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Funding the Pakistani Taliban

Poppies, tobacco and the "timber mafia." But that's not all.

But to Abbas and many others in Pakistan, stopping the drug trade in Afghanistan is still the key to controlling the militancy in Pakistan. “I don’t agree with (Holbrooke’s) assessment,” he said. “The opium trade is still the backbone of the funding” for militants in Pakistan.

Former minister Sherpao said that since the pay-offs in the drug trade in Afghanistan go up to the “highest levels,” “it’s not easy to control it from this side.”

Sherpao's suggestion is echoed frequently by Pakistani officials who say that Afghan officials, including the Afghan president, are involved in the drug trade and thereby complicit in financing the Taliban militancy inside Pakistan.

It's a not a purely academic debate. By hitting such a disparaging note in the funding debate, Pakistan is then able to build political pressure on Afghanistan and the United States to do more on the other side of the border.

The Pakistan government now also routinely points the finger at India for backing the Pashtun and Balochi insurgents in Pakistan through consulates in Afghanistan.

This month, basking in the glory of a fairly successful anti-Taliban offensive in the Swat Valley region, the Pakistani government used U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit as an opportunity to announce that it had presented the Indian Prime Minister with evidence
of his country's involvement in financing and aiding terrorism in Pakistan.

Looking in another direction, Holbrooke has said that the U.S. would look closely at wealthy individuals on the Arabian peninsula who might be funding the Taliban in Pakistan. That might be difficult, however. A 2003 study by the World Bank suggests that drug money transacted between the Middle East and Afghanistan goes through the opaque hawala system.

Before this, for a few years the U.S. had maintained that the Pakistan army and intelligence outfits were themselves funding the insurgency they were fighting. And now the debate has come full circle — a common refrain in Pakistan echoed by many from retired diplomats to retired militants is that the “Taliban are agents of America."

How is the Pakistani Taliban financing its war? There is no easy or singular answer. And in the ensuing confusion everyone is blamed while no one admits to anything. In the end, it might be this blame game that the Taliban profits from most.

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