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Afghanistan’s Taliban militants have grown richer and more powerful since their fundamentalist Islamic regime was toppled by US forces in 2001.

In the fiscal year ending in March 2020, the Taliban reportedly raised A $ 2.1 billion, according to Mullah Yaqoob, son of the late Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who disclosed the Taliban’s sources of income in a confidential report commissioned by NATO and later. Obtained by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

By comparison, the Afghan government contributed A $ 7.4 billion during the same period. The government is now in peace talks with the Taliban, seeking to end their 19-year insurgency.

An Afghan man walks through a poppy field in the Surkhroad district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo / Rahmat Gul)

Hanif Sufizada of The Conversation studied Taliban finances as an economic policy analyst at the Center for Afghanistan Studies. This is where your money comes from.

1. Drugs: $ 560 million

Afghanistan accounted for about 84% of global opium production in the past five years, according to the United Nations World Drug Report 2020.

Much of these profits from illicit drugs go to the Taliban, who manage opium in areas under their control. The group imposes a 10 percent tax on each link in the drug production chain, according to a 2008 report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent research organization in Kabul.

That includes Afghan farmers who grow poppies, the main ingredient in opium, laboratories that turn it into drugs, and traders who move the end product out of the country.

2. Mining – $ 537 million to $ 623 million

Mining iron ore, marble, copper, gold, zinc and other rare earth metals and minerals in the mountains of Afghanistan is an increasingly lucrative business for the Taliban.

Both small-scale mineral extraction operations and large Afghan mining companies pay Taliban militants to allow them to keep their businesses running. Those who do not pay have faced death threats.

According to the Taliban’s Stone and Mines Commission, or Da Dabaro Comisyoon, the group earns A $ 537 million a year from mining. NATO estimates that figure to be higher, at AU $ 623 million, up from just AU $ 47 million in 2016.

Afghan special forces stand guard at the site of a suicide bomb attack on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. (File photo) (AP Photo / Rahmat Gul)

3. Extortion and taxes: $ 215 million

As a government, the Taliban tax people and industries in the growing swath of Afghanistan under their control. They even issue official tax payment receipts.

Industries “taxed” include mining operations, media, telecommunications, and development projects financed with international aid.

Drivers are also charged for using the roads in Taliban-controlled regions, and merchants pay the Taliban for the right to do business.

The group also imposes a traditional Islamic form of tax called “ushr,” which is a 10 percent tax on a farmer’s harvest, and “zakat,” a 2.5 percent wealth tax.

According to Mullah Yaqoob, the tax revenue, which can also be considered extortion, generates around AU $ 215 million a year.

Since some of the taxpayers are poppy growers, there could be some financial overlap between tax revenue and drug revenue.

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4. Charitable donations: $ 322 million

The Taliban receive covert financial contributions from private donors and international institutions around the world.

Many donations from the Taliban come from charities and private trusts located in countries of the Persian Gulf, a region historically sympathetic to the group’s religious insurgency.

Those donations amount to about A $ 200 million to A $ 268 million each year, according to the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies.

These charities are on the United States Department of the Treasury’s list of groups that finance terrorism.

Private citizens of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and some Persian Gulf nations also help fund the Taliban, contributing another AU $ 80 million annually to the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, according to US counterterrorism agencies.

5. Exports: $ 322 million

Partly to launder illicit money, the Taliban import and export a variety of everyday consumer goods, according to the United Nations Security Council.

Known affiliates include the multinational Noorzai Brothers Limited, which imports auto parts and sells re-assembled vehicles and auto parts.

The Taliban’s net export earnings are believed to be around AU $ 322 million a year. This figure includes the export of poppy and looted minerals, so there may be a financial overlap with income from drugs and mining.

The delegation of the Taliban from Afghanistan arrives to sign the agreement. (AP)

6. Real estate: $ 107 million

The Taliban own real estate in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and potentially other countries, according to Mullah Yaqoob and the Pakistani television channel SAMAA. Yaqoob said that NATO’s annual real estate revenue is around $ 107 million.

According to a BBC report, a classified CIA report in 2008 estimated that the Taliban had received A $ 142 million from foreign sources, particularly from the Gulf states.

Today, the governments of Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia are believed to fund the Taliban, according to numerous US and international sources.

Experts say that these funds could amount to A $ 671 million a year, but it is difficult to give an exact figure for this income stream.

In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement on the release of prisoners.  The agreement calls for the release of 5,000 Taliban held by the Afghan government and 1,000 military and government held by the insurgent group as a gesture of goodwill before intra-Afghan negotiations.
In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement on the release of prisoners. The agreement calls for the release of 5,000 Taliban held by the Afghan government and 1,000 military and government held by the insurgent group as a gesture of goodwill before intra-Afghan negotiations. (AP / Afghanistan National Security Council)

Developing a Peacetime Budget

For nearly 20 years, the great wealth of the Taliban has financed chaos, destruction and death in Afghanistan. To combat its insurgency, the Afghan government also spends heavily on the war, often at the expense of basic public services and economic development.

A peace agreement in Afghanistan would allow the government to redirect its scarce resources. The government could also see a substantial flow of new revenue from legal sectors now dominated by the Taliban, such as mining.

Additionally, stability is expected to attract foreign investment into the country, helping the government end its dependence on donors such as the United States and the European Union.

There are many reasons to support peace in a war-torn Afghanistan. Your financial health is one of them.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation and has been republished with permission.


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