutrality and respecting ‘Afghan culture’, as well as agreeing to the payment of tax. Organisations are then asked to report to local leaders, who in turn oversee projects. The Taliban does not seem to, at least at the leadership level, discriminate between organisations. However, there have been reports of negative attitudes from local commanders towards ISAF-funded projects. The consequences of breaking the rules set out in the initial agreement can be severe, and may range from intimidation and penalty fees to attacks on staff.
Besides the taxes levied on poppy farmers, the Taliban has been known to also tax services such as water and electricity, despite not having control or influence over their supply. The aforementioned ushr tax is also not always demanded in cash, as farmers from Baghlan province have testified that the Taliban occasionally seizes 10% of their harvest rather than their income. In early 2016, the Taliban allegedly threatened to tax telecom companies in a meeting with four unnamed Afghan providers in Quetta. Telecom companies have paid protection tax to the group in the past, but the new tax suggested by the Taliban would constitute a 10% tax, such as the one placed on other businesses under the group’s control. The demand was widely seen as an attempt to both further diversify funding streams, as well as the Taliban flexing its muscles as a ‘parallel government’ rather than an insurgent group.
A controversial case of extortion and taxation is the Taliban’s demand for protection money from construction projects. In many instances, funds from either the US or the international community meant to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure have ended up in the Taliban’s pockets. The US itself has reportedly spent more than $113 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan – which is, adjusted for inflation, more than what was spent on Europe after World War II – which demonstrates the lucrative opportunities this offers for the Taliban. Many contractors would, it has been found, admit that they routinely add between 10% and 40% to a project budget that they later give as protection money to the Taliban.
One example, again from Helmand, demonstrates how the Taliban exploits aid coming from abroad. A bridge that had been funded by foreign money was apparently blown up and rebuilt six times. Each time the bridge was getting rebuilt, the contractor would add 20% to the project budget. This money would be sent to the Taliban once the project was finished with the promise that they would not blow up the bridge before it was rebuilt. Once the bridge was reconstructed, and the 20% in Taliban hands, the Taliban would blow up the bridge again, and the same events would repeat themselves for a total of six times, earning the Taliban more money each time. Afghan intelligence officials have estimated that if the Taliban were able to earmark between 10% and 20% on money meant for construction projects over a ten year period, that would give them an income of a somewhere between a staggering $5 to $10 billion over the same period.
A pattern similar to the construction projects can be found in the so called ‘ghost schools’, which serves as another example of how the Taliban has managed to exploit the mismanagement of aid. According to the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a ghost school refers to a school that has practically been made up and exists in bureaucracy but not in reality, along with made up (ghost) students and teachers. In some cases, these teachers were still getting paid despite the fact that they did not exist. These salaries instead go into the hands of the Taliban and other local warlords, who use and ‘run’ the schools for embezzlement purposes. Disturbingly, reports have shown that two thirds of these salaries are paid through a World Bank fund, in which the US is the biggest donor, despite USAID statements that World Bank financial controls prevents salaries being paid to ghost teachers. This way, it seems as if the international community has unwittingly funded the Taliban. Even schools that do exist and receive foreign aid have displayed suspicious behaviour. In 2011, it was revealed that the Afghanistan Technical Vocational Institute had spent $118,000 on ‘weapons, international travel, and salary supplements’. It would not be farfetched to assume that some of these weapons ended up in Taliban hands.
Other internal sources of revenue
Besides the sources of revenue mentioned above, the Taliban seems to take advantage of whatever opportunity, in any sector, that arises. Often, however, these engagements follow patterns similar to those that have been identified in other sectors. For example, Afghan media has reported on the Taliban reaching into the transport business, using transport companies (either legitimate or illegitimate) to move money, fighters and weapons. Local officials in Kunduz even stated that the Taliban have forced people to ride with their vehicles rather than bus transports as a cover up for their activities. According to reports, these vehicles routes normally start at the Torkham border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and their final destination is Takhar Province in northern Afghanistan. Leaked diplomatic cables have also revealed that the Taliban has operated timber smuggling rings in cooperation with drug syndicates.
