Tuesday, November 6, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan The Taliban regime is receiving weapons from Pakistani arms dealers who are funded by sympathetic local businessmen and a religious trust linked to al Qaeda, the international terror network headed by fugitive Osama bin Laden.
Intelligence sources in Pakistan have described how arms are sent to the Taliban from the arms bazaars of Pakistan using a complex network of money changers, arms dealers and smugglers.
According to these sources, the main sponsor of the illicit trade is Al Rashid Trust, a Karachi-based extremist organization whose bank accounts recently were frozen by the Pakistani government after it was suspected of channeling funds to al Qaeda, the prime suspects in the September 11 attacks on the United States. The other principal backers are a few wealthy businessmen based mainly in Lahore, Pakistan.
In the past few weeks, Al Rashid Trust is believed to have smuggled an undetermined quantity of weapons and ammunition in trucks containing relief supplies such as blankets or wheat.
The arms have been shipped through the desert border crossing at Chaman, near the Pakistani city of Quetta. From there, the weapons, bought in the arms bazaars of Karachi, are being trucked along the straight desert road that leads to Kandahar, the Taliban heartland.
“The Al Rashid Trust is totally involved in supplying ammunition and weapons,” said a former Pakistani intelligence source, who could not estimate the number of arms supplied.
“They are sending in heavy weapons under blankets and foodstuffs; it’s nonsense to believe this has stopped.”
An Afghan shipper in Peshawar, who until recently ferried fruit and other goods to and from Afghanistan, also confirmed that relief trucks had been used to transport arms during the period when the Taliban regime was under U.N. sanctions.
He described seeing a truck carrying wheat that had overturned on the potholed road leading from the Khyber Pass to Kabul two months ago.
“On top, there was a layer of sacks containing wheat,” he said. “But underneath, the truck was full of boxes of ammunition and guns.”
Elsewhere, weapons destined for the Taliban front lines north of Kabul have been smuggled through the mountains of the North West Frontier Province on donkey trains, using traditional contraband trails that circumvent Pakistani checkpoints.
These arms, which are funded mainly by two or three wealthy Pakistani businessmen, come from Darra Adam Khel, a dusty, one-horse town south of Peshawar devoted to the sale and manufacture of guns. Its dealers can produce anything from a perfectly replicated Luger pistol or an Uzi submachine gun to a pen that fires tiny bullets.
Arms dealers in Darra, who are paid either through wire transfers or by a system of chits exchanged for cash in the Peshawar money bazaar, undertake to deliver the arms.
Explaining how the deals are made, an intelligence source said: “The businessman just calls and says: ‘So and so will visit you. Kindly help him out.’ He’ll then go on to order perhaps 20,000 boxes of Kalashnikov ammunition. The Darra arms dealer then takes care of the delivery, and once it’s done, collects his cash.”
Workers at the Peshawar office of Al Rashid Trust refused yesterday to confirm they were sending arms to the Taliban regime.
But arms dealers in Darra said their production of ammunition and weapons had gone up in recent weeks, although they would not estimate by how much or disclose their buyers.
The sources in Pakistan said they saw no evidence of Pakistani government involvement, and Western intelligence sources in Pakistan said they believed there was none.
Pakistani authorities last week seized a large consignment of weapons, including Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers, in the Bajaur Agency, a tribal area north of Peshawar.
The border also has been officially sealed. Even so, refugees arriving from Kabul report that Taliban soldiers are brandishing new weapons, indicating that weapons are still reaching the regime.
These refugees say the Taliban militia has also been moving its heavy weaponry and troops into residential areas of the capital and camouflaging the vehicles with mud to evade satellite detection.
“I asked two Taliban soldiers who came to my shop if they still had weapons after the bombing,” said Najaff, a shopkeeper in Kabul who arrived in Peshawar two days ago. “They said they had received lots of new guns.”
In addition to supplies from Pakistan, the Taliban militia has been asking villagers in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan to dig out any guns they may have buried earlier to fight American ground troops.
A Taliban diplomat said that many women also had asked for guns.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide