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Afghan elections

Cocktail of arms, poppy and politics

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr Ikramul Haq

American-sponsored elections in Afghanistan today—amidst inveterate attacks by the Taliban—are going to have serious impact for the entire region in the coming days. The war-stiffen country—occupied by NATO-US troops—no matter who wins—though Hamid Karzai is said to win again—is certainly to be run by a puppet regime. With sham democracy in Afghanistan, the United States wants to justify its occupation—the main object of which is to keep the spectre of al-Qaeda and Taliban alive. If this policy continues for another few years, Afghanistan—and adjacent tribal areas of Pakistan—will become central stage for military conflicts. And this is what the US wants.

The strategy of US and its allies is simple; to induce Russia, India and China in military conflicts. This will destroy their growing economies—posing serious challenges to capitalist monopolies created by US and its Western allies. The containment of China—real agenda behind Obama’s Af-Pak policy—is not possible without using extremist elements—they are covertly funded and supported by US. These militants will be used ultimately for creating troubles in Muslim areas of China as part of US long-term foreign policy.  

The State Department continuously campaigns against its “hidden allies”—but overt adversaries, Al-Qaeda and Taliban— that drug money is their main source of funding. According to so-called experts (planted) the total annual income from narco-trade by the Taliban is about $300 million—independent experts put the figure at $100 million. We challenged it and unveiled (see Ugly face of narco-terrorism, The Post, October 18, 2008) who are the real beneficiaries of $4-6 billion narco industry of Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, in a Press conference in Islamabad, confirmed our report admitting that “drugs accounted for less of a share of Taliban coffers than was previously thought”. Holbrooke told reporters that “he would add a member of the Treasury Department to his staff to pursue the question of Taliban funding”.

One wonders if Holbrooke will ever look into his own backyard for this. There is credible evidence (see references below from articles, Life, Death & Taliban by Jean MacKenzie and Funding the Pakistani Taliban by Shahan Mufti in Global Post, August 07, 2009) to confirm that the Taliban are receiving huge money from the following sources:

  1. “Major contractors, funded by US and Western countries for rehabilitation projects, pay the Taliban their “due share” and it is in the knowledge of Afghan government.
  2. The manager of an Afghan firm with lucrative construction contracts with the U.S. government builds in a minimum of 20 percent for the Taliban in his cost estimates. The manager, according to Press reports, has told friends privately that he makes in the neighborhood of $1 million per month. Out of this, $200,000 is siphoned off for the insurgents. “If negotiations fall through, the project will come to harm — road workers may be attacked or killed, bridges may be blown up, engineers may be assassinated”.
  3. One Afghan contractor, speaking privately, told friends of one project he was overseeing in the volatile south. “I was building a bridge,” he said, “one evening over drinks, the local Taliban commander called and said don’t build a bridge there, we’ll have to blow it up”. I asked him to let me finish the bridge, collect the money — then they could blow it up whenever they wanted. We agreed, and I completed my project.”
  4. In the south, no contract can be implemented without the Taliban taking a cut. One contractor in the southern province of Helmand was negotiating with a local supplier for a large shipment of pipes. The pipes had to be brought in from Pakistan, so the supplier tacked on about 30 percent extra for the Taliban, to ensure that the pipes reached Lashkar Gah safely. Once the pipes were given over to the contractor, he had to negotiate with the Taliban again to get the pipes out to the project site. This was added to the transportation costs. “We assume that our people are paying off the Taliban,” said the foreign contractor in charge of the project.
  5. In Farah province, local officials report that the Taliban are taking up to 40 percent of the money coming in for the National Solidarity Program, one of the country’s most successful community reconstruction projects, which has dispensed hundreds of millions of dollars throughout the country over the past six years.
  6. Many Afghans see little wrong in the militants getting their fair share of foreign assistance. “This is international money,” said one young Kabul resident. “They are not taking it from the people, they are taking it from their enemy.” But in areas under Taliban control, the insurgents are extorting funds from the people as well.
  7. In war-ravaged Helmand, where much of the province has been under Taliban control for the past two years, residents grumble about the tariffs. “It’s a disaster,” said a 50-year-old resident of Marja district. “We have to give them two kilos of poppy paste per jerib during the harvest; then we have to give them Ushr (an Islamic tax, amounting to one-tenth of the harvest) from our wheat. Then they insisted on Zakat (an Islamic tithe). Now they have come up with something else: 12,000 Pakistani rupees (approximately $150) per household. And they won’t take even one rupee less.”
  8. A report by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington published in June 2009 claims that millions of dollars are also ending up in Pakistani Taliban coffers from its control of the trade in counterfeit cigarettes. The report estimates that profits from the illicit cigarette trade may account for as much as 20 percent of total funding for these terrorist groups. “After poppy, tobacco is probably the biggest revenue generator,” for the Taliban, said Ikram Sehgal, who runs one of the largest private security firms in the country.
  9. The environmental protection agencies in Pakistan are blaming the “timber mafia” — illegal loggers — for funding the militancy. Last year the Taliban took over a dormant marble mine near the Afghan border, which then reportedly generated tens of thousands of dollars for it every month. It all adds up, of course. But all things are relative: if the Taliban are able to raise and spend say $1 billion per year — the outside limit of what anyone has been able to predict — that accounts for what the United States is now spending on 10 days of the war to defeat them”.

Holbrooke, during his four-day visit to Pakistan (August 15-18, 2009) monitored Afghan elections and used Pakistani “clout” to refrain the Taliban from disrupting the electioneering process substantially—Mr. Nawaz was specifically helpful in this endeavour for his intimate links with Jihadis. Holbrooke now acts like de facto ruler of Pakistan—suggesting all kinds of prescription for all our problems. The political leaders (sic) of this country feel proud to “meet him and follow his instruction”—this is a state of shamelessness.

Holbrooke knows who is funding the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is well aware of the involvement in drug trade of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger brother of Hamid Karzai—the puppet President—as this name appeared in the official International Narcotics Strategy Report 2008 issued by State Department. Who knows better than him that the policies of US and its coalition partners bring warlords into an alliance with terrorists—warlords like Rashid Dostum are back to support Karzai! It was not possible without the consent of US policymakers. The US has never been interested in rebuilding Afghanistan. Its plan of colonizing Afghanistan had three motives: to attain strategic supremacy over China by holding key points in South Asia; use of Afghan Card against Central Asian States if they refuse to toe US policy interests; and to control drug-for-arms trade.

Today’s election in Afghanistan will provide yet another opportunity to warlords to hijack ‘American-sponsored democracy’. In coming days, the entire region may witness a new wave of terrorism that becomes insurmountable—posing security challenges to Pakistan, India, China and Central Asian States. This is the core aim of Af-Pak policy. The rulers and masses of this region must understand this conspiracy. If they want to get rid of religious obscurantist, ruthless militants and warlords, they need to push back foreign interventionists and the Taliban simultaneously—they are allies though pose to be adversaries.


The writers, visiting professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), have written numerous articles on narco-terrorism and reality of ‘war against terrorism’.

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