The Taliban are demanding a “protection tax” from Afghan mobile phone companies, industry and militant sources told AFP. At a secret meeting last month near the Pakistani city of Quetta, the Taliban’s central leadership formally demanded the tax from representatives of four mobile companies in exchange for not damaging their sites or harming their employees.
The edict was motivated by an Afghan government announcement in October that it had amassed a AFN 78 million (around USD 1.14 million) within days of imposing an additional 10 percent tax on operators, according to two telecom company officials who attended the meeting and a third industry executive privy to the information. “They want us to pay the same amount paid to the government,” one of the officials who was at the gathering told AFP. A source in the Quetta Shura -the Taliban’s Pakistan-based leadership council- confirmed the meeting, telling AFP the group was waiting for a formal response from the companies.
The companies said to be at the meeting, namely Abu-Dhabi’s Etisalat, South Africa’s MTN and local companies Roshan and Afghan Wireless Communication Company, officially declined to comment. But one of them confirmed the meeting and tax demand: “Ten percent tax to the Taliban? That means we will have to share our revenue information with a militant organisation…That’s just not feasible. We told them ‘no’.” But one of the telecom officials who attended the Pakistan meeting said there was no escaping the Taliban edict, adding that the companies at best could wrangle a concession from the insurgents in future negotiations. “What choice do we have? All our investment, our infrastructure is at stake,” he said, adding he was unaware what his company’s official response would be. “But I fear that if we start paying one militant group, others will start harassing us.”
The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, declined to comment. Afghanistan boasts 18.5 million mobile users in a population of 30 million.