Example of a Taliban tax receipt
In what must be regarded as one of the best, most informative reports written this year on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has published Gretchen Peters' superb report on Crime and Insurgency in the Tribal Areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Well researched and containing mounds of fascinating material, this report demonstrates that much of the insurgency in both these countries is primarily a criminal enterprise. This has been a theme pursued by this blog for some time, but Peters' report nails it to the ground, leaving little doubt in the reader's mind. According to Ms Peters:
"Within a realm of poor governance and widespread state corruption, anti-state actors engage in and protect organized crime — mainly smuggling, extortion and kidnapping — both to raise funds and also to spread fear and insecurity, thus slowing the pace of development and frustrating attempts to extend the rule of law and establish a sustainable licit economy. Militant groups on either side of the frontier function like a broad network of criminal gangs, not just in terms of the activities in which they engage, but also in the way they are organized, how funds flow through their command chains and how they interact—and sometimes fight—with each other."
She argues that the prevalence of crime offers possibilities to coalition forces, who can turn people against the insurgents by protecting them from the criminals. Growing numbers of local people, she says, are questioning the religious, political and ideological motives of the insurgents.
In Afghanistan, says Peters, the Quetta Shura of the Taliban increasingly behaves like a traditional drug cartel, seeking to maximise profits by processing opium into heroin. The organisation now demands that money earned from extortion and narcotics flows directly into central coffers instead of being controlled by district-level commanders.
The Haqqani network, based in the east of the country, raises much of its income from kidnapping or protecting smugglers or extortion. A third group, the Hezb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, makes money by smuggling lootable resources such as timber and precious stones or antiquities.
In Pakistan, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has all the hallmarks of a powerful criminal empire, whose actions are threatening to damage the Afghan 'Taliban' brand name. Evidence of widespread criminality makes it hard to sustain Pakistani efforts to differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban.
Peters' report is full of examples showing how money is raised by the insurgent groups, including the huge amounts of money raised by 'taxing' trucks that bring supplies to the coalition forces in Afghanistan. These trucks routinely pay up to 40 per cent of the value of the consignment as tax to Taliban gunmen.
The gunmen themselves regularly fall out with each other over spoils, with dozens of fighters having been killed in fire-fights over who has the right to extort. Some of the material Peters references comes from the CTC's Harmony database which includes documents captured from Taliban fighters. These include correspondence showing commanders warning off rivals from carrying out extortions on their territory. Such extortion and 'taxing' is so widespread that in some areas the Taliban actually issues receipts so that traders are not fleeced more than once.
There is an old adage in reporting: Follow the money. In this case, as Peters shows so convincingly, it leads to a cesspit of crime - a million miles away from the stated goals of Islamic justice.