The subject of donations that fund the Taliban and possibly al-Qaeda, particularly from individuals in the Gulf region, is becoming a nightmare for the security agencies responsible for choking off the funding sources of both these groups.
An Arab diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that security agencies in the Gulf have been able to track money transfers whose ultimate destination is believed to be the Taliban Movement. These transfers are estimated at $100 million annually by the US media. The agencies that are tracking the money flow also noted a change in the way these donations are transferred in order to hide the real identity of the donors.
Security agencies leading the fight against Taliban funding are concerned that some donors, whether they are from the Gulf or other countries around the world, might not be aware that the money they give to the Taliban ends up funding bombing operations whose victims are innocent people, even though the Taliban claims to target western forces or soldiers of the Afghan government.
On February 3rd, the Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for an attack near a girls' school that led to the killing of eight people, including four school girls and three American soldiers who were attending the opening of the school (built with American money). The movement has frequently targeted girls' schools in the country, burning many of them to ground, and it is even suspected of being behind many attacks that took place in public places in Pakistan last year.
Pakistan's Taliban also claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 43 people in the commercial capital Karachi on December 30th, 2009. These attacks, which resulted in hundreds of civilian victims, especially one in Peshawar on October 28th, 2009, even led al-Qaeda to condemn it as being un-Islamic.
In the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, the United States and other Western and Arab countries led a massive campaign to shut off the funding sources of al-Qaeda.
These efforts led most world countries to tighten their monitoring procedures on bank transfers - including money transfer operations – in order to close the loopholes that allow money to be transferred to "terrorist organisations", whether it is al-Qaeda or other groups that have ideological ties to it (such as Algeria's "Salafist Group for Call and Combat", before it turned into a branch of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb in 2007).
These steps, taken under the supervision of the UN, included freezing the assets of suspected terrorists and barring them from bank transactions. These actions, accompanied by vast security campaigns in the context of the "War on Terror", dealt serious blows to the financing mechanism of al-Qaeda, particularly out of the Gulf countries.
Although the sanctions were sometimes directed at Gulf donors who filed lawsuits due to their names being included in the list of supporters of terrorism, and who affirmed their opposition to the actions of al-Qaeda, it is nevertheless certain that the sources that fund Osama bin Laden's organisation were severely affected as a result of the measures.
This has been confirmed by prominent leaders of al-Qaeda such as Dr. Ayman Al Zawahiri who in his famous letter of 2005 called upon the Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, to send financial support to al-Qaeda in the tribal areas in Pakistan. Al Zawahiri admitted in the letter that many funding sources had been cut off.
Last year, al-Qaeda made several appeals seeking support, which is another indication that it was suffering from a lack of funding. It was also reported that those who wished to receive military training in camps linked with the Taliban in Pakistan were asked to bring money whereas in the past the training was free.
But after years of this partial success of the campaign to dry up al-Qaeda's funding sources, it appears that those willing to send donations to that organisation or to the Taliban in Afghanistan have been able to devise new ways of sending money without having to use financial institutions which might be under security monitoring, or which might reveal the sources of these donations.
A diplomat from one of the Gulf states, who spoke to this writer under condition of anonymity, said that Gulf security agencies have in recent years tracked an increasing amount of donations that were funnelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He indicated that a high percentage of transfers are carried out by foreigners working in the Gulf and not directly through Gulf nationals. By not getting directly involved in the transfer of funds, the Gulf national is able to avoid being accused of "supporting terrorism." The Gulf diplomat said that the high number of Afghan and Pakistani workers in the Gulf allows for the transfer of large amounts of money from the Gulf countries without any trace of its real origin.
Some of those who make the transfer – when asked about the origin of what they were transferring – say that the money belonged to them and their fellow compatriots, which they earned from work. They claim they would deliver the money to the families of these workers when they get back to their remote villages in their home country, whether it is in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
After the funds leave the Gulf, it is hard to track their final destination, but officials believe part of the money undoubtedly goes to fund the Taliban, the diplomat said.
Although there are no exact statistics on the amount of money that is transferred to this organisation, estimates published last year indicate that the amount of donations received by the rebel movement exceed the amount it receives from taxes levied on drug traffickers in Afghanistan.
In the past, it was believed that most of the Taliban funding came from duties levied on drug trafficking. Some leaders in the movement obtained a specified percentage (sometimes reaching 10%) from the poppy (from which opium is extracted) growers in the regions under Taliban control in the south of Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand Province.
However, a report published in the Washington Post last year, said that Taliban leaders and their associates received $106 million in 2008 in foreign donations from the Middle East and the Gulf. Foreign donations surpassed the amount of money gained by the movement from taxes on drug trafficking, estimated at $70 million.
A conference held this month in London to support Afghanistan pledged to offer $150 million in international funding to the Afghan government in order to carry on with its programme to assimilate Taliban fighters who abandon their violent activities and abide by the Afghan constitution. The Afghan government project seeks to provide financial support to fighters who agree to stop fighting, in consideration of the fact that a large number of the movement's fighters join the rebellion not because of ideological convictions, but because of personal circumstances, notably the lack of employment opportunities in their local areas.
If it turns out that the Afghan government is able to "neutralise" a particular group of rebels and help them assimilate into society, it would constitute a winning point against its enemies such as Taliban leaders under Mulla Mohammad Omar, who vowed to overthrow the government of Hamid Karzai and expel foreign forces.