The Taliban: Following the Funding
Monday, September 28, 2009; 2:00 PM
Post staff writer Craig Whitlock takes your questions on his story about the flow of money that funds the Taliban.
Craig Whitlock: Hello everyone. Thanks for your interest in the subject of the Taliban. I'm happy to take your questions.
Birmingham, Alabama: I note the wide range of guesses about drugs as a source of Taliban strength. Is it not the case, that drugs in all events are the source of much of the instability in Afghanistan: the corruption; the absence of Karzai's govt. legitimacy; and a symptom of the paucity of employment? No counter drug program can involve the corrupt regime which spawned the trade in the first place. No counter drug program can "work" if there is no alternartive work and security. Meanwhile, why not have ISAF purchase the poppy crop for a season or two and purchase wheat, or grapes, or whatever, at a better price? It is not a free market; but no country's agriculture anywhere is market driven. If they US and the allies took the narcotics trade from the traffikers, would not some stability ensue?
Craig Whitlock: excellent questions and points. I'm not sure that drugs are the source of instability in all the examples you cite, though. I don't think you can blame government corruption on drugs; the drugs are a means to an end.
I believe there was an attempt by a European government to buy poppy crops from Afghan farmers a while back. I don't think they had enough money, and some farmers lined up outside the embassy to demand payment.
An imortant anniversary passed largely unnoticed: 13 years ago Sunday, the Taliban took Kabul. I can remember when it was our money flowing to all of the so-called "freedom fighters" of Afghanistan, as though anyone against the Soviets and their puppet government was in favor of freedom. The Soviets leave, our guns stay there, civil war breaks out, the Taliban win. We took our eyes off the country too soon. And, of course, even after the Taliban won we turned our eyes to Iraq. Maybe we should plan a little better this time?
Craig Whitlock: thanks for the comment. I think most US officials would agree that we took our eyes off Afghanistan too soon -- both after the Soviet withdrawal, and during the time of the Iraq invasion. But your last question -- can we plan better next time -- is a tough one that President Obama is wrestling with now.
Los Angeles: Are the Taliban the leaders of the indigenous peoples of Afghanistan? Are they struggling to end the foreign occupation?
Craig Whitlock: thanks for the question. The answer is not simple. Some Taliban leaders are Afghan. But by no means all Afghans consider them their leaders. Also, there are several Pakistani Taliban commanders, as well as Uzbeks, Chechens and other foreigners, who play key roles in the insurgency.
Boston: I saw this from a Newsweek article on the oral history of the Afghan war from the Taliban side and am curious what you know about the Haqqani fighters. The quote also underscores the importance of having a legitimate Afghan government partner (or not) as we try to "protect" local villages:
"YOUNAS: After these first few attacks, God seems to have opened channels of money for us. I was told money was flowing from the Gulf to the Arabs.
Our real jihad was beginning by the start of 2005. Jalaluddin Haqqani's tribal fighters came actively back to our side because the Americans and the Pakistanis had arrested his brother and other relatives. He appointed his son Sirajuddin to lead the resistance. That was a real turning point. Until then villagers in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost thought the Taliban was defeated and finished. They had started joining the militias formed by the Americans and local warlords, and were informing on us and working against us. But with the support of Haqqani's men we began capturing, judging, and beheading some of those Afghans who worked with the Americans and Karzai. Terrorized, their families and relatives left the villages and moved to the towns, even to Kabul. Our control was slowly being restored."
washingtonpost.com: The Taliban in Their Own Words
Craig Whitlock: Thanks for the citation. The Haqqani network is a major part of the insurgency. Many U.S. military officials think the Haqqanis work closely with the Taliban, nominally headed by Mullah Omar, but are a distinct network. Both are seeking to expel the U.S. and other foreign troops. The Haqqanis have longstanding ties with al-Qaeda. The elder Haqqani was a renowned mujahedin commander during the 1980s and received aid from the CIA.
What is the U.S. doing about the centuries-old practice known as "Hawala?"
Craig Whitlock: As we reported in the article on Sunday, the U.S. government is helping Afghan officials to register and license all hawala dealers in the country. The hawala brokers are required to report all transactions to the Afghan Central Bank, and are subject to audits. This is unusual in the Islamic world, where most hawalas are not subject to that degree of regulation.
Introduce natural parasites/predators to opium poppies: Mr. Whitlock, Has there been an attempt to introduce natural parasites/predators to opium poppies?
Craig Whitlock: Good question, I don't know. But I'm skeptical that it would work.
Anonymous: How can we be certaiin that other sources of money, from sympathetic countries/goverments/businesses are not donating funds similarly to past levels?
Craig Whitlock: Good question. I don't think we can be certain. It's unclear whether the flow of foreign donations to the Taliban has increased, decreased, or remained stable. I don't think the US government was monitoring it that closely until recently. The US officials I interviewed said there was no evidence that governments in the Persian Gulf region were donating money, as they did in the 1980s and 1990s to Afghan fighters.
Okinawa, JPN: I know that many military wives have recieved precious stones from their husbands who were deployed to Afghanistan. These were bought on the US military bases there from vendors. Are funds from this likely being funneled to the Taliban? Could the military be funding it's enemy?
Craig Whitlock: I think it is highly unlikely that this would represent a major, or even minor, source of funding to the Taliban. Gemstone smuggling is a major racket in Afghanistan, but that involves the illegal transfer of gems out of the country without paying taxes or duties to the government. There's nothing illegal about Afghans selling gemstones to foreign troops, any more than selling food or other supplies would be.
Boston: To combat the increase in operations and presence that the funding has afforded the Taliban, will the increase of 40,000 US troops mean that we can deny the Taliban and Al Qaeda (if they decide to come back to Afghanistan) any sanctuary in all of Afghanistan? If not, aren't we just choosing how big a part of Afghanistan we are deciding to win or lose?
Craig Whitlock: that's a question that the Obama administration is wrestling with right now. i doubt that the deployment of 40,000 extra troops will mean that all of Afghanistan could be instantly secured; I don't think Gen. McChrystal has argued that either. But his advisers say it is necessary to conduct a proper counterinsurgency campaign and to train large numbers of new Afghan police and soldiers.
W. Orange, NJ: Do the Saudis and Gulf Emirates continue to fund madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Are the instructors more or less the same people, delivering the same message, that help recruit jihadists for the Taliban?
Craig Whitlock: There's an awful lot of madrassas in Pakistan, in particular. It's often hard to pinpoint where they are getting money from, but certainly there have been donors in the Gulf in the past that have supported these type of programs.
Craig Whitlock: Thanks everyone for the insightful comments and questions. I really enjoyed the chat.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.