The Taleban’s military dominance in Zurmat district of Paktia province has allowed them to assert their will over how government and NGO-provided public services are delivered. Their motivation varies from ideological control (education and media) to revenue generation (taxes on telecommunications and public infrastructure projects). In this district, the Taleban have expanded into tax collection to fund minor roads and irrigation canals in rural areas. Despite these Taleban advances into governance and public service delivery, they have left the hardest and most expensive work – health and medicine – to the Afghan government and NGOs. Here, AAN’s Obaid Ali, Sayed Asadullah Sadat and Christian Bleuer have conducted ten interviews with individuals and groups in Zurmat district to provide an up-to-date analysis of this specific form of Taleban governance (with input from Thomas Ruttig).For shortage of classrooms, grade 3 students study in the open at Habibullah Zurmati high school in Tamir, Zurmat's district centre. Photo: AAN
Previous publications in the series are: an introduction with literature review and methodology, “One Land, Two Rules (1): Service delivery in insurgent-affected areas, an introduction” by Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark; four district case studies: on Obeh district of Herat province by Said Reza Kazemi; Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz province by Obaid Ali; Achin district in Nangrahar province by Said Reza Kazemi and Rohullah Sorush and Nad Ali district by Ali Mohammad Sabawoon; Andar district in Ghazni province by Fazal Muzhary and; a case study on polio vaccinations by Jelena Bjelica;
Zurmat district is located to the southwest of the provincial capital Gardez and borders: Kharwar district of Logar to the north; Shwak district of Paktia to the south’ Mata Khan district of Paktika and Deh Yak district of Ghazni to the west; and Barmal and Sar Hawza districts of Paktika to the southwest. The district is ethnically dominated by Pashtuns from a variety of different tribes and sub-tribes, such as the Daulatzai, Suleimankhel, Salukhel, Mamozai, Ander, Uryakhel, Dzadran, Stanikzai and Mangal. They make up 90 per cent of the population, with the remaining ten per cent known as ‘Tajiks’, from the Marsangkhel and Khodayarkhel tribes. These are formerly Farsi-speaking Mohsenkhel Pashtuns who relocated from Ghor province some generations ago (for more background details read this and this AAN report). (1) Zurmat district , with its district centre, Tamir, has 164 villages, 55 of them large. According to Afghanistan’s Central Statistics Office, it has a population of 94,865, 51,000 male and 43,865 female.
The Taleban have a very strong presence in Zurmat, with the government only in control of the district centre and some areas close to it. The Afghan National Police (ANP) is largely based in the district centre while the Afghan National Army (ANA) has a main base there, too, as well as a presence in areas close to the district centre, such as Sahak, seven kilometres to the north; Mamozai, around five kilometres to the east and Sorkai, ten kilometres to the south of the district centre. TheCIA-led Khost Protection Force (KPF) and NDS-supported local Uprising Forces have posts along the Gardez-Tamir road (AAN reporting here). In 2018, the government disbanded the Afghan Local Police (ALP) unit in Zurmat after they committed abuses against local civilians. For defensive purposes, local government officials live close together in one particular area of town, called Khwajagan village, near the ANA base in Tamir (for a longer description, see AAN’s 2018 election dispatch from Zurmat). In mid-2018, the government also closed an ANA base in Kulalgo as part of its strategy to give up scattered bases and concentrate on securing district centres.
Background and History (1980 to 1990s)
Zurmat is one of the Taleban’s regional strongholds, as it was during the Emirate, described in a 2018 AAN dispatch, thus:
For historical reasons, Zurmat is sometimes called Little Kandahar, as a number of prominent Taleban leaders came from the area. For Greater Paktia – the three provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost – Zurmat was as important for the insurgents, as Kandahar was for southern Afghanistan. Two different networks of the Taleban are active in the area: the Haqqani network, led by Qari Shams, and the Mansur network, locally called the ‘Mansurian’ – led by Abdul Latif Mansur, a member of the Taleban leadership and relative of the network’s founder, the late Nasrullah Mansur.
