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Taliban tax collectors help tighten insurgents’ grip in Afghanistan

Taliban tax collectors help tighten insurgents’ grip in Afghanistan

KABUL: Every two months, Mohammaddin visits a tax collector in Chardara district, in northern Afghanistan, and is given receipts to show he has paid his tax and utility bills.

The service is professional, he says, though the paperwork he receives does not bear the name of state-owned power company Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat, which provides the electricity, but instead carries the printed logo of the Taliban.

“Given the strictness of Taliban regarding implementation of their rules and regulations, I think they raise more from tax collection than the Afghan government,” said Mohammaddin, a resident of the district outside Kunduz city, which is largely under Taliban control despite repeated operations by government forces to try to push the insurgents back. “They have proper tax collection and people cannot disobey them in areas they control.”

How much of Afghanistan is under effective Taliban control is disputed, but there is little doubt it has been growing and the insurgents are increasing their presence in the everyday lives of millions of ordinary Afghans such as Mohammaddin.

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According to data from the NATO-led Resolute Support mission published last week, the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has control or influence over 65 percent of the population but only 55.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, less than at any time since the Taliban was driven from power in 2001. The Taliban says it controls 70 percent of the country.

As the insurgents have won ground, levies on land and day-to-day economic activities have added to funds raised from illegal mining and the drug trade, allowing the Taliban to bolster its credentials as a government-in-waiting.

“The Taliban have the power to just easily extort however much they want but that’s not quite what they do. They try to look and behave like a state,” said Ashley Jackson, author of “Life Under the Taliban Shadow Government”, a study published this year by the British-based Overseas Development Institute.

The Taliban has tended to take over two traditional Islamic levies: zakat, an obligation on Muslims to donate 2.5 percent of their income to the poor; and ushur, a 10 percent tax on harvests or produce taken to market.

In addition, electricity and mobile phone bills, which the insurgents collect in return for leaving power pylons and phone masts alone, and small levies on businesses selling daily necessities such as bakeries or flour mills, weave Taliban authority firmly into everyday life.