The Taliban which we used to see on television in the ’90s is vastly different from today's Taliban. Though their agenda is the same how they operate has changed drastically. From clothes that they wear to vehicles they drive, from weapons they use to diplomacy and principles they follow, everything has changed. A very big reason for this cause is that they now have money, plenty of illegal money.
If capturing Kabul by a militant group was frightening for you, then how would you react if you learn that the Taliban was self-funded. Most chunks of money spent by the Taliban were earned by themselves. So how did the Taliban fund itself? How much money does the Taliban have? This question is important because it can answer the quick capturing of Afghanistan by the Taliban.
Also, this question can give us an overview of how long it will take Afghanistan to stand again on its feet under the Taliban rule because the world will not help this Taliban government financially at least for now. The United States has already seized $9 billion of Afghanistan's central bank. World Bank has halted all its financial aid to the nation.
According to Forbes data in 2016, the Taliban was the 5th richest terrorist organization in the world. ISIS topped the list with over $2 billion turnovers annually. Taliban managed to earn over $400 million annually. It revealed that the Taliban's primary source of earnings was drug trafficking, protection money, and donations. These data are from 2016 when the Taliban wasn't even a dominant force.
Let's talk about their recent earning. According to a confidential report of NATO accessed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Taliban's annual budget for the financial year 2019-2020 had been $1.6 billion. This is an increase of 400% in 4 years when compared to the Forbes figure of 2016. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broke down earning of the Taliban. Here are the total earnings from different sources of income by the Taliban in the same financial year.
1. Mining | $464 Million
Afghanistan is filled with precious stones and minerals. Most of the mining sites in Afghanistan are small and illegal. Taliban imposes a tax on legal mining sites in Taliban-controlled regions and takes control over illegal mining sites. Other countries also prefer to buy minerals and stones from the Taliban as they provide the same material at a low cost. The mining industry of Afghanistan is estimated to be worth $1 billion.
2. Drugs | $416 Million
Let's now look at the second-biggest source of income for the Taliban, the drug industry. Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium exporting roughly between $1.5 to $3 bn. To give you a perspective, the total budget of the Afghanistan government was $5.5 billion in the same year. Out of this amount, only 2% was spent on the defense.
According to the United Nation’s report, more than 85% of the opium is produced alone in Afghanistan. Taliban earns a lot of money from them by either directly controlling them or by imposing a 10% tax on every step of the production. Farmers first grow opium poppy in the field, then it goes to the lab where it is converted into heroin. Finally, a trader exports it outside of the country. Taliban earns money on every step.
3. Foreign donation | $240 Million
Interestingly, the Taliban enjoys vast popularity in many Muslim nations. Reports have shown that lakhs of people from countries like Pakistan and the Gulf nation support the Taliban. They believe harsh Sharia law should be the fate of Afghanistan even though they do not want to live under the same. This popularity brings a massive donation to the Taliban. There are reports of even the Pakistani and Russian governments funding the militant group. This used to be the main source of income for the group in the last decade. But understanding the volatility of this source of this income, the Taliban has reduced its dependency on foreign funding to just 15-20 percent.
4. Export | $240 Million
Dry fruits, nuts, wool, etc. are some of Afghanistan's main export. Taliban imposes 10% cultivation Islamic form of tax called "Ushr" and 2.5% tax on wealth called "Zakat".
5. Protection/ Extortion money | $160 Million
Like a full-fledged government, the Taliban imposed a tax on drivers for using Highways, tax on all businesses like telecommunication, auto, etc., for their operation in the Taliban's area.
6. Real estate | $80 Million
According to media reports, the Taliban also owns many real estates in countries like Pakistan and Qatar.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations report, the Taliban have 55000 to 85000 full-time fighters. Even after years of fight and casualty, the total manpower of the Taliban exceeds 200,000. If comparing to Afghan forces, it comprised of 185,000 personnel in Airforce, Army, and other branches.
Fighting with the superpower for 20 years is no joke. There is no doubt that the Taliban had huge budgets for their operation and that's how they survived this two-decade-long war. Now that the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan, it would be interesting to see how this government turned militant group runs the country.