Afghanistan raises terrorism finance threat

Terrorist financing in Afghanistan must now be key Western focus

Western intelligence services will need to start to wake up to the numerous threats posed by Afghanistan’s Taliban, with an alacrity that they seemed woefully lacking while NATO was [reputedly] trying to build a democratic system in Kabul.

Their immediate priority is the heightened terrorism risk, in particular as a result of the access to finance provided by Afghanistan’s substantial opium crop. Terror groups may well also benefit from the hundreds of millions of dollars of Western aid and support that I understand were siphoned out of Afghanistan by the former Afghan governments, most likely to Middle Eastern allies, notably Qatar.

“The Taliban have counted on the Afghan opium trade as one of their main sources of income,” Cesar Gudes, the head of the Kabul office of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told Reuters. “More production brings drugs with a cheaper and more attractive price, and therefore a wider accessibility.”

With the insurgents entering Kabul on Sunday, “these are the best moments in which these illicit groups tend to position themselves” to expand their business, Gudes said. The Taliban has of course sought to repel these dire warnings.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was quoted in France 24, as promising that the new government would not turn the world’s leading producer of opium into a fully-fledged narco-state.

“We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community, we will not have any narcotics produced,” he said in Kabul.

“From now on, nobody’s going to get involved (in the heroin trade), nobody can be involved in drug smuggling.” The international community has regarded such protestations with the same cynicism as it regards their claim to bring human rights to their treatment of the country.

Western countries who are smarting from the intelligence and security disaster of the last week will seek to manage the new Islamicist government from afar, with sanctions and trade controls.

The effectiveness of these measures will be blunted by the likely lack of co-operation that can be expected from China and Russia who see the Taliban as a welcome thorn in the side to the United States, and its (so-called) Western allies.

If Biden thought that the withdrawal of a few thousand US and NATO troops would remove the Afghanistan menace, he will soon discover the opposite: it has increased it. The long-term costs of this move will quickly overcome whatever shorter gains in domestic popularity Biden could have expected to enjoy.

The NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan has raised this in a number of ways. The first is to put into power a regime ideologically sympathetic to al-Qaeda and other Islamic groups. Their hope of building an Islamic Caliphate will have been strengthened by recent developments.

Terrorrism is already on the rise in the north eastern part of Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, where Boko Haram are on the march; in Somalia where al-Shabaab is flexing its strength, in Philippines where Ayu Sayaaf is active and In Gaza where Hamas (through its Iranian backers) recently waged all out war with Israel. The common factor across each of these groups is their conviction (to lesser or greater extent) in Sharia law.

Territory close to Pakistan will be available as a base to foment covert operations against its enemy India. Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed relief at the removal of the threat of a US-led control on his border.

Biden appears to have acted with blithe indifference to the lessons of history. British troops gave their lives to the democratic project but Johnson was not at the table when momentous decisions of this kind were taken in Washington; Britain’s loss of power and word influence has been amply demonstrated by the way he was left to pick up the pieces of America’s hapless policy change.

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