Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
An electrician works on power lines in Kabul. (Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
The Taleban has raised around 1.5 million US dollars over the last two years by collecting electricity bills from villagers in parts of Kunduz province under their control, an IWPR investigation has found.
Following an offensive in September 2015, the insurgents have maintained control over a number of districts in the northern province, including Chahar Darah, Asqalan, Gortepah, Malraghi, Hazrat Sultan and Boz Qandahari.
Representatives of the state-run Breshna electricity company are unable to visit and take metre readings in these areas. Instead, Taleban officials issue bills which residents have little choice but to pay.
Hameedullah, the director of the Kunduz power department, said that the Taleban had raised nearly one and a half million dollars from collecting electricity bills in those districts since 2015, adding that they had access to 14,000 electricity meters.
However, according to IWPR’s own research, it appears that the Taleban in fact have access to around 27,000 electricity meters in areas under their control.
The government faces a conundrum; if it cuts electricity to the villages in question, it risks angering the residents and further alienating local people already disenchanted with the lack of state services. If it takes no action, the Taleban will continue to benefit from this rich source of revenue.
Afghanistan imports much of its electricity from neighbouring central Asian states. Three power lines run through Kunduz province from Tajikistan, which exported over 1.3 billion kilowatt hours of electricity to Afghanistan last year.
Taleban spokesman Zabehulllah Mujahed confirmed that the insurgent group collected the revenue from electricity bills, but said these funds were not used to buy weapons or for any other military purpose.
The Taleban previously raised significant funds through opium sales as well as revenue from illegal mining and a wide range of taxes. This diversification of the Taleban’s income collection system has raised fears that the balance of power could be tilting further in their favour, with their control over more remote parts of the country amounting to an alternative to the Afghan national unity government.
Although the Taleban lack the ability to cut power supplies, local people said they were too frightened of retaliation to refuse to pay their bills. One tactic the insurgents used for non-payers had been to abduct a family member to serve as a hostage until full payment was made.
Over a two-month period, with the help of a database from the Kunduz department of rural rehabilitation and development, IWPR prepared a list of the registered owners of 27,000 electricity meters across 26 villages under Taleban control.
The database was created in early 2015 from the results of a door-to-door survey conducted to map the number of families in Kunduz. This went on to form the blueprint for the delivery of government projects and international aid throughout the province.
In addition, IWPR’s reporter interviewed 20 men and four local elders in a dozen of these villages, discovering that families consumed between seven and 42 dollars’ worth of electricity over each two-month billing period. This means that the amount of revenue the Taleban collects could be far higher that of the official estimate of around one-and-half million dollars..
Niamatullah, a resident of the village of Qasab in Chahar Darah district, of Kunduz province, described how the Taleban collected the funds.
Every two months, representatives visited the village to read each family’s electricity metre, handing them bills marked with the logo of the Islamic Emirate of Taleban.
A day later, a second group of individuals came to the village mosque to collect the bills. In addition, Niamatullah continued, there were further restrictions on what villagers were allowed to use their electricity for.
“The Taleban don’t permit people to watch television in their homes,” he said.
Ezatullah, another Chahar Dara resident, also said that the Taleban had warned them that watching television was an immoral activity.
The 25-year-old told IWPR, "The Taleban have told us that anyone who watches television, will be subject to a cash fine, their television will be smashed and their electricity supply cut off.”
IWPR has copies of some of the documents printed and used by Taleban to collect electricity bills.
Reza Haidari, a senior advisor to the minister for energy and water, acknowledged the ongoing problems in Kunduz, noting that the Taleban were also collecting electricity bills in parts of Herat, Kandahar, Faryab, and Baghlan provinces.
He said that the government was trying to shift away from state-delivered services, adding, “Power in Kunduz is supplied by Breshna, a state-run company, but the government is doing its best to ensure that power can be supplied to people by private companies.”
In Kunduz, Hameedullah said that local officials had done their best to resolve the situation on their own, noting that the loss of revenue from energy payments had been a major blow.
Since 2015, he said, his department had held a dozen talks with Taleban representatives, facilitated by tribal elders, to try to deter them from collecting electricity.
This mediation had proved unsuccessful, Hameedullah continued, adding, “The government is silent, as it is helpless and incapable of acting against the Taleban.”
This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.
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