Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Afghanistan’s Kidnapping and Arms Smuggling Industry

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Afghanistan’s Kidnapping  and Arms Smuggling Industry

"Don't go to Afghanistan if you want to save the money." These are the words quoted from a recently filed news story of one of my journalist friends who returned from Afghanistan. Over the last three decades of civil war, Afghanistan largely depended on black market economy, criminal trade, export of opium, heroin and arms smuggling. Drug and arms trafficking business and Jihadism left devastating effects on the lives of common Afghans. The recent large-scale transfer of arms to Afghanistan from Central Asia and its distribution across the country is a bigger threat to the stability of the country as these arms may be used in future civil war against ethnic rivals. From Northern Afghanistan, these weapons are further transferred to Pakistan via Hindu Kush mountainous regions.

In fact, kidnapping for ransom and smuggling of weapons from Central Asia has been a profitable business in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Some underground groups, who enjoy the protection of Afghan police, intelligence officials and private militias across the country, pick up men, women and children, journalists and business men one by one either for the purposes of human trafficking, organ business or for ransom business. Everybody knows who they are and which political or religious group they represent.

Last year, a US embassy report in Kabul revealed that Afghan boys, girls, men and women are trafficked within the country for forced prostitution and forced labor in brick kilns, carpet-making factories, and domestic service. In 2010, over two hundred men and women were kidnapped by unknown criminals with the help of corrupt Afghan police who have already been involved in the illegal businesses of weapons and White Heroin. Kidnapping and illegal drug business is a most powerful industry in today's Afghanistan. Kidnappings are common in many parts ofAfghanistan.

When US-led International forces intervened in the country and Taliban regime collapsed in 2001, kidnappings were rare and mostly politically motivated. The average ransom was a hefty sum to many Afghans, $10,000. In 2011, the rate reached to $200,000 dollars. Consequently, these criminals became influential land mafia, promoted the kidnapping business, and used their purchased empty houses and plazas as temporary prisons for their victims. These hard-core criminal elements from different political and sectarian groups, hired by land mafia to protect their embezzled estates have started settling down in urban areas, and have polluted the local scenario with their criminal activities. They enjoy readymade facilities to carry out their illegal business. These groups making million dollars from the illicit drug trade, security charges of convoys, extortions and financial contributions from charities and wealthy individuals from various Arab States. The international aspect of this business is that some states don't want the involvement of their political and geographical enemy states to be involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan; they are supporting the kidnapping and killing of workers of some reconstruction companies. Kidnappers and weapon smugglers are trained and experienced people but they shoot and fire in the middle of the night.

The business of kidnapping for ransom support terrorist Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghan and Pakistani criminal groups involved in kidnapping for ransom in Afghanistan, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan are financially aiding the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban networks. In Punjab, one police officer told me in a telephonic conversation that some 100 to 150 people are being kidnapped in the province every month. "We have reports that groups involved in ransom business have links with the Taliban of Waziristan and Afghanistan-based militants, he told me. These underground and over-ground groups have spawned an epidemic of ransom kidnappings. Once Asia Times reported the abduction of some 237 people from different parts of Baluchistan in 2010.

In the Afghan capital, hundreds of people are being kidnapped every year. These criminal who enjoy the support of Taliban as well, killed many captives while demands for ransom went unmet. We still remember the brutal killing of a British woman kidnapped for ransom in 2011, because most criminal groups' kidnappings end either in the payment of a ransom or the death of the hostage. The money these groups retrieve from this business goes into the pockets of four category people. The first group is Taliban who help them in kidnapping local and foreigners, the second is the corrupt officials of the Afghan police, the third is corrupt people in the intelligence and the fourth group that receive its share is private warlords' militias.

One another formidable aspect of the business is that as these groups belong to sectarian and political parties of Afghanistan they spend a lot of money on the purchase of weapons from a cross Central Asia and Afghan neighboring countries.

Some Afghan experts are of the opinion that several ethnic and sectarian groups of the country distribute sophisticated weapons among their member for future civil war after the NATO and US withdrawal in 2014. Local militias and political groups have started arming young unemployed men in Badakhshan, Wakhan and among groups settled near China border. Ethnic thugs in Northern provinces have been terrorizing opponents, extorting money, demanding sanctuary or kidnapping for ransom. Some military experts understand that the weapons they purchase go into the hands of Pakistani Taliban group in Waziristan and FATA regions. Improvised explosive devices smuggled into Pakistan are becoming an effective deadliest weapon against civilians in the country.

Heart breaking reports recently revealed about the illegal weapon business in Northern Afghanistan. Local criminals, police and intelligence officials are jointly running the profitable business of sophisticated weapons in Kunduz, Herat, Takhar, Balkh, Samangan, Parwan and Baghlan provinces. An Afghan police commander told me that smugglers use the Darqad Pass between Tajikistan and the northern Afghan province of Takhar for weapon smuggling. Military experts understand that this is the crucial stage for the preparation forces for future civil war in the country.A source in Afghan interior Ministry told me that police vehicles are being used in narco and weapon smuggling across the country. Military relations among Afghan separatists and Tajik and Uzbek Islamist insurgent from Central Asia are too friendly. Afghanistan shares porous borders with Tajikistan which are used by some subversive elements to smuggle weapons into the country. These elements will be helpful in igniting the fire of future civil war in Afghanistan.

The writer is the executive Editor of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan and the author of Afghanistan Beyond 2014 and Punjabi Taliban. He can be reached at: zai.musakhan222@gmail.com.

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