(Times of India, 5 December 2007: Finance minister P Chidambaram on Tuesday confirmed warnings of intelligence agencies that terror funds were flowing into the stock market.)
The dusty main street of the tiny village in a godforsaken corner of Pakistan’s tribal region led straight to the mosque, from where I could hear a familiar chanting. Had I made the hot, sweaty trek from Peshawar to these remote Taliban-controlled badlands just to visit a local madrassa, I wondered. “What’s the point of listening to kids reciting the Koran?” I snapped at my guide. “Shh,” he whispered, “listen closely?” As we approached the mosque, I realised that there was something very unusual about the chanting. The rhythm was odd, the sound was strange and, indeed, the words were different. And as we crossed the threshold into the schoolroom, I heard a score of voices reciting “An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis, promises safety of principal and a satisfactory return.” They were reading aloud in unison, not from the Holy Book, but from Graham and Dodd’s Security Analysis, a much-thumbed copy of which lay before each student. “My God?” I stuttered, “that book is the all-time classic of value investing.” In front of the class, flanked by the familiar pictures of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, was a framed photograph of legendary investor Warren Buffet.
“We introduce investment studies, peace be upon it, only in high school,” said the bearded teacher, “after the students are given a basic grounding in core subjects such as ‘How to handle an AK56?’, ‘How to make a bomb’ and ‘Ten easy steps to blowing yourself up successfully’ in the primary section.” I glanced at the blackboard, on which was scribbled: “Soldiers killed: 35; suicide bombings: 12; Google: $690 per share.”
As we walked down the street towards the house of Mullah Omar, Supreme Leader of the Taliban, a heavily veiled woman, clad in black from head to toe, sidled up to my guide. “She wants to know whether the company that makes Kalashnikovs is listed, so that she can invest in the stock. She says it’s bound to do well, considering the demand for the company’s products,” he translated.
Later on, the Supreme Leader confirmed that their women were all addicted to online trading. “We forbid them to go to school, movies and music are banned — how on earth will they pass the time? My sister-in-law is now the chief financial officer of the Taliban.”
“Her strategy,” he continued, “is to short sell stocks in some infidel country. We then carry out a terrorist attack there. Stocks fall, we buy cheaply the stocks that we have already sold and make a handsome profit.” He complained bitterly, however, that lately the markets had become immune to terror attacks. “We made a huge loss during the last Mumbai blasts,” he said, “because the market refused to go down. We’ll have to change our strategy now.”
He also said that they were planning a pension fund, because, as he put it, “so many of our employees die young and we have to make social security payments to their dependents.” “We’re also going to start opium futures,” he said, “because our poppy farmers need a hedging mechanism.”
“You see, infidel,” he explained, “People think that the stock market boom in the last four years was created by low interest rates. That’s rubbish. The markets have gone up because we’ve been investing all our hard earned money into them — the profits from our poppy fields, our heroin businesses, our gun-running rackets. In fact, we’ve done so well we’ll be converting Al Qaeda into an investment company, with stock options for employees. That’ll prevent them moving to competing outfits such as Lashkar-e-Toiba or Islamic Jehad. We’ll probably list in on the Nasdaq. Investments will be routed through a tax-efficient vehicle in Mauritius, to be called the Al Qaeda Hedge Fund.”
Afterwards, as I thanked him for the interview, he leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “Invest in our IPO. The stock will treble in three months.”
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint