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Kabul Korrespondence

Fresh, factual, and funky view of Afghanistan and the surrounding Central Asian region

The Entrepreneurial Taliban

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Scotsman
THE mountain of white marble shines with such brilliance in the sun it looks like snow. For four years, the quarry beneath it lay dormant, its riches captive to tribal squabbles and government ineptitude in Pakistan's tribal areas. But the Taliban appeared and imposed a firm hand.

They settled the feud between the tribes, demanded a fat fee up front and a tax on every truck that ferried the treasure from the quarry. Since then, Mir Zaman, a local contractor has watched contentedly as his trucks roll out with colossal boulders bound for refining in nearby towns.

"With the Taliban it is not a question of a request to us, but a question of force," said Zaman, a bearded, middle-aged tribal leader, who seemed philosophical about the reality of Taliban authority here. At least the quarry was now operating, he said.

The takeover of the Ziarat marble quarry, a coveted national asset, is one of the boldest examples of how the Taliban have made Pakistan's tribal areas far more than a base for training camps or a launching pad for sending fighters into Afghanistan.

The quarry in the Mohmand tribal district, strategically situated between the city of Peshawar and the Afghan border, is a new effort by the Taliban to harness the abundant natural resources of a region where there are plenty of other mining operations for coal, gold, copper and chromate.

Of all the minerals in the tribal areas, the marble from Ziarat which is particularly fine texture and purity, comparable to Italian Carrara marble and is one of the most highly prized for use in expensive floors and walls in Pakistan and elsewhere.

A government body, the FATA Development Authority, has failed over the past few years to mediate a dispute between the Masaud and Gurbaz sub-tribes over how the mining rights should be allocated, according to Pakistani government officials.

The Taliban came eager for a share of the business. Their reputation for brutality and the weakness of the local government then allowed them to settle the dispute in short order.

The Taliban decided that one mountain in the Ziarat area belonged to the Masaud division of the main Safi tribe, and said that the Gurbaz sub-tribe would be rewarded with another mountain.

The mountain assigned to the Masauds was divided into 30 portions and each of six villages in the area was assigned five of the 30 portions. Zaman said the Taliban demanded about $1,500 commission upfront for each portion, giving the insurgents a quick $45,000.

The Taliban also demanded a tax of about $7 on each truckload of marble, he said. With a constant flow of trucks, the Taliban were now collecting up to $500 a day, Zaman said.

The local tribes are profiting along with the Taliban. Once the trucks reach the processing plants, the government, too, collects a hefty tax, nearly double that of the Taliban.
posted by Travis, 10:08 am

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