External sources of funding
Besides the Taliban’s aptitude for making money for themselves, they have several supporters who have been willing to fund them throughout the years. These donations include direct state funding, or funding from businesses and charities active in countries with a known record of lax regulation on terrorist funding.
It is one of international diplomacy’s worst hidden secrets that the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI) has funded and provided weaponry and supplies to the Taliban, and it would be beyond the scope of this exercise to go through all the evidence and accusations pointing to ISI funding. However, it has been well documented that the ISI has both given funding and been present at the frontlines with the Taliban. This has been described as part of a larger scheme in which Pakistan uses militant groups to counter other regional interests – primarily those of India. Although there has been some improvement in Pakistan’s attitude towards the Taliban (perhaps mainly because of Taliban or TTP attacks mounted against Pakistan itself), there are still suggestions pointing to ISI involvement in and funding of the Taliban’s activities. Perhaps most importantly, the Taliban’s central command, the Quetta Shura, is based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, which Pakistan continues to allow.
Rahmatullah Nabil, the former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, released documents in July 2016 that, according to him at least, proved that Pakistan had financially supported the Taliban and the Haqqani network. The documents were letters dated from 2014 and sent to the Taliban and the Haqqani network from the ISI’s Peshawar branch. Both the ISI and the Taliban stated that the documents were fabricated. However, earlier in 2016 Pakistani foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz admitted that Pakistan had a degree of control over the Taliban given that the group is based within their borders.
In June 2016, Pakistan also received heavy criticism for continuing to give government funding to Darul Uloom Haqqania, a religious seminary in the Khyber Pakhtunwa province, whose alumni includes students such as Mullah Omar, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Asim Umar. A testimony from a Taliban fighter who defected to IS, Mullah Khan Muhammad Noorzai, stated that he was tired of doing Mullah Omar’s bidding, since the Taliban ‘only serve Pakistan’s interest’.
There have also been lesser known instances of charities in Pakistan providing financial support for the Taliban. Abdulaziz Nuristani, who runs charities such as Jamia Asariya and al-Turaz trust (both based in Pakistan), was identified as a Taliban sponsor in 2015. Jamia Asariya has been known to provide funds to various militant groups, and al-Turaz Trust is an alias for the US and Saudi designated al-Furqan Foundation Welfare Trust. Nuristani has, on his part, funded operations of Taliban commanders in Nuristan Province in Afghanistan, and several Taliban fighters have been recruited from a madrasa run by Jamia Asariya in Pakistan.
Two hawala services active in Pakistan have also been designated. The Hajji Khairullah Sattar Money Exchange (HKHS), owned by Haji Abdul Sattar Barakzai and Haji Khairullah Barakzai, has allegedly both moved and stored money for the Taliban. Sattar and Khairullah have together allegedly operated exchanges in Afghanistan, Iran and the UAE. The Rosham Money Exchange (RMX), based in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, has also been accused of having provided financial support for the Taliban. Money from RMX has reportedly been used to fund operations in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
Although there are still many uncertainties concerning the Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan, and despite some improvement on the part of the Pakistanis, it is clear that the Taliban would not be where they are today without the financial support emanating from Pakistan.
Iran has emerged as a major fundraiser and supporter for the Taliban in recent years. According to various reports, Iran supplies the Taliban with funds, arms, and training. There are supposedly four Taliban training camps in Iran, loacted in Tehran, Masshad, Zahedan and in Kerman province. According to leaked diplomatic cables, Iran trains the Taliban in how to attack coalition forces with IEDs and various forms of roadside bombs. Testimonies from fighters who had attended the training camps also said that Iran paid nomads to smuggle arms across the Afghan border to the Taliban. In 2010, the US Treasury designated two commanders from Iran’s Quds Force (IRCG-QF), General Hossein Musavi and Colonel Hassan Mortezavi, for providing financial and material support for the Taliban. In 2012, they designated IRGC-QF General Gholamreza Baghbani as a narcotics trafficker who provided financial assistance to the Taliban through his shipments of arms and heroin precursors across the Afghan border.
