Their plight is unlikely to improve anytime soon. People familiar with the Taliban’s finances say the organization’s main sources of revenue have dried up. Wealthy Arab donors, Afghan businessmen and even Pakistan’s powerful and secretive spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, have all reduced or stopped funding, each for their own reasons.
The Arabs’ departure is a crippling blow. Support from private Saudi donors has been crucial to Afghanistan’s insurgents ever since the war against the Soviets in the 1980s—many years before the rise of Mullah Mohammed Omar and his armed followers. But interest in Afghanistan has faded among hard-liners in the Gulf region. Osama bin Laden is dead; most of Al Qaeda’s surviving operatives have fled the constant threat of U.S. drone attacks, and the Taliban never really shared bin Laden’s desire to take his holy war worldwide. Now global jihad and its Arab backers have moved on to more promising arenas, like Iraq and Syria.
As the financial crisis continues, Afghan civilians say they aren’t merely disappointed with the Taliban—they’re fed up. The group’s fundraisers in Pakistan used to make regular collection rounds in places where conservative Afghan businessmen congregate. Those appearances have slowed or stopped. “Six months ago they visited our mosque to collect their usual donations,” says one mullah in Pakistan. “Everyone just walked away from them. They haven’t come back.”