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Kidnapping, Extortion and Drug Trafficking: How Are the Taliban Financed?

Despite running out of Afghan government money, the Taliban have various illegal methods of financing themselves.

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With the fall of Kabul, the United States and the remnants of the Afghan government did everything possible to ensure that international aid money and Afghanistan’s reserves did not fall into the hands of the Taliban. Millions of dollars were repatriated to the United States and hundreds of Afghan Government accounts were frozen to prevent them from falling into Taliban hands.

Despite being left without Afghan Government money the Taliban have methods of financing themselves, which has allowed them to wage war with the Afghan Security Forces and NATO. Undoubtedly shady sources of money, such as poppy production and trafficking, trafficking of women and children, extortion, kidnapping and illegal mining.

According to Mullah Yaqoo, son of sect founder Mohammad Omar, the Taliban may have annual revenues of up to $1.6 billion from all their activities. By comparison, the Afghan government managed to collect just over $5.5 billion in the fiscal year ending March 2020, which it had to spread across all areas of the state, not just the armed forces.

Drug trafficking

The UN claims that up to 84% of opium production in the last 5 years was made in Afghanistan. The Taliban squeeze this lucrative business by charging a 10% tax on everyone involved in the opiate production chain, i.e. from the humble farmer who grows the poppy, to the laboratories that process it, to the traffickers who move the final drug pay taxes to the Taliban.

Annually, more than $450 million may enter Taliban coffers from the trafficking of opiates that are mainly traded in Europe, but whose presence has even reached the streets of the United States.

Although the Taliban regime previously banned the production, trafficking and consumption of opium, and now promises to ban it, the truth is that opiate trafficking has been the Taliban’s main source of income for years. In 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces they were affected by the opium trade.

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Opiate trafficking is the Taliban’s main source of money. (Image: EFE)

Mining

The mining of iron ore, copper, gold, zinc, other metals and precious stones has become a lucrative business for the Taliban, who for years have extorted money from both small-scale artisanal miners and large mining companies.

From extortion of mining, the Taliban can earn as much as $400 million to $460 million. Those who refuse to pay the Taliban’s extortion can receive death threats and sabotage to their infrastructure.

Extortions

Like the government, the Taliban levy “taxes” on businesses and companies in the territories they control. These include extorting telecommunication companies not to blow up their antennas, and setting up road tolls to charge carriers.

In the countryside, the Taliban impose the so-called “ushr” which is a tax on 10% of the value of the harvest on Afghan farmers. The toughest tax however is the so-called “zakat” which charges 2.5 % of the value of the wealth of people in Taliban territory, according to Mullah Yaqoob these “taxes” can raise the sect up to $160 million a year.

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All local businesses and artisans must pay a “tax” to the Taliban regime in the areas they control. (Image: EFE)

Donations from wealthy countries and individuals

Unbelievable as it sounds, one source of Taliban revenue is donations, from individuals throughout the year. The largest donations come from individuals and corporations from Persian Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman or Qatar.

According to the Afghanistan Center for Policy Research and Development, the Taliban may receive between $150 million to $200 million through investment funds and companies dedicated to financing terrorism. It is also estimated that the Taliban may receive up to $60 million a year in donations from citizens in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and other Muslim countries.

Internationally, it is well known that countries such as Pakistan have for years financed the Taliban. Apart from Pakistan, the United States has accused Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia of funding the Taliban at one time or another. According to some experts the Taliban could receive up to $500 million of money from foreign governments per year.

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The United States accuses several countries and citizens of the Arab world of donating money to the Taliban. (Image: EFE)

Paradoxically, the Taliban sect also owns legal businesses or rather businesses that they use to launder part of their money with real estate or formal companies that fulfill some function in the economy, such as the sale of vehicle spare parts or transport companies.

Businesses even of important stature for Afghanistan such as the importer of vehicle spare parts Noorzai Brothers Limited, which has been denounced for contributing money or being partially financed by the Taliban.

Kidnapping

Perhaps the most lurid practice the Taliban resort to for funding is kidnapping. While they incur with forced marriages, for financial reasons kidnapping has become a lucrative business for the sect.

In 2007, South Korea paid $20 million in ransom to free 19 South Korean missionaries doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan who were kidnapped by the Taliban.

Kidnapping humanitarian mission personnel, foreign contractors and even wealthy citizens has become a quick way to raise money, although the income from this activity can vary widely, with some ransoms running into the millions.

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