Thursday, July 02, 2009




    It is still not clear whether Pakistani analysts, politicians, 'embedded' journalists, officials and even ordinary people are trying to fool themselves or rest of the world when they first wonder from where the Taliban are getting the funds and weaponry to fight the war and then in the same breath, and without a shred of evidence, level wild allegations against India, Israel, America, and every other imagined 'enemy' of Islam and of Muslims for pumping money and munitions to prop up the war effort of the Taliban. Perhaps, if opinion and policy makers in Pakistan did a little self-introspection, displayed some intellectual honesty, jogged their memory just a little bit (especially on the jihadi infrastructure that has been set up in their country) and, most of all, perused reports in their own media, they would be in a better position to inform the Pakistani public about the source of funds and weapons for the Taliban.

An even easier way out is for the people of Pakistan to ask from where organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaatud Dawa, Jaish-i-Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen etc. get their funding and weapons. Chances are that the Pakistanis will discover the inconvenient truth that the source of funds and weapons for their 'strategic assets' (LeT, JeM, HuM, and of course the 'good' Taliban) and their 'toxic assets' ('bad' Taliban and al Qaeda) is more or less the same. What is more, answers to such searching questions will save Pakistani officials, ministers and parliamentarians from getting into a ridiculous situation in which they first insinuate a 'foreign hand' (a euphemism for India) behind the Taliban insurgency, and when pressed to drag India before the court of international public opinion, these same people say that they still don't have any evidence to substantiate the charges they are levelling against India. In other words, they are blaming India not because they have any proof but only because they have convinced themselves that India would almost certainly exploit every opportunity to give Pakistan a taste of its own (jihadi) medicine. That India has nothing to gain and much to lose with the ascendancy of the Taliban inside Pakistan is something that is not even taken into consideration.

Blaming India for propping up the Islamist insurgency probably helps the Pakistani state rally its people against the Taliban. But, at the same time it also distracts and deflects attention from the very real and serious nature of the internal problems and challenges that Pakistan confronts in combating the Islamist insurgency. The facts on the ground suggest that the insurgents neither need too much money nor ultra hi-tech weapons to fight against the combined might of the Pakistan army and the NATO military machine. Compared to the Pakistan army, the insurgents are essentially a highly mobile light infantry, armed with mostly assault rifles, rocket launchers, some light machine guns, mortars, grenades, and a handful of sniper rifles. The Pakistan army however claims that the Taliban possess 'modern' weapons which even the army doesn't have, though what these weapons are remains a secret.

The sorts of weapons that the insurgents are using are more easily available than wheat flour is in many areas of Pakistan. Indeed, the entire Af-Pak region is awash with such weapons, so much so that Pakistanis often used to boast that practically every Pashtun is armed with such weapons. There are also innumerable reports of tribes using heavy weapons – anti-aircraft guns in ground position, light artillery, heavy machine guns etc. – against each other during clashes, and this was happening even when there was no insurgency in these areas.

A flourishing cottage industry was manufacturing many of these arms in precisely the areas experiencing the insurgency today. What is more, sophisticated smuggling networks with links with arms dealers and other merchants of death around the world were either set up, or patronised by the Pakistani intelligence agencies in pursuit of strategic objectives in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Many of these networks are still in business, reaping the rewards of a surge in demand for their merchandise; only, they are now probably operating below the radar screen of the Pakistani spooks.

No doubt, you still need money to buy the weapons and equipment. But two important points need to be made here: one, the money required for funding an insurgency is a fraction of what is needed by the state to combat an insurgency (no one knows this better than the Pakistani intelligence agencies!); two, the utilisation of money by the insurgents is far more efficient and effective than by the state (of course this presumes that the insurgents are not spending it on the good life).

To take the second point first, there is nothing so far to suggest that the Islamists are blowing up money on anything other than what they are collecting it for. By all accounts, the utilisation of resources by insurgents is extremely efficient, as compared to a conventional army that despite wasting time and money by following lengthy procedures of procurement are almost never able to prevent money from being siphoned off through commissions and kick-backs. Apart from efficiency, the insurgents use the money very effectively, producing maximum bang for the buck.

For instance, if manufacturing a suicide bomber costs a few thousand dollars, the impact – psychological and financial – that every such blast has on the adversary runs into several multiples of what was spent. Equally important, a suicide bomber is a very inexpensive 'smart bomb', especially when compared to the cost of munitions, fuel and maintenance of jet fighters and gunships of a conventional army. Moreover, unlike a conventional army that spends enormous amounts to maintain its lines of communications, its logistics, its colonial style administrative and training facilities, and the systems needed to protect not only the battlements but also the hinterland, the insurgents incur no such costs.

Allegations made by the Pakistani authorities that the insurgents are paying their foot-soldiers double of what security force personnel earn from the government, are only that because many of the Taliban cadre actually work for free, for the glory of God and their religion and for rewards in the afterlife. Add to all this the cost of collateral damage caused by the conventional army, that too in a country on the brink of bankruptcy and fighting the war by borrowing money which it has no hope of ever repaying, and the sums work entirely in favour of the insurgents.

    As for the source of funds, this too is not a secret. A network of charities and wealthy individuals (local and foreign) is an obvious source of funds. There are also the collections made in mosques and madrassas and in the form of animal hides collected after Eid. Narcotics are another lucrative source of funds, one which the ISI too has used in the past to fund its operations. Then there are the contributions made by the various mafias – timber, transport, smugglers etc. – who pay protection money to the insurgents to carry out their business with impunity. In addition to contract killing (for instance through use of suicide bombing), there is also a huge extortion and kidnapping business that is being run by the insurgents to collect funds. In the areas where they dominate, the Islamists were levying taxes on the people. They also receive funds from hawala operators and recently there are reports that the company of a serving minister in the federal government was involved in organising funds for the insurgents. The combined earning from all these sources runs into billions of rupees, enough money to fund the war effort of the Islamists.

Both the source of funds as well as their utilisation is an open secret, one on which the Pakistani press itself has been reporting from time to time. And yet, instead of cracking down on these sources, the Pakistani authorities are busy constructing conspiracy theories to pin the blame on their pet objects of hate – India, Israel, USA. Perhaps the authorities don't crack down on these sources of terror finance partly because they are unable to, partly because they want to use these funding channels for future dirty wars, and partly because some of the officials might actually be taking a cut from those who run these rackets. Whatever the case, if the state of Pakistan is serious about combating the Islamist insurgents, it must stop pointing fingers and start to act against financial underground that is sustaining the Taliban.


    <1410 Words>                    2nd July, 2009




Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home