Map: © Roger Helms for AAN
The local power structures in Zurmat are an exception to elsewhere in the province of Paktia. Conrad Schetter and Rainer Glassner (2) argued that:
In Paktia most of the tribes aim to stand apart from the conflict between the insurgents and the government and international troops. The tribes had successfully followed the same strategy during the Soviet occupation, whereby they allowed the insurgents and the government (as well as the international actors) to cross their tribal territories as long as no one challenged the tribal order. […] In general, most tribal leaders just observe this ideological conflict and maintain their networks with influential actors on all sides. […] In other words, the tribal system in Paktia obstructs or at least constrains the emergence of warlordism as well as the influence of the state.
Schetter and Glassner, referring to the work of Sébastien Trives, then contrast the rest of the province to the district of Zurmat (3):
By contrast, in the southern district of Zurmat, where the tribal system with its myriads of tribes and clans is rather fragmented and tribal codes are weakened, the insurgents have gained more support than in those parts of the province, where tribal structures are more stable.
The Zurmat exception could be seen in the emergence of the powerful Mansur family network. Maulawi Nasrullah Mansur, an Andar Pashtun was born in a small village in Zurmat. He rose to prominence after he received a “religious education at Nur ul-Madaris, the madrasa founded by the Mojaddedi family, one of the best-known (and conservative) abodes of Muslim learning in Afghanistan.” (4) The Mansurs were elevated beyond their local power base in 1995 when they joined the Taleban. Their reward became evident in the number of high-ranking Taleban posts given to family members and others from Zurmat, most prominently Abdul Latif Mansur as Minister of Agriculture. He had followed in his brother’s position as the network’s leader after the latter’s assassination in 1993. In the post-2001 insurgency phase, he was reportedly appointed to the first post-Taleban regime Leadership Council in June 2003 and later,from early 2009 till mid-2010, was the head of the Taleban Political Committee, responsible also for peace talks. Subsequently, he was reported to be acting as the Taleban provincial governor for Paktia. It is also believed that he is a member of the Taleban Leadership Council (Rahbari Shura – more in this AAN paper). Currently, he serves as a member of the Taleban political office in Doha and is taking part in the ongoing Taleban-US talks there(5) Beyond the Mansur family, two other Zurmat locals have served at different times as Taleban ministers for Finance, Economy and Agriculture, and four more served in deputy minister posts. (6)
RFE/RL journalist and author Abubakar Siddique argues that the power of this family, and the way in which they have “enriched” themselves, has “undermined tribal solidarity.” (7) In terms of their relationship with the Taleban, the Mansurs and allied Zurmat locals have maintained their autonomy, run the district independent of the overall Taleban hierarchy and locally are rooted well enough to keep other Taleban branches among them the Haqqani network, out of ‘their’ area. (8) According to sources close to the Taleban, the group remains strong enough to maintain a large presence in northern parts of the district, such as Dawlatzai, Haibatkhel, Abikhel, Durunk and Muqarabkhel areas. The sources said that the head of the Taleban’s military committee for Paktia province and the shadow district governor post for Zurmat are in the hands of Mansur family members. The Mansur and Haqqani networks jointly run other posts in the Taleban’s structure at the local level.
Conflict and Security 2001-19
Saif ur-Rahman Mansur, the elder son of Nasrullah Mansur, was a leader in the fight against US troops immediately after the overthrow of the Taleban regime. In 2002, he led the resistance of over a thousand fighters, including his own men, those from the Haqqani networks and al-Qaeda-linked Arab and probably Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan-linked Central Asians, against a large US military operation, codenamed Anacondaaimed at ‘cleansing’ the mountainous Shahikot area of Zurmat from what the US considered to be forces allied with al-Qaeda, and he gained fame in the process. (9) But it was not until three years later that the Mansur network again became relevant locally. In 2005, the leaders of the Mansur family reignited the insurgency. Family leaders directed operations from across the border in Pakistan, ordering operations as far away from Zurmat as Ghazni and Logar. (10)
Local Shura discusses security-related issue in Surkai village of Zurmat province
By 2007 the Mansur network was causing serious problems for the Afghan government and the US military. Thomas Ruttig, citing a UN official, gave the following reasons for the growing success of insurgents in Zurmat: “the corruption in local government, the district’s function as a major transit corridor for Taleban fighters moving from Pakistan to Ghazni province and more central Afghan areas, intra-tribal conflicts, and the strong position of conservative ulema in the area.” (11) Corruption has continued to alienate many tribes and their leaders from the provincial and central government. Meanwhile, local intra-tribal conflict has opened the way for the Taleban to support certain tribal elements against others, while ulama from within the large number of madrassas, among them some prestigious (and conservative ones) both in Paktia and neighbouring Ghazni, have given them ideological backing.
