—Musa Khan Jalalzai
Some Afghan experts are of the opinion that several ethnic and sectarian groups of the country distribute sophisticated weapons among their members for the future civil war after the NATO and US withdrawal in 2014. Local militias and political groups have started arming young unemployed men in Badakhshan, Wakhan and among groups settled near China’s border
“Don’t go to Afghanistan if you want to save the money.” These are the words quoted from a recently filed news story of my journalist friend returned from Afghanistan. Over the last three decades of civil war, Afghanistan largely depended on the black market economy, criminal trade, and smuggling of opium, heroin and arms. Drug and arms trafficking business and jihadism left devastating effects on the lives of common Afghans. The recent large-scale transfer of arms to Afghanistan from Central Asia and its distribution across the country is a bigger threat to the stability of the country as these arms may be used in a future civil war against ethnic rivals. From northern Afghanistan, these weapons are further transferred to Pakistan via the Hindu Kush mountainous regions.
In fact, kidnapping for ransom and smuggling of weapons from Central Asia has been a profitable business in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Some underground groups who enjoy the protection of the Afghan police, intelligence officials and private militias across the country, pick up men, women, children, journalists and businessmen one by one either for the purposes of human trafficking, the organs business or for ransom. Everybody knows who they are and which political or religious group they represent.
Last year, a US embassy report in Kabul revealed that Afghan boys, girls, men and women are trafficked within the country for forced prostitution and forced labour in brick kilns, carpet-making factories and domestic service. In 2010, over 200 men and women were kidnapped by unknown criminals with the help of corrupt Afghan police who have already been involved in the illegal businesses of weapons and ‘China white’ heroin.
Kidnapping and the illegal drug business are the most powerful industries in today’s Afghanistan. Kidnappings are common in many parts of Afghanistan. When the US invaded the country, kidnappings were rare and mostly politically motivated. The average ransom amount was a hefty sum for many Afghans, $ 10,000. In 2011, the rate reached up to $ 200,000. Consequently, these criminals became an influential land mafia, promoted the kidnapping business, and used their purchased empty houses and plazas as temporary prisons for their victims. Hardcore criminal elements from different political and sectarian groups, hired by the land mafia to protect their embezzled estates, have started settling down in urban areas and polluted the local scenario with their criminal activities. They enjoy readymade facilities to carry out their illegal business. These religious and political mafia groups are making millions of dollars from the illicit drug trade, security charges on convoys, extortion and financial contributions from charities and wealthy individuals from various Arab states. The international aspect of this business is that some states do not want the involvement of their political and geographical rival states in the reconstruction of Afghanistan; they are supporting the kidnapping and killing of workers of some reconstruction companies.
The business of kidnapping for ransom supports terrorist Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghan and Pakistani criminal groups involved in kidnapping for ransom in Afghanistan, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are financially aiding the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban networks. In Punjab, one of my police officer friends told me in a telephonic conversation that some 100 to 150 people are being kidnapped in the province every month. “We have reports that groups involved in the ransom business have links with the Taliban of Waziristan and Afghanistan-based militants,” he told me. These underground and open groups have spawned an epidemic of ransom kidnappings.
In the Afghan capital, hundreds of people are being kidnapped every year. These criminals who enjoy the support of the Taliban, killed many captives when demands for ransom went unmet. We still remember the brutal killing of a British woman kidnapped for ransom in 2011, because most criminal groups’ kidnappings end either in the payment of a ransom or the death of the hostage. The money these groups retrieve from this business goes into the pockets of four categories of people. The first group is the Taliban who help them in kidnapping locals and foreigners, the second is the corrupt officials of the Afghan police, the third is elements in the Afghan intelligence and the fourth group that receive its share is the private warlords’ militias.
Another formidable aspect of the business is that as these groups belong to sectarian and political parties of Afghanistan, they spend a lot of money on the purchase of weapons from across Central Asia and Iran. Some Afghan experts are of the opinion that several ethnic and sectarian groups of the country distribute sophisticated weapons among their members for the future civil war after the NATO and US withdrawal in 2014. Local militias and political groups have started arming young unemployed men in Badakhshan, Wakhan and among groups settled near China’s border. Ethnic thugs in northern provinces have been terrorising opponents, extorting money, demanding sanctuary, and kidnapping for ransom. Some military experts understand that the weapons they purchase go into the hands of Pakistani Taliban groups in Waziristan and the FATA regions. Improvised explosive devices smuggled into Pakistan have become an effective weapon against civilians in the country.
Heartbreaking reports recently revealed the illegal weapons business in northern Afghanistan. Local criminals, police and intelligence officials are jointly running the profitable business of sophisticated weapons in Kunduz, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Takhar, Balkh, Samangan, Parwan and Baghlan provinces. A police commander from Afghanistan told me that smugglers use the Darqad Pass between Tajikistan and the northern Afghan province of Takhar for weapons smuggling. Military experts understand that this is a crucial stage for preparation of forces for a future civil war in the country.
A source in the Afghan interior ministry told me that police vehicles are being used in narcotics and weapons smuggling across the country. Military relations among Afghan and Tajik and Uzbek Islamist insurgents from Central Asia are friendly. Afghanistan shares porous borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which are used by some subversive elements to smuggle weapons into the country. These elements will be helpful in igniting the fire of civil war in Afghanistan.
The writer is the author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and Punjabi Taliban. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org