Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Wages of Terrorism

There are a bunch of advertising posters up on the Tube for The Times's Kabul coverage, which claim that "The Taliban pays $15 a day. The average wage in Afghanistan is $2 a day", and thus through some chain of causal reasoning, that we should all buy the Times.

Trying to find a source for this number reveals a) lots of estimates going from $8 to $20 and b) no source. I also dispute whether the average wage in Afghanistan (for young healthy males who could otherwise join the Taliban) is in fact $2 a day, as this would suggest average income of about $1/day, and although Afghanistan is horribly poor, it isn't at that level of poverty.

But setting that aside, and taking the $15 figure, how does this work in terms of financial logistics, exactly? Assuming that officers get paid a little more than enlisted men, at this level the wage bill for a 10-men Taliban unit would be about $5000 a month. Without getting into the questions of financing, how do the Taliban handle payroll? I can't believe that there are paymasters hiking around ToraBora with suitcases full of currency, and I can't find any reports suggesting that slain Taliban fighters are usually found to be carrying large sums of cash, so I don't think they are paid cash in hand. On the other hand, it seems a bit far-fetched to assume that they're getting paid by the Afghan equivalent of BACS transfer either.

In principle, I suppose the Taliban groups could be making gold deposits in the name of its fighters in the hawalada banking system, which is often surprisingly advanced. But this would require the existence of a centralised register of active fighters, which couldn't be more disaggregated than the financing of the Taliban.

I end up concluding that this "economic motive" for Afghans to join the Taliban might be a bit of a reassuring myth (reassuring in that it suggests that economic development could undermine the Taliban's ability to recruit, although frankly if the Times figures are right, we would have to be looking for something that could cause an octupling of average wages which doesn't look all that realistic either), and would welcome any comments from David Kilcullen fans wanting to convince me otherwise.

I note that Che Guevara's book on Guerilla Warfare doesn't discuss wages at all; as far as I can see, the payment of a daily wage is quite unusual for guerilla armies, I would surmise precisely because of the logistical difficulties.
72 comments this item posted by the management 10/13/2009 12:41:00 AM

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