Thursday, September 20, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Laden commands Afghans with riches, not jehad alone
Rajeev Sharma and Gaurav Choudhury
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 19
The most-wanted terrorist in the world, Osama bin Laden, runs his vast financial empire — estimated between $ 500 million and over a billion dollars — like a business establishment with franchise system.

His financial support to Afghanistan, apart from his jehadi zeal, seems to be the main reason behind the impoverished land-locked country giving him refuge even in the face of imminent devastation at the hands of US-led multinational forces. Besides, he has given his daughter to Taliban supremo Maulana Omar in marriage.

The Saudi fugitive and prime suspect in the September 11 devastating strikes in the USA has created an amazing umbrella beneath which all splinter groups function. For each region there is a local outfit and a commander and their financial and logistic needs are taken care of, sources in counter proxy war establishments here told The Tribune today.

His empire is run somewhat like a multinational corporation with a minor exception in modus operandi. For obvious operational reasons, Bin Laden prefers the conventional method of “hundi” for money transfers to the modern banking system. This enables him to escape the surveillance of modern banking techniques and monies thus transferred are virtually impossible to detect.

An interesting fact brought out by the CIA World Fact Book, 1999 is that the 15,000-strong army of Afghanistan has a monthly budget of just $ 35000. This means that an Afghan soldier is paid a measly monthly salary of $ 2, less than Rs 100 per month.

Afghanistan, which has been in the midst of civil battle for decades, does not have an economy worth its name in modern jargon.

The World Bank does not come out with estimates of the Afghan economy and calls it “one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries.”

According to the CIA fact book, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Afghanistan in 1999 was estimated at $ 21 billion supporting a population of 25.8 million.

The per capita income, a more realistic parameter of a nation’s health of the economy, of Afghanistan was estimated at $ 800 in 1999. In other words, a citizen of Afghanistan has a purchasing power worth $ 800 a year.

In actual terms the income of an average Afghan citizen would be much less as the purchasing power parity approach takes into consideration several factors, including the domestic price of goods.

Compare this with the USA and it would appear that in pure economic terms the impending war is not a battle at all.

The GDP of the USA in 1999 was valued at a whooping $ 9.3 trillion. Even the human development indices are no match at all.

There is virtually no manufacturing activity — the cornerstone of any modern economy and whatever income is generated accrues from primary agriculture and mining.

The primary sector in itself is operated in a purely subsistence form, leaving a gaping hole for poverty. Bin Laden’s role, therefore, goes much beyond that of spreading the message of jehad and terror.

In a much maligned economy such as Afghanistan, his fortune is thus obviously worth more than an empire. With his overseas contruction business interests alone fetching more than $ 10 million a year, the Saudi renegade can afford to employ 12,000 Afghans by paying them $ 800 annually — the figure of Afghanistan’s per capita income.Back

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