Taliban insurgents have carried out nearly daily bombing attacks in Pakistan this week. They claim more territory in Afghanistan. Now a journalist and author who spent five years in research, sometimes on the border between the two countries, says the Taliban is better funded now than at any time since 2001. And in her book, "Seeds of Terror," Gretchen Peters says she surveyed and interviewed hundreds of people who work in or alongside the drug trade in the border areas, as well as government officials and aid workers.
Multiple explosions tore through a crowded market area and killed several people in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar Thursday.
The day before, Taliban militants claimed responsibility for a huge blast that destroyed police and intelligence agency offices in Lahore. At least 30 were killed.
Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed three U.S. soldiers and three Afghan civilians in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has threatened increased suicide attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan to avenge the deaths of militants in the two countries.
Author and journalist Gretchen Peters says today, they are better funded than they were soon after the September 11th 2001 terror attacks on the U.S.
Peters says according to U.S. government estimates the Taliban gets 70 percent of its funds from opium, and she claims there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's involvement in the drug trade.
"Probably their biggest source of funding from the opium trade is the protection racket, protecting opium convoys as they leave the farm areas, also putting armed men around drug refineries," she said.
Peters covered Pakistan and Afghanistan for the Associated Press and ABC News and spent five years on the Pakistan-Afghan border for her book "Seeds of Terror".
She explains how she learned that heroin produced in Afghanistan reaches Pakistan with the help of some of the Taliban leaders who share the turf [territory].
"Southern Afghanistan, Helmand and Kandahar, this is where Mullah Omar's Taliban operates. You go up a little further (north) on the Pakistani side you have folks like Baitullah Mehsud. You go a little further you run into the Haqqani group, operating along the border. You go a little further into the Khyber Pass area you have the Mangal Bagh group. You go a little further north, you get into Hekmatyar's terrain in Kunar and Nuristan and that's where it seems a lot of activity is by al-Qaida forces as well," Peters stated.
She says the U.S. must disrupt the Taliban's heroin money trail.
"While the insurgents earn some money from collecting taxes from the farmers, the bulk of the earnings come from protecting the trade, protecting the convoys and protecting the refineries and taxing the refineries and yet we are not going after that element of it," Peters said. "Even the US military resisted that until very recently."
Peters calls the image of the Taliban and al-Qaida as pious Islamic leaders misleading. She says they are criminals. "If you study their day to day operations on the local level they start to look a lot more like Mafiosi than Mujahedin," she said.
Peters says she also learned that drug traders pay for Taliban leaders' rest and recreation in guest houses in Pakistan and send senior-level leaders to Dubai for what she calls "their dirty weekends".
"I think exposing this behavior to the local communities is another way of demystifying insurgents in these areas," Peters recommends. "And exposing that they are not the pious Muslims they say they are."
Author Gretchen Peters points to the Koran, Islam's holiest book, which she says does not allow cultivation, use or trafficking of narcotics. While the Taliban claims it is okay to sell drugs only to infidels, she calls the argument bogus because it is the Muslim countries in the region that are suffering the greatest increase in addiction rates.
And so she suggests the teachings of the Koran can be an ally of the West in its fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.