New Delhi fears surge in Islamist insurgency’s revenues could mean enhanced aid for Indian jihadists training with it in Afghanistan

Even as the United States prepares to withdraw most of its combat troops from Afghanistan, a new United Nations report has warned the Taliban insurgency is flush with funds, and added that the “past year has been a bumper year for Taliban revenues, boosted by booming narcotics income, revenue from corruption and extortion, and increasingly drawing on revenue from the illegal exploitation of natural resources”.

Intelligence officials in New Delhi told The Hindu the report underlined growing concerns that a resurgent Taliban could provide logistics and finances for Indian jihadists known to be with it.

“Parts of the Taliban are experiencing a resource curse”, the report of the U.N.’s sanctions monitoring team states, “for as Taliban finances have grown, the Taliban have become more of an economic actor, with incentives to preserve this income and less potential incentive to negotiate with the Government”.

Flush with funds

The team studied Taliban revenues in Helmand, Afghanistan’s opium-producing hub, to arrive at its conclusions. Poppy cultivation has surged, with drug smugglers providing farmers fertilizer and loans to plant the hardy, drought-resistant crop. Farmers in Helmand, local officials said, pay a 10% tax to the Taliban on their earnings from the poppy harvest to the Taliban, which it is estimated will be worth a minimum of $50 million this year.

In addition, the U.N. found, the Taliban makes more than $10 million a year from illegal onyx-marble mines in Helmand, and also runs protection rackets targeting transport and construction businesses,

Eighty per cent of these earnings, the report says, are transferred to the Taliban’s central leadership in Pakistan. The Taliban’s central financial commission, led by Mullah Gul Agha Ishaqzai, then redistributes the funds to the group’s institutions in Pakistan, and field units in Afghanistan.

Past sanctions have had some successes against the Taliban’s financial networks, Afghan officials told the United Nations, halving the net worth of top money launderers Khairullah Barakzai Khudai Nazar and Abdul Satar Abdul Manan. However, the men succeeded in selling their 500-plot holding in the upmarket Ayno Mena project in Kandahar to refinance their operations. Malik Noorzai and his brother Faizullah Noorzai, also indicted by the United Nations for laundering Taliban funds, also succeeded in setting up new cover businesses.

Blood-letting

New jihadist fronts are springing up, the report says, seeking a share of the money. These include the al-Fath Mahaz, the Tora Bora Mahaz, and the Fidayano Mahaz — the last led by the brother of top Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah Akhund. The Tora Bora front, similarly, is led by the son of Yunus Khalis, the Islamist warlord who first welcomed Osama bin-Laden to Afghanistan. The al-Fath, again, is run by affiliates of former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The wealth has also contributed to internecine bloodletting. Said Ahmed Shahidkhel, the Taliban chief in Laghman Province, was shot at the end of 2013, survived an assassination attempt linked to these disputes. Taliban founding ideologue Maulvi Abdullah Zakeri, was assassinated in January, after criticising commanders who profited from “the presence of the infidels”.

Leading Taliban commanders Abdul Qayyum Zakir, Mullah Ghazi, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour Shah Mohammed and Financial Committee chief Ishakzai are also reported to be locked in disputes over opium growing lands in Maiwand, west of Helmand.