However, the Mansur network has only had a sub-regional presence, not a national one. Its operations have been confined to north-eastern Ghazni, south-western Paktia and parts of Logar province. (12) By 2009, local observers believed that the power of the Mansur network, relative to overall Taleban command, had diminished as they lost many of their best commanders. (13) However, the power of the insurgency in Zurmat has not followed the same trajectory of the Mansur network. By 2019, the Taleban’s various local sub-networks had gained control of the entire district outside of the district centre.
There have been repeated abuses by government and US forces of Afghan civilians in the district. They include a night raid in December 2018 against a prominent local family that had been part of local, non-governmental forces that had repeatedly blocked expansion by the Haqqani network and their foreign allies from the network’s base in the Shahikot highlands into the rest of Zurmat district (the Khost Protection Force, accompanied by a least one American, killed six family members, see this AAN dispatch from January 2019). In another night raid in Zurmat in August by NDS special forces, which like the Khost Protection Force appear to answer to CIA command, eleven civilians were killed.
Afghan government forces have also killed civilians during their operations against Taleban forces, afterwards accusing the Taleban of using civilians and their homes as human shields (see accounts of civilians casualties in 2018 here and here).
The Taleban continue to easily exploit the locals’ resentment towards the Afghan government and international forces. One schoolteacher interviewed by AAN complained of the worsening security and gave government forces’ “fruitless night raids” as an example of bad government actions (see AAN reporting the latest case in Zurmat here). Another interviewee noted how quick the Taleban are to respond after this type of event, stating that they “meet elders when there is a night raid or drone attack in Taleban controlled-areas. This is largely to gain locals support and sympathy.” The civilians affected do not always follow the Taleban’s suggestions, as was the case after the Kulalgo killings.
Security and Governance Provision
A Zurmati elder described the Taleban’s powerful local presence in late 2018, adding that the insurgents control the majority of territory in the district:
Power lies in the hands of the Taleban. The government controls the district centre and some villages near the district centre. The Taleban are active in all other areas and they attend to all people’s problems. The Taleban have an active district governor. In their power structures, they have different kinds of committees that are active in every sphere.
The same elder remarked on the limited numbers and weakness of government forces in Zurmat. All other informants described the power balance similarly (Taleban control at ‘about 80 per cent’ of the territory), with two interviewees adding that the government had recently created five security checkpoints on the Zurmat-Gardez road. The exact government area of control in this district is a mere few kilometres’ radius around the district governor’s office.
The power of the Taleban and the relative weakness of the Afghanistan government was seen in the 2018 elections, when voting was only possible in the district centre (19 of 22 polling stations in Zurmat remained closed). The Taleban’s threats against potential voters worked, and the only people voting appeared to be members of the security forces, government workers and shopkeepers near the voting station in the centre (for a long voting election analysis of Zurmat, see AAN’s 2018 dispatch)
The interviewees described Taleban fighters and officials as being mostly local. One local civil society activist noted that the Taleban have been able to recruit even well-educated local young men, due to hopeless employment prospects in Zurmat.
Interviewees agree that Taleban from outside the district make up a small number of their forces, mostly from Paktika, Logar and Ghazni, with some Waziri kuchis from the border areas. However, they said it is some of the higher-ranking Taleban who are the outsiders, while the lower ranks are local. This is in clear contrast to the era when the Mansur network dominated the ranks of the insurgency from top to bottom. Almost all the interviewees described the ‘outsiders’ as being from neighbouring districts or provinces, but two noted that there are also some foreigners among the Taleban, including Pakistanis, Arabs and some Central Asian fighters.
