Donations to the Afghan Taliban are on the upswing in Pakistan border regions as the militant group intensifies attacks against Afghan forces ahead of the U.S. troop withdrawal, locals told VOA.
Multiple sources and eyewitnesses on the ground with knowledge of these donations have confirmed to VOA that fundraising for the Taliban has continued in various parts of Pakistan.
An informed resident of Duki, some 210 kilometers (130 miles) east of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, told VOA that Afghan Taliban militants stay with coal miners in the nearby mountains and come to the bazaar area every Friday to solicit 5,000-10,000 Pakistani rupees ($50 to $70) from shopkeepers.
"They are coming on motorbikes and asking larger stores for contributions. They say that they belong to the Taliban movement and that they are fighting in Allah's path," said the resident, who did not want to be named because he fears retaliation by the militants.
"In the past, they were coming to a few mosques. But recently they have started coming to collect contributions from shops," he added.
A member of the Baluchistan assembly, who also requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told VOA that members of the Taliban openly hold fundraising campaigns in several districts of the province.
"It is not a secret," he said. "It is going on in Quetta, Kuchlak Bypass, Pashtun Abad, Ishaq Abad, Farooqia Town."
The lawmaker added that he suspects Taliban supporters used the money to fund the insurgents' recent fight against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.
More Taliban sightings
A resident of Quetta, where Quetta Shura — a militant organization linked to the Afghan Taliban — is allegedly based, said he regularly witnesses the Taliban at mosques.
"I went there for the Friday prayers," he said. "A Talib with long hair gave a five-minute speech. He said that they were fighting and we should help them financially.
"'If someone cannot go to jihad, he should support us financially,'" the resident said, quoting the Taliban orator.
Multiple videos have recently surfaced on social media platforms, showing people allegedly collecting donations for the Taliban. VOA could not independently verify the authenticity of these videos.
The increased fundraising comes as the Taliban have captured more than a dozen districts across Afghanistan.
Some Afghan officials say the militants have become emboldened since the United States and its NATO allies began withdrawing remaining forces on May 1.
Donations are only one of the sources through which the insurgent group finances its bloody insurgency against the Afghan government.
Noor Zaman Achakzai, a reporter and analyst of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, said the Taliban have sources of income beyond donations.
"Taliban have numerous sources of wealth. They collect double the tax gathered by Afghan authorities, from smuggling, transportation of oil, narcotics, weapons and local cultivation," he said. "In Ramadan, they also received huge Zakat (alms) from Islamic countries."
The United Nations also says the Taliban subsidize their insurgency through drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, illegal mining and taxation in areas under their control.
The annual Taliban income from different sources is estimated to be between $300 million and $1.6 billion, according to a U.N. report.
Pakistan's government says that it has strict laws to curb terror financing and that it prosecutes individuals and groups accused of fundraising for militants.
Islamabad often points to several high-profile arrests and convictions in recent years of key leaders of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the fundraising front of U.S.-designated terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The group's leader, Hafiz Saeed, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for terrorism-financing charges in early 2020. The group's other prominent leader, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, was sentenced to five years in prison for similar charges in early January.
Some critics, however, charge that Islamabad's actions against these individuals are symbolic and aimed at improving its image at the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
FATF, a global terror-financing and money-laundering watchdog, has retained Pakistan's "gray list" status for its failure to curb terror financing and money laundering.
Liaquat Shahwani, a spokesperson for the Baluchistan government, told VOA that local authorities had "no such information" that the Taliban were collecting funds in the province.
"After the FATF, we legislated in the Baluchistan parliament under the Social Welfare Act to strictly forbid any group from collecting funds," Shahwani told VOA.
"If any such fact emerges, then we will definitely take notice and action under our laws," he said, referring to the videos of alleged Taliban fundraising at mosques.
Some analysts in Pakistan say the government has been effective in banning Taliban activities in cities but not so much in rural areas bordering Afghanistan.
A Punjab-based correspondent, Mohammed Asad, told VOA that in various communities, loudspeakers have been confined to mosque interiors, donation boxes have been removed from outside, and security officials regularly patrol prayers to prevent fundraising campaigns.
Faizullah Khan, a journalist in Sindh, said it was no longer possible for the Afghan Taliban to collect donations from inner cities.
"However, in the far-flung areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, complaints of Taliban donations have appeared on social media, and there are such videos," he told VOA.
The Taliban enjoy the support of mainstream Islamic parties such as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and Jamaat-i-Islami, which have been part of the government.
Some of the parties, including JUI, were involved in training the Taliban when they first emerged in 1990s.
Shuja ul Mulk, a leader of the party who also served in the National Assembly of Pakistan, told VOA that he wished success for the Taliban, "who have made many sacrifices, and with whom we share a common ideology."
He did not deny, however, that funds were being collected from JUI for the Afghan Taliban, adding that individuals who join the insurgency have the right to do so of their own free will.
"JUI Shoora has a system, and we have a stand, but everyone has his own stand, and we don't have the right to stop them," he added.
Anwarullah Khan, from the Bajaur tribal area, says that unlike after 9/11, religious parties such as JUI and Jamaat-i-Islami no longer openly solicit for fighters or donations for Afghanistan.
"There are such reports from North and South Waziristan, but it's not done publicly," he told VOA.
JUI Nazriati, which splintered off from JUI after 9/11, remains among the Taliban's most loyal supporters.
The group's leader, Maulana Abdul Qadir Luni, openly supports Afghan jihad in speeches, rallies and videos, according to Chaman-based reporter Noor Zaman Achakzai.
The same group also held funeral prayers for Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaida terror group, who was killed in the 2011 U.S. special forces raid in Abbottabad.
Nafisa Hoodbhoy contributed to this report from Washington.