Monday, January 17

The Taliban will hand out their first payslips. But who will get the money?

The Taliban government will pay salaries to its employees for the first time. Where do they get the money from? And who will get paid?

Afghanistan is on the brink of an economic and humanitarian catastrophe. Now the Taliban promises to pay salaries to employees again.

It’s time for payday in Afghanistan.

More than three months after taking power in the country, the Taliban will pay civil servants for the first time. The news comes after the UN repeated the warning they have given for several weeks:

The country’s 38 million inhabitants are on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. More than half of the population lives with a critical shortage of food.

That the extreme Islamists now want to pay employees is therefore received with open arms. But is there reason to believe that the Taliban’s paycheck will remove the population catastrophe the UN warns of?

There are several questions that must be asked before this can be answered.

NOK 52 million in one day

The Taliban have been in financial trouble since taking power. Much of the old government’s wallet was in US banks: $ 9.5 billion. Approximately 83 billion Norwegian kroner.

When the Taliban government took office, they hoped to gain access to this money. They still hope so. But the United States will not give the money to the Taliban until it proves that it respects human rights, women and minorities. So far, the Taliban have failed that test.

On Wednesday, the Taliban sent an open letter to the US Congress. There they asked for the 83 billion kroner. No, was the answer. The extreme Islamists apparently did not react.

Then the Taliban held a press conference on Saturday. There, the government said that government employees should be paid for the last three months. The news came at the same time with several surprising statements.

Big income

The Taliban has raised $ 288 million in the last three months, a government spokesman said. This corresponds to approximately 2.5 billion Norwegian kroner.

Last week, they collected around 52 million Norwegian kroner in one day, the spokesperson continued.

That is a lot of money for a country on the brink of economic and humanitarian collapse.

– There is every reason to take these numbers with a pinch of salt, says Prio researcher Kristian Harpviken.

Because even though the Taliban government boasted of increased revenues, they gave vague answers as to where they got them from.

So, where does the money come from?

Unanswered questions

There are no definitive answers here, but the possibilities are many.

The Taliban had a major influence in a number of provinces in the years before they regained power. They demanded taxes from ordinary people in several of these provinces. There are many indications that they are maintaining the scheme.

One week before Kabul fell on August 15, they took control of Faizabad, in the east of the country. The next day, a local resident told Aftenposten that the Taliban had already collected taxes. It is an effective way for the Islamists to get money in the coffers, according to Harpviken.

– The Taliban are willing to follow up with threats if people do not pay, he explains.

He also points to the taxation of transit trade as an important source of income.

And heroin.

Opium sea

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, which is the raw material used to make heroin.

Afghan farmers harvest raw opium east of Kabul in 2013.

The Taliban have been making good use of this for several years. Exactly how much is far from certain.

Whatever the sum, the Taliban are set to make more money on opium in 2021 than before. During the year, opium exports from Afghanistan increased by eight percent compared to last year, according to one recent report from the UN.

Taxes and opium may thus have contributed to the Taliban being able to present their good news on Saturday. But who will get the salaries?

Did not go back to work

There are state employees, the Taliban spokesman said.

Exactly who falls under that group is unclear. Many have not returned to work since the Taliban seized power. Partly because:

Whoever now receives a salary can give a clue to the Taliban government’s goals, Harpviken believes.

– The Taliban will have to show some of their cards in what they prioritize politically, he explains.

– So far it has not been easy to see. Now we can see it more clearly.

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