Herat residents outraged as Taliban continue to extort electricity payments
HERAT -- Residents of some Herat districts say they are fed up with the Taliban's extortion of their electricity payments, which the militant group has been forcibly collecting for years.
The Taliban are collecting electricity payments from more than 300 households in Gulran and Kuhsan districts, stealing about 1 million AFN ($13,000) each month, according to officials from the Herat office of the national power utility, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS).
"In six provinces, which include 18 districts, we've ... been unable to collect payments for electricity," Amanullah Ghaleb, the director of the company, told Salaam Times.
"We're experiencing a huge financial loss ... The government can't go to these areas to collect money, nor can we shut off their electricity since power lines run through those areas," he said.
"Of course, this is not the case in all districts," he said. "Afghan security forces are present in most areas of these districts, and we can easily collect electricity payments in a timely manner. There are only a few of these villages where we can't collect payment."
The power company has a plan to install large electricity meters in those areas so that locals -- "with the help of the Provincial Council, local elders and ethnic leaders -- can co-operate with us in collecting money for consumed electricity," he added.
"Residents of Gulran and Kuhsan districts came to the Provincial Council and told us that the Taliban forcibly collect payments for their electricity consumption," Kamran Alizai, chairman of the Herat Provincial Council, told Salaam Times.
"Civilians have promised to do all they can to make their electricity payments to the government. They pay the Taliban only out of fear," he added.
Residents of Herat city said they are enraged by the Taliban's extortion as the money they extract belongs to the public.
"Our electricity is imported, and we buy every single kilowatt of it," Wahid Ahmad Qurayshi, 25, a resident of Herat city, told Salaam Times.
"The Taliban are inflicting a great injustice on our nation, and we condemn this act of the Taliban," Qurayshi said.
The forced extractions are just another Taliban method of making the population suffer, said Mohammad Rafi Ahmadi, 29, also a resident of Herat city.
"The electricity is for the public, not for the government; hence, the Taliban should not involve electricity in their war and politics," he told Salaam Times. "Whatever hardship the Taliban causes in the electricity sector, civilians will eventually suffer."
The impact on local residents from the extortion is even more pronounced as power companies are forced to raise their rates because of the Taliban's actions, said Mohammad Rafiq Shahir, a political analyst in Herat Province. That policy compels consumers in secure areas to pay for the electricity in insecure areas, where the Taliban are taking all the money that rightfully belongs to DABS.
"The Taliban are active in some villages of Herat's districts where transmission towers are located," Shahir told Salaam Times. "The Taliban collect money from the local residents ... the imported electricity will be even more expensive."
"If the Taliban didn't extort the electricity consumption payments, the electricity from neighbouring countries would clearly cost less," he added.
Security forces in Herat Province are determined to prevent the Taliban from continuing to steal money directly from consumers and indirectly from DABS, according to officials.
"The level of threats is moderate to low, and security forces are present in all districts of Herat, with the exception of the two districts," Gen. Aminullah Amarkhil, the chief of police of Herat Province, told Salaam Times, referring to Gulran and Kuhsan.
"If officials at DABS inform us about this issue, we will crack down on the Taliban," he said. "We will not allow our national revenues to be collected by our enemy."
"The security forces can crack down on the Taliban in every district, and we are determined to suppress the enemy ... so that it can no longer collect electricity consumption payments," he added.
Authorities are planning crackdowns, said Herat governor's spokesman Jilani Farhad.
"Ordinary Afghans are the ones who use electricity in some areas where the Taliban have dominance, yet the Taliban are the ones who collect the payments," he told Salaam Times. "We have not disconnected electricity in those areas in order not to deprive residents of the blessing of electricity."
"Alongside civilian efforts to collect electricity payments in insecure areas, we are launching military operations to crack down on the opposition and to clear up these areas," Farhad added.
"By clearing these areas of the Taliban, we will prepare the ground for the government to collect payments for electricity," he said.