The connections between Iran and the Taliban are maintained through the Taliban’s office in Iran, which opened in 2012. In addition, much of the communication between Iran and the Quetta Shura is facilitated by Tayeb Agha, the head of the Taliban’s Qatar office. Agha has visited Iran three times: in 2007, in 2013 and, finally, in May 2016, together with a Taliban delegation. The Taliban, who per custom denies foreign funding, have stated that these trips were conducted mainly with the purpose of maintaining good relations with Afghanistan’s neighbours.
The relationship between Iran and the Taliban has undoubtedly intensified during 2016. Arabic media has reported that former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour visited Iran shortly before he was killed. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, later confirmed these reports. Moreover, there have also been reports of Iran intensifying support for the Taliban in order to stem the rise of IS in Afghanistan.
United Arab Emirates
There are less signs of direct state sponsorship from the Gulf than from Iran and Pakistan, but there is still a large chunk of evidence that, at best, points to widespread negligence among the Gulf States towards financing of the Taliban from within their borders. There are also diplomatic connections between some GCC countries and the Taliban that may be questioned.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) emerge as arguably the worst offender in the Gulf, at least seeing to documented cases of money coming in from, or being funneled through, the country before reaching the Taliban. As mentioned above, Taliban drug lord financers enlisted Atiqullah Ahmady Mohammad Din and Hajji Juma Khan to funnel money through companies that they had set up in Dubai. Leaked diplomatic cables from the US State Department have shown that the US cautioned UAE officials against the fact that Dubai might be used as a hub or transit point for Taliban financial flows.
Another cable revealed that several large donations from the UAE have reached the Taliban, and that both the Taliban and the Haqqani network earn money from UAE-based business interests. A little reported case is Abdul Baqi Bari, an Afghan Dubai-based businessman who has provided funds to the Taliban. Bari has reportedly been a financier for the Taliban since 2001, and personally met Mullah Omar in 2001 as well as Osama bin Laden in 2002. The latter even provided him with $500,000 to purchase a factory for al-Qaeda.[xii] However, in the aforementioned cable, it is revealed that the UAE was aware of Bari but ‘[does] not believe Bari is loyal to the Taliban’.
Such negligence, whether intentional or nor, seems to have persisted in the UAE. According to the Taliban’s spokesman, in an interview made in Arabic language media, former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour apparently visited the UAE a total number of eighteen times. Mansour allegedly used the alias Wali Mohammad and travelled through Karachi airport, using a Pakistani passport. According to Afghan security officials, Mansour held meetings with Afghan businessmen and Islamic charities in the UAE in order to raise funds for the Taliban cause.
As mentioned above, there has been suspicion surrounding Qatar’s eagerness to engage in hostage negotiations with the Taliban. For example, the five Taliban detainees released from Guantanamo as a result of the successful Qatar-facilitated negotiation over Bowe Bergdahl were all sent to Qatar. The Clinton memo mentioned above also stated that Qatar has long been exploited by the Taliban for fundraising purposes, although there does not seem to be many known cases of Qatar-based charities or businesses funding the Taliban. However, the diplomatic connections between the two are strong. As previously mentioned, the Taliban has run a political office in Doha since 2013, and more than 20 relatively high ranking Taliban families are believed to reside in Qatar. Although it might seem controversial that the Taliban has an office in Qatar, their permanent representation in the country was given the blessing of both the US and Afghan government, who were keen on finding a place in which peace talks could be held with the Taliban. An office was seen as a confidence building measure to reach this goal. Although the office may be used for good intentions, one could have concerns regarding the intensifying relations between the Doha office, headed by Tayeb Agha, and Iran.
