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Fueled by lawlessness

Shakoor Rahim, Islamabad / shs (AFP, AP)September 12, 2012

A UN report has said that the Afghan Taliban raised around 310 million euros last year, mostly through tax and extortion. The report highlights the militants' growing influence in the country.

Taliban militants in the mountains of Helmand, Afghanistan (Photo: EPA / STRINGER +++(c) dpa - Report+++)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

A new UN report said that the income of the Afghan Taliban has been on the rise since 2006. The report, which was released on Tuesday, said that most of this money has come through taxes, donations, and extortions.

The UN sanctions experts said in their report to the UN Security Council that out of the 310 million euros that the Islamist militants raised in the 12 months up to March this year, about 213 million euros went to the Taliban leadership, while 97 million euros were spent at the local level.

"Revenue extorted from nationwide enterprises such as narcotics producers and traffickers, construction and trucking companies, mobile telephone operators, mining companies and aid and development projects goes to the Taliban Financial Commission which answers to the Taliban leadership," said the report.

The report also said that the harvest tax - most of which is from poppy cultivation - is the "main source" of income for the Taliban, but the militants also taxed water and electricity supplies in many parts of Afghanistan where the authority of the central Afghan government is nearly non-existent.

The UN sanction experts also said that the Taliban used foreign development funds to generate money:

"Estimates of Taliban income from contracts funded by the United States and other overseas donors range from 10 percent to 20 percent of the total, usually by the Taliban agreeing protection money with the contractor or demanding a cut."

Weapons seized from militants in Afghanistan (Photo: DW / Qadir Wafa)
The Taliban have been able to sustain their insurgency in AfghanistanImage: DW

Writ of the state

Experts say the UN report is proof that the Taliban are still strong despite facing a protracted war and various international sanctions.

Although the UN report focuses on the Afghan Taliban, experts say the Pakistani Taliban also use similar methods to raise funds to sustain their insurgency.

Hamid Meer, a Pakistani journalist in Islamabad, told DW that many parts of Pakistan's northwestern tribal region were controlled by the Taliban and other militants.

"There are at least 14 provinces in Afghanistan where the Afghan government has no control. Similarly, in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas, Islamabad or the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's provincial government's authority is too weak. The Taliban take advantage of this lawlessness and make money," Meer said, adding that the Pakistani Taliban also used kidnapping as a way to earn money.

Some Pakistan political experts say that in addition to getting support from certain elements of the establishment, the Pakistani Taliban also have good ties with many powerful religious groups, which have a well-established system in place to collect donations. Observers say that many religious groups in Afghanistan also back the Afghan Taliban financially.

Pakistani lawyer Salman Akram Raja told DW that only peace and stability in the region could stop the Taliban and other militants from raising money.

"The Taliban can only achieve their objectives if there is lawlessness and crime. The fact that the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are able to increase their funds every year is an indication that the crime rate is high in these countries," Raja said.

Politics of sanctions

The UN experts suggested in their report that sanctions on Taliban leaders could be used as a bargaining chip with the militants to facilitate peace efforts in Afghanistan:
"The Taliban conditions for peace - the withdrawal of foreign forces, the release of prisoners, and the removal of their names from the sanctions list - suggest that sanctions matter."

The Afghan government and the US are holding separate peace talks with the Afghan Taliban in the hopes of finding a peaceful solution to the decade-long war. The US is winding up its operations in Afghanistan against Islamist militants and NATO troops are scheduled to withdraw from war-torn Afghanistan in 2014.
To aid Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation efforts in the country, the UN Security Council in June, 2011 decided to treat the Taliban and al Qaeda separately when it comes to imposing sanctions.

The UN report said that imposing new sanctions on the Taliban leadership would not be an easy task in a country which shares almost un-policed borders with six nations; where Kabul has no control in many provinces; and where less than seven percent of the population has a bank account.

A group of 21 former Taliban militants after surrendering their weapons during a reconciliation ceremony in Herat, Afghanistan (Photo: EPA / JALIL REZAYEE +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Reconciliation efforts with the Taliban have not been very successfulImage: picture-alliance/dpa
A NATO soldier in Afghanistan (Photo: SHAH MARAI / AFP / Getty Images)
Foreign troops are handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan armyImage: Getty Images