How the Taliban keep their coffers
full By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Just as the Taliban move across
the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan with
impunity, so does the money needed to sustain the
Taliban-led insurgency flow unrestricted between
In the wake of September
11, 2001, the financial squeeze instigated by the
United States and its allies in the "war on
terror" severely disrupted the flow of funds for
al-Qaeda and the Taliban, mainly through closer
international scrutiny of bank accounts.
However, as the insurgencies in Afghanistan
and Iraq testify, the money has certainly
not been stopped. The major reason
for this is that
Washington and its allies made the mistake of looking
for and applying high-tech solutions.
focus been more on the "unschooled wisdom" prevalent
in the mountains of Afghanistan and in the deserts
of Iraq, the US might not be in such a poor
position as it is now.
moneymen I met Habibullah and Abdul Jalil
in a small room in Banaras Colony in Karachi, the
largest Pashtun community (1.5 million people) in
any city in the world. From here, the Pashtuns
control all of the transport business in Karachi
and beyond. We were later joined by several dozen
more Taliban, all of them from southwestern
Also joining us
were several noble and rich Pashtun elders. Most of
the Pashtun people in Karachi are unskilled
laborers, while those higher up the social ladder
have a firm grip on the transport business.
Once everyone in the room was settled,
Jalil began to speak. "The jihad has been raging
in Afghanistan [for five years] and it will be
highly intensified this spring. We are confronting
the enemy, which is a world superpower, and we
have just the power of our faith. I invite you to
visit Afghanistan and see how the mujahideen [holy
warriors] are steadfast at the front. They have
scarce food and few warm clothes to cover them in
the cold winter nights.
"At the same time,
we are confronting a superpower which is like an
uncontrolled elephant aiming to crush us all under
its feet. It has the world's most powerful
technology, air supremacy and bombs. But we are
the vanguard of Islam, and our only weapons are
our flesh and blood to be sacrificed for our
nation and for the religion.
need equipment and supplies to dismiss the foreign
invaders once and for all from our soil. I beg you
all to contribute to the liberation movement of
Afghanistan and beg you to hand over your hard
cash for the resistance and the
Within an hour,
Jalil had collected 700,000 Pakistani rupees (more
than US$11,600), with each person in the room
handing over various sums of cash.
Afghans have also contributed a lot and now, with
this much money, our Panjwai district [in Kandahar
province in Afghanistan where the Taliban have a
strong presence] will have the resources to fight
for six months," Jalil said.
contacts and relatives in Banaras Colony had
already tapped up people to make contributions, so
the meeting was more of a formal handing over of
the money, and an opportunity for him to say thank
Fellow Taliban sitting beside Jalil
had already been to other places in Karachi and
Lahore to gather money for their respective fronts
in Helmand and Kandahar.
Jalil, local Kandahari tribesmen take care of all
routine expenditures of food, satellite telephone
cards, fuel etc, and the additional money is used
partly to help injured Taliban receive treatment.
essence, this is the traditional tribal system of taking care of their
own, without the sophistication of a modern
connections Within the Afghan tribal
system, the Noorzai tribe is the most pro-Taliban,
while the Achakzai tribal people partially support
the Taliban. Between them, they dominate trade in
the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Their region spans the southwestern parts
of Pakistan and the southern areas of Afghanistan.
On the Pakistani side, they control the Chaman
markets and on the Afghan side the Spin Boldek
Sardar Shaukat Popalzai is the
president of the Balochistan Economic Forum, which
conducts research on economic trends in
Balochistan. Being connected with the royal
Popalzai tribe of Afghanistan, Shaukat also keeps
good track of the economic situation in
"There are only 100 members
of the Chaman Chamber of Commerce, but there are
over 3,500 importers and exporters in the Chaman
market," Shaukat told Asia Times Online.
"Most of them have offices in Dubai
and Jabal-i-Ali [in the United Arab Emirates] and
they deal mostly in motor vehicles and clothes.
It really looks like a wonderland when you go to
the wastelands of Chaman and find many really
affluent people actually live there. They have such
a monopoly on trade that the regional agent of Three
Fives cigarettes - which is the most expensive brand in
Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia - is
based in Chaman.
"They also have a
monopoly on the import of used heavy vehicles,
which they refurbish and resell in the regional
markets, beside reconditioned cars. After Dubai,
they have set up offices in Europe as well,
importing vehicles," Shaukat explained.
"If you get the chance to go to the
Japanese cities of Nagoya and Osaka, you will see
Chaman businessmen operating successfully there.
They have such an edge over everybody that they
have ample cash liquidity - so much so that they
can occupy whole floors of five-star hotels for
months whenever they visit Japan," Shaukat said.
All of these traders are either
from the Noorzai tribe (100% pro-Taliban) or
from the Achakzai tribe (partially pro-Taliban).
These tribesmen wield immense financial clout in
Kandahar and most newly constructed hotels belong
The UAE, though, remains the hub
for the Taliban's finances, with money moving
through the traditional hawala (paper-free
transfer) system or through direct contacts.
Taliban commanders who have not yet made
it on to any wanted list frequently visit the UAE,
where they link with the Afghan diaspora to make
financial appeals in support of the Afghan
resistance. Before the spring offensive of last
year, one-legged former Taliban intelligence chief
Mullah Dadullah went to the UAE to raise money.
And getting the money back to Pakistan and
then to Afghanistan is not a problem, as the
Taliban don't use banks and they move freely
Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau
Chief. He can be reached at