Friday 24 April 2009

Antiquity Collectors Helping Finance the Taliban Revival?

ABC News correspondent Gretchen Peters based in Pakistan and Afghanistan has a book coming out soon, the “Seeds of Terror” (pub May 12 2009) which looks at the resurgence of the Taliban and in particular its financing by illegal activities such as involvement in the illicit drugs trade. The pre-publication blurb says that the book was written on the basis of hundreds of interviews with Taliban fighters, smugglers, and law enforcement and intelligence agents, as well as utilizing intelligence reports. In it she traces the illicit activities of the taliban "from vast poppy fields in southern Afghanistan to heroin labs run by Taliban commanders, from drug convoys armed with Stinger missiles to the money launderers of Karachi and Dubai”. Seeds of Terror makes the case that if the western world ever hopes to beat them, it must make every effort to cut terrorists off from their illicit means of financing their activities. Peters argues that the failure to halt this money flow to terrorist networks is "the single greatest failure in the war on terror," and argues that staunching the flood of money from illicit activities into terrorist coffers is essential. She contends that the "union of narco-traffickers, terrorist groups, and the international criminal underworld is the new axis of evil."

On Gretchen Peters’ blog there is a parallel article about “The criminals running the Af-Pak border” which is worth reading. Among other things, she writes:
In the last eight years, the Afghan Taliban have greatly expanded their illicit activities, morphing into a force more violent and ruthless than when they were in power from 1996 to 2001 and building up an economic empire worth almost half a billion dollars. Their activities are diverse: In some parts of the south, they collaborate with drug traffickers to dictate poppy output. They provide armed protection for opium convoys leaving Afghanistan's farm areas and protect heroin labs along the Pakistan border. In addition, they work with kidnapping rings that have snared diplomats, journalists, U.S. contractors, and wealthy local businessmen. They cooperate with gunrunners, human traffickers, and the smuggling gangs that illegally export millions of dollars worth of Afghan antiquities.
Readers will remember that the ACCG has been very free with its "Friends of Numismatics" award to US congressmen who recently opposed the proposed introduction (HR 915) of stricter controls over the import of antiquities from Afghanistan into the US. Now a few years on, there is emerging information that it is precisely the trafficking of these antiquities to the no-questions-asked markets of the west which is contributing to the financing of the enemies of America, that is buying them weapons and explosive. Let us remember their names, these "Friends of numismatists", the text “ACCG has friends in Congress” names them as Mark Green, Tom Petri, Paul Ryan and adds "The ACCG is proud to count them as "Friends"." I am sure they were not alone in opposing the introduction of stricter regulation of the market in antiquities from Afghanistan. I hope the publication of Ms Peters' book is accompanied by the publication of a full list of US lawmakers who opposed HR 915. Who were these people that put the self-interest of a minority group of traders and collectors over the need to stem the flow of dollars to lawbreakers?

On ACCG President Bill Puetz’s Vcoins online coin store at the moment, the search engine reveals that there are about 180 coins from “Bactria” (an ancient polity, most of the central urbanised area of which falls into modern Afghanistan). They are collectively worth more than $10 000. Very few of them however have any kind of documented provenance capable of demonstrating they left the region before the rise of the Taliban. Ebay has 29 at the moment, and the same comments apply. The total value of the latter is some $20 000. So where do they come from? How do potential customers of these stores know they are not putting money into the pockets of the Taliban and other illegal groups (for example in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan)? The collector may wish to persuade themselves that this "cannot be" the case, but to what extent is that simply short-sighted wishful thinking?

Photo: The fruits of the seeds of terror - financed in part by no-questions-asked portable antiquities collectors? How can they be sure?

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