Taliban continues to raise millions from drugs, extortion, in build-up to 2014 elections

The United Nations team monitoring the Security Council sanctions against the Taliban has warned that the international community is ill-placed to contain a surge of extortion-related funding the jihadist group is expected to raise in the run-up to next year’s elections in Afghanistan.

“In 2014”, states the third report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, “Afghanistan will experience a significant spike in international spending to finance the large-scale logistical operations necessary for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan”.

However, the report, circulated to the United Nations member-states late last month, warns, “the sanctions regime established pursuant to Security Council resolution 1988 (2011) is not designed to prevent this.”

Noting that “illicit business activities and investments play a role in the financial structure of the Taliban and its affiliates,” the Monitoring Team recommends that the member-states be asked to “submit any relevant information on Taliban bank accounts, hawalas and financial facilitators.”

“In order to ensure the effective implementation of the sanctions measures”, it goes on, “timely, accurate and detailed information is crucial.”

“This report basically tells us that efforts in current form to choke the Taliban’s funds are a doomed,” says Georgetown University scholar C. Christine Fair. “The important lesson here is that while the war has to be fought in Afghanistan, the pressure points are outside it, in Pakistan, the Gulf and beyond, where their money is held. That is what we have never had a strategy to address.”

Flood of funds

Based on Afghan government estimates, the Monitoring Team paints a grim picture of the Taliban’s continued ability to raise funds—critical to both its military and political influence in Afghanistan. The Taliban, the report states, is estimated to have raised $155 million from narcotics-related operations last year. The Taliban in Helmand province, a key hub for the jihadist group, raised $8 million from the narcotics trade from January to May, 2013 alone, and an additional $400,000 a month through levies on local transport operators.

The World Bank, the report says, estimates that between 90 and 99 per cent of all gemstones mined in Afghanistan—among them, emeralds, rubies and sapphire—are illegally smuggled out of the country. “The Taliban has targeted specifically gemstone and mining operations”, it records.

In the Monitoring Team’s view, there appears to be little ground for optimism that violence could be defused by a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government. “There is no evidence yet”, it states, “of a decisive shift in favour of dialogue from those running the Taliban movement”. “The challenge lies within the Taliban movement”, it explains, “as those interested in dialogue still appear subordinate to those committed to further fighting”.Even though Afghan forces have repulsed efforts by the Taliban to take territory through 2013, the Monitoring Team states, large swathes are facing an “intensified onslaught.”

The country’s eastern and south-eastern provinces, it records, have seen significant operations by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, operating alongside the Taliban and its sister organisation, the Haqqani Network. The south and south-western provinces “remain dominated” by Taliban groups loyal to its central command, the so-called Quetta Shura.

In 2012, the report says, the Afghan army lost 880 soldiers, as well as 1,330 police personnel—down from a reported 2,970 last year. In September, the top North Atlantic Treaty Organisation commander in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford, had described these losses as “unsustainable.” The Taliban and affiliated networks, the report estimates, lost 10,000-12,000 personnel.

Correction: A quote attributed to Georgetown University scholar C. Christine Fair in the report, “U.N. monitors say Taliban sanctions failing” (Dec. 5, 2013), read: “The important lesson here is that while the war has to be fought in Pakistan, the pressure points are outside it, …” It should have been Afghanistan.