KABUL: The Afghan government faces an unexpected problem in at least two major provinces: It provides electricity, some of it is imported at exorbitant rates from neighboring countries, but Taliban militants collect most of the bills.
If the government cuts off power, it will further annoy the population that is already disenchanted. If it does not, the revenue from the power sector will continue to provide more income to an already emboldened Taliban.
The Taliban, fighting the Afghan government and a large international military coalition, have long tapped into Afghanistan’s lucrative drug trade and illegal mining, in addition to the streams of donations they receive from supporters abroad, mainly in the Persian Gulf states.
But as they have taken over increasingly large areas in the past two years, they have found new ways of diversifying and collecting revenue, according to interviews with officials, Taliban commanders and local residents
The diversification of the revenue collection system, in the face of a central government largely dependent on Western donations and hobbled by corruption, has raised fears that the balance of the war could tilt even further in the year ahead, and that the insurgency is becoming more entrenched and acting as a shadow government in parts of the countryside.
In addition to collecting electricity bills from thousands of homes in provinces such as Kunduz and Helmand, the insurgents levy taxes on potato harvests, flour mills, teachers’ salaries, marriage ceremonies, fuel and vegetable trucks crossing their checkpoints.
At the same time, the Taliban continue to 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 $400 million in 2016.
But the United Nations report also spoke of the group’s diversification efforts.
“Analysis of Taliban revenue sources suggests that they remain highly diverse, with various income streams that enable the Ta
liban to quickly substitute for declining asset streams,” the report said.