Public services in Zurmat district are delivered and monitored by the Afghan government and by NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee, Medical Refresher Courses for Afghans (MRCA) and Hewad. In 2019, Hewad took over MRCA’s part, after it ended its presence. Respondents agree that the Taleban, controlling most of the district, have a very strong role in controlling how these services are delivered. A school teacher described the Taleban shadow administration as having “established a parallel government system that operates in the district. The Taleban’s district governor and heads of the military, education, and public outreach committees operate outside the district centre.” He said there were also are Taleban offices in the Kulalgo bazaar, Sahak, Koti Khel, Dawlatzai, Makawa and Haibatkhel areas, as contact points for the population. However, the main base for the Taleban, where most of the decisions are taken place, is in Spin Jumat (White Mosque) located in Makawa area in the north of the district that borders Kharwar district of Logar province. This means decisions largely take place in Mansur’s territorial areas.
One local elder described the arrangement:
The Taleban have various committees, each separately functioning in different spheres. Some are active in the health sector, some in education, some in conflict [resolution] and politics, and some are active in the development sector. When the government wants to implement a project, it has to have the Taleban’s permission and cooperation. The Taleban have to be involved in the project, but most of the time they prevent the implementation of projects. They do not give permission because they demanded a huge amount of money, and the government gave up and transferred the project to another district.
One key source, a local tribal elder in Zurmat, described how the Taleban allow or do not allow, government projects to implemented:
Elders and Taleban meet each other and discuss the project. If the Taleban get money, then they allow the government to implement the project, but leave their men to monitor its implementation. If they do not get their money, then they do not allow the project to be implemented.
As an example of what the Taleban do not allow to be implemented, the interviewee mentioned the Citizen’s Charter programme, which funds projects for water, sanitation, tertiary road construction and renewable energy through grants and implemented by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development implement). Another local tribal elder gave an example of a specific type of project:
Some small projects, which are initiated by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, for example, the restoration of water canals in the agriculture sector, are controlled and monitored by the Taleban. Elders always have a mediatory role between government and the Taleban insurgents.
Almost every interviewee agreed that the Taleban are regularly available for the public to meet to air their concerns. A few respondents added that the Taleban do not meet any shuras. They told AAN the Taleban do not have any respect for them, even though these shuras are local and not government initiatives, but prefer to communicate directly with community elders.
As for the failure to deliver services, a tribal elder in Zurmat stated that the government claims they cannot deliver services in many parts of the district due to insecurity. Meanwhile, the Taleban say they cannot deliver services because they have no money for development projects.
Respondents put the number of schools in Zurmat district at about 63 to 64, a number that includes primary, secondary and high schools, plus a teachers training centre. Out of these schools, 36 (20 primary schools and 16 secondary schools) are without buildings. In these cases, the students study either in the local mosque, or private houses that serve as schools, or in tents or in open areas. One informant, highly placed in the local government, noted that this number includes 13 girls’ schools that are all permanently closed. As for the boys’ schools, one teacher reported that the Taleban control most of these schools.
Ongoing construction work of a school building in Zurmat district
The Afghan government provides education services (salaries, school construction, as well as text book and stationery), while the provincial and district government, as well as the Taleban’s Education Committee, monitor the system. Several informants stated that the district government monitors schools in Taleban-controlled areas only with prior Taleban permission. As for the teachers, one key informant in the district government said “without the Taleban’s approval it is impossible to serve as teacher in most parts of the district. Before attending the education department’s exam for teacher appointment, one has to get the Taleban’s approval and agreement to serve as teacher in their areas of control.” The Taleban have their own monitoring and control system, as described by one school teacher:
Their monitoring system is similar to the provincial education department. However, the Taleban have their own attendance records for school teachers. They interfere in school curriculum and replace school books with [others on] religious subjects. For instance, the Taleban replaced the culture study classes (based on a government-provided school book) with [Islamic] jurisprudence. They also replaced another school subject, sport, with religious studies. In general, there are no [alternative] school books for these additional subjects. In fact, it depends on teacher’s skills and knowledge of religious norms to teach the Taleban-supported subjects in schools. In a few cases, the Taleban have assigned their own mullahs to teach students.
