The Taliban’s money
For 20 years, the Taliban’s immense fortune has ravaged Afghanistan and spread death and destruction there. They are complex, the Taliban’s finances, not at all monolithic but structurally edified on a vast criminal and mafioso network operated around the Haqqani network. Their revenue is made up of taxes levied on their subjects, the trafficking of narcotics, international donations, property investments outside the country, and extortions of foreign companies operating in areas under their control. One thing that is certain is that the Talibans are now much richer and more powerful than when the Americans invaded in 2001.
It should be commonly known that Afghanistan (according to a United Nations report) currently produces 84% of the world’s opium, the income from which – 416 million dollars per year – goes overwhelmingly to the Taliban, who manage it well, and which is now a taxable “industry”. Indeed, they charge between 10 to 20% on all opium related deals. Mineral ore also makes up a substantial source of profits, with the Taliban making on average 500 million dollars per year from it by allowing miners to pursue their extraction of copper, gold, zinc, marble, and other metals, some of which are very rare. This business is indeed mafioso because the owners of mines who refuse to be extorted at first receive death threats, before being liquidated. This “tax”, that is also levied on the population as well as on the whole business and trading environment in the regions dominated by the Taliban has so far earned them 160 million dollars a year. This figure includes a 10% tax on earnings and the Islamic wealth tax – the “Zakat” – of 2.5% on wealth held by families. Exports of materials stolen by the Taliban (among them weapons “Made in USA”) and mineral ore pilfered also brings in 240 million dollars for them, to which 80 million is added from property income coming from Pakistan, among others. Finally, donations to the Taliban come to 250 million dollars a year, coming from “charitable” organisations and private trusts throughout the world, of course mainly from the Persian Gulf where many of the countries and citizens have great sympathy for the Taliban’s cause. American counter-terrorism estimates that 60 million dollars are given to the Taliban every year by members of the public from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Qatar, and Iran. It must also be noted that these countries’ governments nourish the Taliban in the way of 500 million dollars a year, according to the same sources that nevertheless recognise that these figures are difficult to verify because the donating countries of course use means of payments outside of all regulation.
A figure (calculated by NATO) demonstrates the extent of the Taliban’s power: they generated 1 billion 600 million dollars in 2020, an amount that shows up the frailty of America’s policy and approach towards Afghanistan, as has been the case from the very beginning. It must also be noted (according to a very recent report from the “US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction”) that the US “invested” 1’000 million dollars in Afghanistan over 20 years…but the project has however not gained popular support. And for good reason because (according to the same report) 86% of this astronomical sum was put into the army. (Let us think back to the speech by President Eisenhower in 1961 that gave a warning to his own country’s “military industrial complex”, which is still a hot topic today).
The fact remains that the Afghan people have received just 130 million dollars in 20 years, of which 83 wound up in the coffers of the national security forces…whose effectiveness we have borne witness to over the last few days. 10 billion more was funnelled to fight drug trafficking and another 15 billion to US agencies operating in Afghan territory. In short, this official US report shows that only 2%( !) of these 1’000 million dollars spent by the US over the course of 20 years actually benefitted the country’s populace, its infrastructure, or its fight against poverty. Not a penny was spent on building schools or hospitals, agricultural equipment, nutrition programmes, or water distribution networks worthy of the name. After 20 years, Uncle Sam leaves a nation that it has burnt a billion dollars on, and it leaves behind a life expectancy of 63 and an infant mortality rate of 38%!
The Afghan adventure was labelled the “forgotten war” when the US turned its obsessions towards Iraq. To me, it’s a debate that is just getting started.