KANDAHAR -- Truck drivers who use highways connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat say that the Taliban are extorting money from them to fund the insurgent's militant activities.
The militant group is robbing truck drivers of millions of Afghanis every day around the country, calling them "taxes," according to drivers.
The extortion is mainly occurring in Burj Jangi of Shamalzo District in Zabul Province, the Larama area of Ghazni Province, the Mula Bawri region near Dilaram District in Nimroz Province and Farah Rud in Farah Province.
The Taliban's activities have crippled the businesses of drivers and is pushing up the prices of food items being transported on trucks, drivers said. They added that if they refuse to give money to the Taliban, the militants beat them up, put them in prison and even threaten to kill them.
"I have been driving [a truck] on the Kabul-Kandahar and Kandahar-Herat highway for the past 15 years," said Rahimullah, 43. "We didn't have such problems in the past. For the past nine months, the Taliban collect money from us in the name of customs duty in two locations: the Larama area of Ghazni Province and Farah Rud of Farah Province."
"The Taliban extort money from us," he said. "Some civilians who don't pay are imprisoned by the Taliban for [many] days and nights, and they torture them."
"If anyone doesn't stop his vehicle for them, they [the Taliban] fire bullets at them," he added.
"I travel two times a week on the Kabul-Kandahar highway," said Muhammad Akbar Ghaznawi, 36, another truck driver.
"Every time, the Taliban take 18,000 AFN ($230) or 22,000 AFN ($282). I have to give them the amount," said Ghaznawi. "If I don’t give them the money, they will beat me up, put me in prison or possibly kill me."
"We don't make any money in our business," he said. "The Taliban, as robbers, extort money from us. This violence and crime must end and the government should help us get rid of these thieves because the Taliban spend the same money on killing our brothers and sisters, and it ruins our country."
Niaz Muhammad Ashuqyar, 38, a truck driver who uses the Kandahar-Nimroz highway, said the Taliban also is extorting money from drivers in the Dilaram area of Nimroz Province.
"I have been transporting food and non-food items between Kandahar and Nimroz in my truck for the past 10 years," said Ashuqyar. "These are other people's goods for which I charge my transportation costs. The Taliban extort money from all the truck drivers in the Deiaram area and in an area near Bakwa District of Farah Province, and they give us paper receipts."
"Every time, they take about 20,000 AFN ($257) from me," he added. "If I give them money, they let me go. If I don't, they would stop my truck and lock me up in their prison."
"The government gets a tax from us, and then the Taliban, like highway robbers, force us to pay them another tax," he said.
Samiullah Samim, a former representative of Farah in the Wolesi Jirga, called on the government to take an immediate action.
"The Taliban operate two customs checkpoints on the highway in Farah and Nimroz provinces," he said. "They extort money from businesspeople and truck drivers from which the Taliban earn millions of afghanis every day."
"The government has several times destroyed the Taliban's customs checkpoints, but the Taliban, as thieves and robbers, then open another customs checkpoint in a different location," he added.
"Those who don't pay them, they torture them, beat them up or even kill them. We expect the government to annihilate those who cause losses for the public and extort money from them so that it can be a lesson for terrorist groups and looters."
"Tens of commercial trucks pass through Shamalzo District located along the Durand Line in Zabul Province," said Ata Jan Haqbayan, a member of the Zabul provincial council.
"The Taliban have opened a customs checkpoint there and they extort 10,000 to 30,000 AFN ($128 to $385) from each truck, and the truck drivers have to pay them the amount," he said.
"We, as the public's representatives, call on the government to help businesspeople and truck drivers get rid of these illegal taxes, tortures and ill treatment," said Haqbayan. "Their only hope is that the government rescues them from the atrocities of these horrific and violent people."
Cracking down on checkpoints
To counter the Taliban's illegal activities, security personnel have shut down a number of the militant's robbery checkpoints in the past year.
"Several times we have destroyed these enemies of our country, who forced civilians to give them money in the name of taxes," said Zabul Police Chief Najibullah Sarter.
"We hope the drivers can let us know anywhere the Taliban extort money from them, and we'll be able to capture them [the Taliban]," he added.
"As we have strongly defeated the Taliban in direct clashes as well as on the battleground, they have now resorted to harassing the public and businesspeople," said Sarter. "We will never allow these terrorists to extort money in the name of taxes from civilians."
"The Taliban had opened a customs checkpoints on the highway in Ghazni Province, but our security and detective agencies identified that location and they fully destroyed it three months ago," said Muhammad Arif Rahmani, a spokesman for the Ghazni governor.
"We are thankful to God that no one can now extort money from anyone anywhere, and if anyone has a complaint, we are at their service [to address their problem]."