One key informant in the district government described the work of the Taleban Education Committee:
The committee is made up of local Taleban religious figures. […] The Taleban’s education committee monitor the schools sometime once a week and some other times once a month. The committee looks at teachers’ and students’ attendance records, teaching mechanism, and the curriculum. The Taleban interfere in the curricula and appointments of teachers. For the curriculum, the Taleban added additional religious subjects. When it comes to teachers’ appointments, they also interfere in it and without their approval it is not possible to serve as teacher in Taleban controlled-areas.
Another interviewee revealed that the Taleban monitors teacher attendance and deduct teachers’ absent day’s wages. This money is allocated against their own accounts. Another key informant in the district government described something similar: “If a school teacher doesn’t appear for a day, the Taleban deduct (a day’s salary) from their monthly salary, this amount then goes to school expenses or is kept by the Taleban.” He added that the Taleban’s education committee made its own attendance records for school teachers in areas they control. He added that, usually, the local education department’s representative distributes the salaries to teachers at school in the presence of a member of the Taleban’s education committee. If a teacher’s attendance record shows that he missed classes, then the Taleban’s representative deducts a day salary immediately after the distribution of the teachers’ salaries. The same informant stated that the Taleban “regularly encourage younger students to Jihad. They sometimes carry out propaganda against the government during school visits.” Another key informant also stated that Taleban monitoring visits to schools serve another purpose, and that they “use this as a platform to talk with students and to encourage them to join the Taleban.”
There were schools for girls in Taleban-controlled areas of Zurmat up until 2016 to at least the third grade. In 2015, a local teacher predicted the Taleban would totally ban girl’s education the following year. (14) But whether or not the closure of girls’ school was a Taleban order or not, the education of girls faces many cultural and practical obstacles in Zurmat. The government informant stated:
There are a number of issues that prevent families from sending children to schools. For example: schools are far away from some villages, the lack of female teachers, some schools are out in the open, the culture issue, the negative campaign against girls’ education by some mullahs. These are the issues that have dissuaded families from sending their girls to schools.
One local elder noted that the lack of girls’ education is not the only problem. The quality of boys education is also low and “there is a lack of professional teachers.” Other informants stressed the low quality of buildings, the lack of good textbooks and, in some cases, the lack of buildings.
For graduates, there are few prospects to use their education. One well-educated interviewee said that “Zurmat has many educated youths,” but that they have few employment opportunities in the district. In most cases, the educated people either leave the district to search for jobs in Gardez, the provincial centre, or Kabul. Those that remain work as farmers or are unemployed.
According to local health workers and other informants, Zurmat district has one 50-bed hospital in the district centre, and, elsewhere in the district, two Comprehensive Health Centres (CHC), three Basic Health Centres (BHC) and one sub-centre. A local elder stated that the Afghan government (the Zurmat Heath Department) and one NGO, MRCA/Relief International deliver and pay for these health services. In December 2018, after MRCA’s contact ran out, Hewad took over this task. The NGOs currently supporting medical services in Zurmat, according to a local hospital administrator, are ICRC and Hewad.
A local elder and another key informant said that the Taleban do not interfere with the clinics and hospital, but that the Taleban’s Health Committee visits the health centres in Taleban-controlled areas. A local doctor described the relationship with the Taleban:
The Taleban don’t interfere in our work. We are allowed to run the health clinic without any issue. In fact, if there is an issue of concern, the Taleban’s health committee and the provincial health department help us out.
A local elder described a more one-sided relationship, while mistaking NGO-delivered services for government services: “health services are delivered by the government but the Taleban should be informed because without their permission nothing can be done.”
This relationship can be seen in the polio vaccinations campaigns. A local civil society activist described the situation:
The Taleban banned the polio vaccination in August 2018, for more than a month. This was only for those mobile teams that carry out the door-to-door campaign. The health centres, however, were open for those who could bring their children for vaccination there. After elders’ mediation, the Taleban allowed the polio campaign in the district, but this was only for few months. The Taleban banned the polio vaccination again in the end of April 2019 in Zurmat (read AAN’s analysis on polio vaccination here).
