The security situation in the country has seen a steep decline in recent months. Over the past few years, the Taliban and other insurgent groups have been able to re-organize themselves, extend their recruitment base to new areas and lay hands on more money and logistics. Various sources put the annual income of Taliban and other insurgent groups at wildly different figures. From $100 million to $ 400 million are the figures that are estimated to be the annually earned and spent by the militant groups active in Afghanistan. There are many sources of finance and money for them.
The sprawling drug trade, donations from charities and private people from all over the world that end up in the hands of militant leaders, criminal activities such as extortion, and finally many invisible hands with direct ties to some state institutions in the region all contribute their share to keeping the military machine of Taliban up and running. For example, a devoutly religious person, father of seven, might wake up one fine morning in say a city in Africa or Europe and decide to contribute some money to the cause of a charitable organization that preaches in the local mosque every week after the Friday prayers.
All it takes is a donation equivalent to a few hundred dollars through credit card or in cash to the nearest branch of one of these hundreds of charities. This father might never know that the funds he donates with the hope of reaching the poor and the needy among the fellow Muslims, might very well end up in the hands of Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan. Later, a paltry sum of 50 dollars can keep a Taliban soldier on the front line for 10 days or more. No one would know how many of these 50 dollars end up in the hands of Taliban leaders every month.
Over all these years, there has been very little effort on the part of the countries involved in Afghanistan to try to check and block these sources of money and finance for the Taliban and other militant groups. There are hundreds of such private charity and social service organizations spread throughout the Middle East and other countries whose funds, instead of being used to help the poor and the needy, end up in the wrong hands of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other militant groups. This fact is well documented and acknowledged by many experts and government authorities.
In spite of public knowledge of the existence of such channels of funding for the infrastructure of militancy in Afghanistan and the region, there have been little efforts to clamp down on them. Preventing even a fraction of these funds reaching Taliban leaders can exert great pressure on their military machine.
Another important source of funding for the military machine of Taliban and other militant groups is what many do not like to openly talk about. Development and reconstruction projects have turned out to be a major source of funding for militants in the areas heavily infested by them. Taliban routinely extract a hefty portion of funds meant for development and reconstruction projects in return for allowing these projects to be completed.
Roads, bridges, culverts, schools, hospitals and clinics, in many areas under the influence of Taliban, are impossible to be completed without sometimes up to 20% of the project money being given to Taliban. In the absence of these kickbacks, the construction projects will be targeted by Taliban, workers killed and projects blown up in a matter of few seconds. Transportation of material from Pakistan into Afghanistan both for such projects and the supplies for NATO troops are also a source of easy funding for Taliban. As it was extensively reported in news media recently, convoys of supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan are in many cases allowed safe passage through Taliban territories in return for hefty amounts of hard cash.
Much hue and cry was raised inside the U.S. when the Congress was informed that American tax payer money is in fact indirectly funding the Taliban's military machine. Congress held hearings on the issue and pressed the U.S. government to prevent foreign development aid coming into Afghanistan from falling into the hands of Taliban. However, the tough reality of Afghanistan and the sheer dependence of foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan on local contractors to bring them food, fuel and supplies almost automatically ensures that Taliban find free hand in extracting their own share of the deal.
In some areas, the Taliban and other militant groups routinely impose a variety of taxes on local people. Money, food grains or poppy paste in the name of Ushr and Zakat (two types of Islamic tax) are routinely extracted from poor peasants and villagers. Sometimes it takes the form of outright extortion when people and villagers are forced to pay in the name of Jihad and religious obligations.
As said, sources of money and funding for the Taliban and other militant groups are not limited to these areas. It appears that there is a well-organized fund raising infrastructure in place that over the years has grown more sophisticated and able to gather larger amounts of funds. Without checking, controlling and dismantling this infrastructure of funding for the military machine of insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it would be impossible to hard-press them morally and militarily. In many cases, the same network of charity organizations whose funds end up in the hands of Taliban, are also a major source of funding for other underground militant organizations in other countries and continents.
Now that both the governments of Afghanistan and the U.S. have decided to seriously pursue the path of negotiation with Taliban, a comprehensive strategy for negotiations needs to be drawn up and put in place. Any such comprehensive strategy should also involve, among other things, choking off the sources and channels of funding for Taliban and other insurgent groups besides putting them under immense military pressure on the battlefield. Therefore, the issue of going after these sources and channels of funding should again be brought to the surface and raised in diplomatic and military circles in Kabul, Islamabad and Washington. Without starving the enemy financially and logistically, the enemy will remain intact and the security and safety of all in grave danger.