- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Dozens of Afghan warlords were given $200,000 payments and satellite phones to secure their cooperation in the war against the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies, according to bankers, money changers and others close to the transactions.
More than 35 local commanders made banking transactions involving identical $200,000 sums late last year, in at least some cases after meetings with U.S. officials.
The transactions totaled more than $7 million and helped prompt a spending spree on four-wheel-drive vehicles in Pakistan.
The gifts of satellite telephones to the tribal commanders, whose efforts proved crucial to driving Taliban forces from southern and eastern Afghanistan, has been well-publicized in the region, but the cash payments have not.
Asked about the payments, a senior Western diplomat based in Pakistan said, "It sounds like someone in the State Department finally learned how Afghanistan works. The commanders have become fairly adept at selling themselves, and they always need money for guns."
U.S. recognition of this fact is evident from the decision to offer a reward of $25 million for information leading to the arrest of Osama bin Laden.
However a State Department official in Washington denied knowledge of such a program, calling it "bizarre" and "not something the State Department would normally do." A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
Among those receiving the payments was Mirza Mohammed Nassery, who defected from the Taliban and served as a commander with the Pir Gillani group in the hotly contested city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.
According to his driver, Mr. Nassery last fall made the long trip from Kunduz to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he spent an hour and emerged carrying a large black briefcase.
He then drove to Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan and immediately called his banker, who belongs to a "hawala" based in the city's Chowk Yadgar district. A "hawala" is an underground banking system, common in South Asia, that allows transfers of funds without paperwork.
The banker arrived shortly afterward at Mr. Nassery's house.
According to the banker, who discussed the case on the condition he not be identified, Mr. Nassery opened his briefcase and placed $200,000 and a large satellite telephone on the table.
Initially hesitant to explain where he got the money, the tribal commander told the banker that American officials had given him the cash in exchange for his cooperation in the drive to topple the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda.
According to his banker, Mr. Nassery laughed as he described the end of the meeting, when an American official asked him to sign a statement agreeing to terms for the receipt of the funds.
However, Mr. Nassery was not laughing when he emphasized the need for the money to be sent through the hawala to Kabul, the Afghan capital.
Mr. Nassery died several weeks later in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan along with two other high-ranking Afghan commanders who worked with the Pir Gillani, and the money is still waiting to be claimed in Kabul, the banker said.
Interviews with dozens of moneychangers and hawala operators in Chowk Yadgar, the largest market for currency transfers into Afghanistan, showed that no fewer than 35 tribal commanders, most of them Taliban defectors, either deposited or arranged the transfer of $200,000 sums.
A highly placed source in the Interior Ministry of Hamid Karzai's interim administration in Kabul also confirmed that many such payments took place in the weeks after the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.
A midranking U.S. Army officer involved in the siege of Tora Bora, who declined to be named, said, "While we never talked about it directly, everyone knew that the cooperation of the commanders, most of them former Taliban, had been bought."
The influx of cash explains in part a run on high-priced sport utility vehicles in Peshawar. One Toyota dealer said: "Now that the mujahideen have plenty of money they prefer Toyota pickups and SUVs because, in the words of one commander, 'Toyota is good for jihad.'"
Over the past 20 years of strife in Afghanistan, warlords have developed a keen sense of survival and a history of switching sides.
According to military analysts, cash payments are attractive because they allow a warlord to avoid defeat from an obviously more powerful force and at the same time build up reserves of weapons.
"If we had only given them satellite phones and no money they would have had no reason to speak with us and probably would have sold the sat-phones," the U.S. Army officer said.

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