HERAT -- Afghan security forces have halted the Taliban's efforts to extort money from development projects in Herat Province over the past few months, officials say.
"One of the funding sources of terrorist groups was extorting [money] from civilians," Jilani Farhad, a spokesperson for the Herat governor, told Salaam Times. "The reason for most of our operations is -- in addition to ensuring security -- to stop extortion, and, fortunately, we have achieved a lot in this respect."
"Many areas have been cleared of the Taliban, and security forces remaining in control in those areas have stopped the Taliban from extorting," added Farhad.
"Locals have complained to the police in Herat about the Taliban and other powerful figures involved in extortion," Abdul Ahad Walizada, spokesperson for the Herat provincial police department, told Salaam Times.
"All the police authorities in the district have been advised to investigate cases of the Taliban extorting from development projects and residents," he said.
"Herat police are committed to preventing any group from extorting money from Afghans or terrorising them," added Walizada. "Combatting extortion is one of the priorities for police."
Funding the Taliban's fight
The Taliban obtain money from developers by threatening to attack or even kill workers on projects unless the developers pay off the Taliban. The militants previously extorted development projects, mostly in Shindand, Adraskan, Chesht, Farsi, Keshk Kuhna, Gulran, Ghorian and Kohsan districts.
"The Taliban forcibly obtained money even from the implementers of the Citizens' Charter project ... which operates in urban and rural areas," Toryalai Taheri, deputy chairman of the Herat Provincial Council, told Salaam Times.
"One of the major sources of income for the insurgency is extorting money from development projects, and this income source has helped the Taliban and other terrorist groups keep their war machine running," Abdul Karim Haqyar, a political analyst in Herat Province, told Salaam Times.
"This issue harms the quality of development projects," he added.
Such extortion wastes "money from the international community as well as meager governmental funds", Haqyar said.
"The Taliban must not extort [money] from the development projects because they are also this country's citizens and benefit from these projects," Abdul Waheed Ahmadi, 34, a resident of Guzara District in Herat, told Salaam Times.
"The government is not building the roads for itself," he said. "The Taliban are also using these roads, and they should not steal money from these projects."
"The government must stop these instances of extortion," Ahmadi added. "If [the Taliban] do not extort money from these projects, the quality of the projects will improve."
"The Taliban are forcing civilians to give them money -- we have seen that the Taliban extort money from the development projects in the districts," Mohsin Ahmadi, 27, a Herat City resident, told Salaam Times.
"The government should halt the Taliban's extortion so that development money does not go to their pockets and so that better projects are implemented," Ahmadi said.
'Prohibited in Islam'
Religious scholars in Herat are denouncing the Taliban's extortion as an illegitimate act that violates the teachings of Islam.
"From the viewpoint of Islam, everyone has a responsibility to contribute to looking after development projects and rebuilding the country, but some [the Taliban] -- misinterpreting the teachings of Islam and favouring their personal interests -- extort money, which hinders our country's development," Sayed Muhammad Sherzadi, director of the Herat Hajj and Religious Affairs Department, told Salaam Times.
"Extortion from development projects is illegitimate and prohibited in Islam," said Sherzadi.
"Those who create obstacles to the rebuilding and implementation of development projects have no religious reason to do so," he said. "Extortion is a wrong and illegitimate act based on the religion [Islam], and the Prophet of Islam and the Koran have explicitly forbidden this act."
"The Taliban are misusing the term 'jihad' to commit killings," Sherzadi said. "Anyone who claims that he [or she] is doing jihad must rebuild."