The Clinton memo also mentioned Saudi Arabia as a major source of funding for the Taliban, if not through direct sponsorship then through individual or charitable donations. There is clearly a longstanding history of Saudi Arabia funding militancy in Afghanistan, commencing at the time of the Soviet invasion. Although Saudi Arabia in 2001 declared that they had cut all ties to the Taliban, there still seems to be funding for the group originating from Saudi soil. It should be noted that most proven cases are instances in which people affiliated with the Taliban have either donated or collected funds in Saudi Arabia, and not instances of direct state sponsorship.
Leaked diplomatic cables have suggested that Taliban-affiliated persons have travelled to the country in order to gather funds, particularly around hajj. One notable case is Torek Agha, a Taliban fundraiser who has both personally collected and fundraised in Saudi Arabia. Agha is believed to have collected as much as $4 million from Saudi and Gulf donors in 2010. It is believed that Agha later transferred the funds to Taliban finance collector Hajji Mullah Gul Agha. This money was later held in Pakistani banks before being transferred to the Quetta Shura.
Other external donors
Several cases of charities supplying the Taliban with funds have also been identified. In March 2016, Scot James Alexander McLintock was designated by the United States for having provided financial assistance to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This allegedly occurred through McLintock’s charity, al-Rahmah Welfare Organisation (RWO). McLintock is said to have hired fighters to obtain photos and personal details of children in order to create falsified dossiers and attract funding for the Taliban under the guise of supporting orphans. RWO has supposedly been used as a front to fund militant activities in Kunar Province, and McLintock has reportedly provided funds to Shaykh Aminullah, who runs the designated Ganj Madrasa which has been said to provide funds to the Taliban.
In 2013, McLintock met with several Taliban commanders and was actively involved in preparing madrasa students to travel and fight in Afghanistan, as well as teaching insurgents how to use IEDs. According to the Treasury, RWO was used as a front to collect more than $180,000 from unknowing UK donors that went directly into Taliban hands. Interestingly, RWO has currently or in the past, at least according to their website, several cooperative efforts together with organisations around the world. These include Masjid al-Tahwid in London; Qatar Charity; the Kuwait-based International Islamic Charity Organisation; the Abu Dhabi-based Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan Foundation; the Saudi-based King Abdullah’s Relief Campaign for Pakistani People; the Pakistan-based Welfare and Development Org; and the Saudi-based World Assembly for Muslim Youth. It should be noted that McLintock and RWO have ‘categorically denied’ all accusations.
This post is part of the report, “Understanding the regional and transnational networks that facilitate IED use”. To see the sections of the report please go here. This research was undertaken with assistance from the NATO Counter-IED Centre of Excellence.
[i] United Nations, Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on specific cases of cooperation between organized crime syndicates and individuals, groups, undertakings and entities eligible for listing under paragraph 1 of Security Council resolution 2160 (2014)
[ii] United Nations, Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on specific cases of cooperation between organized crime syndicates and individuals, groups, undertakings and entities eligible for listing under paragraph 1 of Security Council resolution 2160 (2014)
[iv] United Nations, Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on specific cases of cooperation between organized crime syndicates and individuals, groups, undertakings and entities eligible for listing under paragraph 1 of Security Council resolution 2160 (2014)
[v] United Nations, Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on specific cases of cooperation between organized crime syndicates and individuals, groups, undertakings and entities eligible for listing under paragraph 1 of Security Council resolution 2160 (2014)
[ix] United Nations, Fourth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2082 (2012) concerning the Taliban and other associated individuals and entities constituting a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan.
[x] United Nations, Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on specific cases of cooperation between organized crime syndicates and individuals, groups, undertakings and entities eligible for listing under paragraph 1 of Security Council resolution 2160 (2014)
[xi] United Nations, Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on specific cases of cooperation between organized crime syndicates and individuals, groups, undertakings and entities eligible for listing under paragraph 1 of Security Council resolution 2160 (2014)
[xii] US Department of the Treasury, “Treasury imposes sanctions on individuals linked to the Taliban and the Haqqani network”, 17 May 2012.. (Accessed 14 October 2016)
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