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Taliban financing stronger than ever

October 12, 2009

Oh for the days when all of the Taliban’s money fit in a treasure chest in Mullah Omar’s office!

U.S. Treasury Department official David S. Cohen, Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing, revealed at a conference today that although Al Qaeda is cash-strapped, the Taliban is flush with money.  American newspapers focused on the good news about Al Qaeda’s hardships, but the Canadian Press offered a few more details on the new, wealthy Taliban:

“David Cohen, the department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, said the extremist group [The Taliban] extorts money from poppy farmers and heroin traffickers involved in Afghanistan’s booming drug trade. The Taliban also demand protection payments from legitimate Afghan businesses, he said during a speech at a conference on money laundering enforcement…

“Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the Taliban get most of their cash from private benefactors in the Persian Gulf.

“Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in his 66-page assessment of the war that the diversity of the Taliban’s streams of cash makes it difficult to blunt their ability to operate.”

Three points:  first, I’m not sure I would be crowing about the weak financial condition of Al Qaeda when Taliban riches are frustrating our efforts to secure Afghanistan.

Second, it sounds like Treasury and State have different views on how the Taliban is getting its money–Cohen says its from local drug trafficking & “protection payments” and Holbrook says its from the Persian Gulf.  Perhaps Treasury officials should be included in National Security Council meetings if these guys can’t get on the same page.

Third, and most importantly, Cohen and the media have glossed over one of the central issues.  The “protection payments” referred to in passing are actually zakat in the eyes of the Taliban.  Zakat is generally considered to be almsgiving, but more precisely it is giving that supports Muslims or supports Islam itself. 

In June, the Associated Press reported the story of an Afghani trucker who was abducted and forced to pay off the Taliban.  “When his Taliban captors freed him, he said, they told him, ‘Think of this as your zakat.  Now your place in heaven is guaranteed’.”

The Taliban’s tax collectors have justified their revenues, at least in part, from the pages of the Koran.  Islamic scholars should denounce the zakat for purposes such as these, and our government officials need to recognize that we are not up against a secular fundraising effort or a white-collar criminal enterprise the way Mr. Cohen seems to imply.

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