Taleban collects bills for Kabul-supplied utilities

KABUL • The Afghan government faces a peculiar problem in at least two major provinces: It provides precious electricity, some of it imported at costly rates from neighbouring countries, but Taleban militants collect most of the bills.

If the government cuts off power, it will further anger a disenchanted population. If it does not, the revenue from the power will continue to provide more income to an emboldened Taleban.

The Taleban has long tapped into Afghanistan's lucrative drug trade and illegal mining, in addition to the donations it receives from supporters abroad, mainly in the Persian Gulf states.

But in the past two years, it has found new ways of getting revenue, according to interviews with officials, Taleban commanders and local residents.

This has raised fears that the balance of the war could tilt even further, and that the insurgency is becoming more entrenched and acting as a shadow government.

"What it suggests, essentially, is that the group is becoming more efficient in systematically taxing the areas it either controls or has a lot of influence on," said Mr Timor Sharan, senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group. "Efficiency of taxation is quite significant in terms of sustaining the group."

Besides collecting electricity revenue from thousands of homes in provinces such as Kunduz and Helmand, the insurgents levy taxes on potato harvests, flour mills, teachers' salaries, marriage ceremonies and fuel and vegetable trucks crossing their checkpoints.

And the militants also pursue their original sources of funding.

The United Nations, in a recent report, said narcotics, illegal mining and external donations remained major income streams, with the drug economy bringing in up to US$400 million (S$570 million) last year. But the UN report also spoke of the group's diversification efforts.

"Analysis of Taleban revenue sources suggests they remain highly diverse, with various income streams that enable (them) to quickly substitute for declining asset streams," it said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'Taleban collects bills for Kabul-supplied utilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe