Smuggled Cigarettes Give Boost To Pakistani Militants..

July 1, 2009 - Overlooked in the Pakistani Taliban’s growing power is the role of tobacco smuggling. In the Khyber Agency region, Sahib Ayub Afridi is considered an angel. The illiterate 70-year-old tribal leader finances construction of water pumps, streets and lighting, builds mosques and madrasahs, and supports the penniless and widowed. A one-time notorious drug kingpin who in the 1980s armed the Afghan Mujahidin at the CIA’s behest, Afridi churns out millions of counterfeit cigarettes to smuggle across central Asia, China, and Africa, and splits the proceeds with the pro-Taliban militants who control the swath of mountainous borderland, according to Pakistani intelligence and customs officials. The leaders of some of these militant groups are on the U.S. most-wanted list in the region.

Afridi isn’t the only counterfeit cigarette producer in the tribal belt. Smugglers also transport cigarettes from illegal factories in neighboring provinces of Kohat and Bannu into Afghanistan through the border town of Miramshah. The area is in the grip of an al-Qaeda militia of ethnic Uzbeks loyal to Mehsud. Pakistani intelligence sources say cigarette smugglers pay the militant groups up to 20 percent commission for each convoy. American and Japanese model trucks leave the sprawling, high-walls cigarette factories almost daily, while bigger convoys of five to seven trucks leave twice a week, local residents say.

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Reference: The Taliban and Tobacco Smuggled Cigarettes Give Boost To Pakistani Militants by Aamir Latif, Kate Willson, Tobacco Underground, The Center for Public Integrity, 6/28/2009.

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