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Mehsud spending up to Rs 3bn on militancy annually: Ghani

* NWFP governor suggests narco-dollars providing bulk of funds

By Iqbal Khattak

PESHAWAR: Baitullah Mehsud, the most prominent militant commander in Pakistan’s restive tribal belt and alleged by the United States and previous Pakistani government of masterminding Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, is spending around Rs 3 billion on militancy annually, NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani said on Wednesday.

“He [Mehsud] is spending between Rs 2.5 - 3 billion yearly on procuring weapons, equipment, vehicles, treating wounded militants and keeping families of killed militants fed,” the governor told Daily Times at his office on Wednesday.

Ghani said this significant sum could not be generated solely through zakat or donations, but stopped short of elaborating the sources of funding.

Narco-dollars: He appeared convinced, however, that ‘narco-dollars’ were feeding militancy in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. In this regard, he held the US and United Kingdom “responsible for ignoring my early warnings” of serious repercussions if poppy cultivation was not curtailed in Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban regime. According to a report on Afghanistan published by the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in March this year: “Narcotics traffickers provide revenue and arms to the Taliban, while the Taliban provide protection to growers and traffickers and keep the government from interfering with their activities.”

In 2007, Afghanistan provided 93 percent of the world’s opium poppies, the raw material for producing heroin, the US report adds. “In my meetings with the US and British envoys [in Islamabad], I was pleading [for] the two countries to not allow poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, otherwise the narco-dollars will not help end the militancy,” said Ghani.

During a visit to the Baitullah Mehsud-controlled areas in South Waziristan last week, journalists were surprised at how well organised the militants were, prompting the reflection that all of this is not possible without access to significant funding. “They [militants] are in [an] operational condition and for that purpose they need resources,” Behroz Khan, Geo English TV bureau chief in Peshawar, told Daily Times. “Good resources [funding] are a must for the militants, and on permanent basis too.”

During a meeting in March last year, a close aide of Baitullah Mehsud, Zulfiqar Mehsud, told Daily Times that “in the first place [militants] spend huge sums on the means of communication — vehicles, fuel and equipment — and then on treatment of wounded fighters, and lastly on keeping the killed comrades’ families fed.”."

“We have to change vehicles after we use them for a year,” Zulfiqar said. “Every vehicle at our disposal must be in top condition because we have very rough and tough roads and hilly areas and cannot afford to keep vehicles that are not as fit as our job requires.”

The Taliban are spending the bulk of their resources on procuring vehicles and fuel as they “are constantly on the move” to evade the ‘eyes’ of the pilot-less US spy planes, a Taliban commander told Daily Times in Kotkai, South Waziristan, on Saturday.
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