Afghanistan’s Business is Extortion, But Under New Management

How does one make a living in a village that sits between mountains which are difficult to pass in winter?

In Aspen, Colorado, U.S.A. you make money off people looking to ski from the rest of the country. People who run factories, farms, tech innovation, finance, etc.

There are none of those people in Afghanistan. There are no Afghan city-slickers who pay to visit quaint Afghan villages. Only 7% of Afghanistan is over the age of 55.

Without a national legal system, there’s no big money from natural resources in Afghanistan. And it’s economically pointless to build an infrastructure to support a service economy.

Will the Taliban be content to live a subsistence lifestyle? Because that’s what they’ll have to do for us to stay out.

When China tries to mine at Mes Aynak who gets paid? The village next to the mine? The militia who comes from miles away to protect the mine? Some central government in Kabul that no Afghani outside Kabul receives services from?

Unlike the West, there is no legal system to negotiate each cut of the pie. Each must try to extort China for as much money as it can and broker independent deals with the others. If one feels cheated there are no courts to adjudicate the claims. Like any mafia, they must kill when cheated.

The costs to mine in Afghanistan is tremendously expensive because keeping all the interested parties in agreement must be borne by the miner — Chinese, American or otherwise.

Extortion is a harsh word. I’d like to use another. Unfortunately, no other words captures the ultimate business that various factions in Afghanistan must engage in (having no other means of income).

I’m not judging. Chip away and we’re all extortionists.

Whether the party involved is U.S., China, Russia or Pakistan, individual Afghans don’t care. Show me the money. Why should they care about anyone but themselves? Again, I can’t stress this enough. A central government in Afghanistan, no matter who runs it, has nothing to offer Afghans.

There are no roads to build or keep up because there’s no point in going anywhere. Sure, there are mines that could be dug by a central government but little of that money trickles down.

How else can an Afghan village make money?

Illegal drugs of course.

Toll roads. There’s always someone who wants to cross Afghanistan for one reason or another.

The Taliban can only control every village if its soldiers keep getting paid. If not, isn’t it better if each individual soldier cuts the Taliban out and operates a local extortion racket? Even better, if they do both?

That’s exactly what’s been going on for the past 20 years. Afghans trying to take as much money from everyone without getting caught and killed.

The Taliban took Pakistani money. A little bit from Iran to flomux the U.S. Some from China for dubious intelligence about terrorists in the North.

Who will become one of the Taliban’s revenue streams now?

The same cast of characters plus The United States.

The reason the Taliban didn’t attack the U.S. while withdrawing is they were paid by the U.S. not to. Perhaps I’m wrong. We’ll have to wait some years for secret CIA budgets to see the light of day.

There’s more where that came from. All the Taliban has to do is allow some women to work. Allow some Western reporters to visit from time and time and show the Taliban’s sensitive side. In return, the Taliban can run Afghanistan as they see fit — as long as they don’t harbor terrorists.

There’s only one problem.

In time, it won’t be enough money. In Afghan it never is. Even worse, the population has doubled in the past 20 years.

The problem with pure extortion is you don’t produce anything. Your expenses go up and you have no choice but to increase the cost of not paying more. Only violence sends a clear and unambiguous message.

If the money put into Afghanistan to build a functioning State didn’t work in the past 20 years, why would it work funding the Taliban in the next 20? Especially since Afghanistan has a huge population of young people coming of age?

With increasing floods, fires and droughts the world is becoming a poorer place. There’s less food to go around. More money needed for rebuilding.

It doesn’t matter what good the Taliban wants to do. If it can’t keep paying its soldiers to do its bidding they will seek other opportunities. They will take money from the U.S. to fund Muslim terrorists against China. They will take money from China to prevent the funding of those terrorists.

Afghanistan isn’t the “graveyard of empires”. It’s the graveyard of everybody who wants more than what Afghanistan produces.

After I wrote the speculative piece, “The Taliban Can’t Mint Money”, by Ajmal Ahmady, appeared in Bloomberg