Afghan Opp finds financial muscle in emeralds


DESHITIQALA (Afghanistan), Oct. 11. — How does Afghanistan’s ragtag Opposition fund its campaign against the Taliban? By selling emeralds and printing money, it seems.

General Baryalai, a senior commander with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, spoke with great pride this week about the quality of Afghan gems.

“Our emeralds are the best in the world,” he said in his remote base in northern Afghanistan.

“They are better than those in Colombia.” The officer explained that there were two main production centres controlled by the Opposition – Safed Cher and Khench, both in the north of Panjsher district.

“In the north of Panjsher, people just carry them around for sale. Rough emeralds can go for anything between $ 1,000 and $ 2,000 to millions,” he boasted.

“But a huge stone which goes for $ 3 million here can fetch $ 10 million when polished and cut.”

He estimated that emerald sales raise $ 40 million to $ 60 million for the Opposition each year, mainly for arms from Russia and equipment from countries including China.

The mathematics may not be 100 per cent accurate. Gen. Baryalai said the Northern Alliance has 120,000 soldiers – including a large reserve force. This is several times more than most Western Intelligence estimates.

The other main source of cash is money.

The afghani, the local currency, is printed in Russia and changed back into dollars, which are then used to buy military hardware.
“We print money,” he said, when asked how the Opposition funded itself. He said the amount printed was strictly limited to avoid inflation.

Not that there is much danger of that at the moment. In the nearby town of Khoja Bahawuddin, the dollar is worth 65,000 afghanis compared to 130,000 two weeks ago.

The sharp rise has been attributed to the positive news for the alliance of the US air strikes against the Taliban and the influx of Western journalists queuing up to change money.

Gen. Baryalai played down reports of US and Russian support for the Opposition, saying Russian tanks on display at a nearby training camp were bought and were not gifts.

But he did hint that they may have been subsidised.

“The good thing is we buy guns and ammunition at a cheap price,” he said