Women’s access to health services is problematic in Zurmat due, not just to “traditional issues”, as stated by one informant, but also due to an insufficient number of female medical workers. A local doctor said in an interview that there are 80 health workers in the district that include twenty female ones working as midwives, nurses and vaccinators, but that there is no female medical doctor in the district. The same doctor claimed that men and women have equal access to health care. However, a local elder emphasised the lack of a female doctor in the district, and that “in the absence of gynaecologists, most of the time either patients die or they face major issues.” The best that can be done, according to one interviewee, is for the female patient to be transported to Gardez for treatment. However, the lack of a good road to Gardez and the absence of an ambulance make this a difficult operation.
Electricity, media and Telecommunication
Zurmat district is not connected to the national electricity grid. Residents rely mostly on solar power and, to a lesser degree, on generators. The solar power is enough only to light rooms, charge mobile phones and watch TV. However, those who own televisions are mostly in the district centre, as the Taleban prohibit watching TV in their territory. A school teacher from the Taleban controlled-area described the Taleban’s TV policies:
Most people watch TV programmes. They use satellite dishes because of the variety of channels the dishes can broadcast. They watch news, political debates, sports and other entertainment programmes. In most cases, people hide their dishes and TV antenna from the Taleban because the Taleban prohibit watching TV programmes. If the Taleban notice that people place dishes or TV antenna on the top of their roofs, then they search the house and smash the television.
Radios are far more widespread, with almost every household having one. The available stations broadcast news, music, cultural and entertainment programmes. The Taleban make use of the population’s radio use, broadcasting the Taleban’s official “Voice of Jihad” station.
Mobile phone ownership is widespread throughout Zurmat. Smart phones are only used by those few educated youths who can afford them, as they are, according to several interviewees, too expensive and complicated. Mobile internet is described as very slow and, in some cases, non-existent.
The mobile phone signal only works in the daytime as the Taleban force the mobile companies to turn off their services between 6pm and 7am. Roshan, Etisalat and Afghan Wireless all operate in Zurmat. MTN also had a presence until last year when the Taleban destroyed one of their towers. The Taleban have completely prohibited the state-owned Salaam Network from operating. For all other companies, they need to follow the rules (turn off the service at night) and pay the Taleban tax. A key informant described the relationship:
… telecom companies pay tax to the Taleban. If they do not pay the tax, then the Taleban will shut down their network coverage. For example, sometimes ago, the MTN Company did not pay tax, so the Taleban set its towers on fire.
Agriculture, Water and Irrigation
As might be expected with a rural Afghan district, most of the key informants cited – unprompted – the importance of the agricultural sector.
One key informant credited the government and what he called an ‘NGO’ (in fact, the World Bank-funded National Horticultural and Livestock Project) with providing services in the agriculture sector, including the provision of higher-quality seeds, seedlings, storage facilities and the digging of new wells. However, he noted that all of these projects can only be implemented with the Taleban’s “cooperation and permission.” An elder described also that projects implementedthrough the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Developmentare controlled and monitored by the Taleban. For example, some construction projects, such as bridges, irrigation water canals and cold-storage rooms for fruit, were funded by the government, but monitored by the Taleban. He added that the local Taleban even suggest through local elders to specify places where the project should be implemented. He said that, “Without the Taleban’s approval the government won’t be able to implement these projects.”Another informant noted that this is also the case with maintenance and construction of irrigation canals, which are paid for by the locals and implemented with permission from the Taleban.
There are also some other smaller construction projects for water irrigation canals in Korchi, Makawa and Menzi villages that the locals funded and constructed, but which the Taleban designed and monitored.
In 2011, the US military, based out of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Paktika, cited the economic and security benefits of high quality roads in the region and announced the imminent completion of several key transport corridors, including a road connecting Zurmat to Gardez. This asphalted road was never constructed, but is still being demanded by the local population. Nearly every interviewee in Zurmat cited the need to asphalt the current low-quality road. Several key informants stated that the Taleban had prohibited its improvement, but that they would allow construction of smaller village roads and bridges, in some cases even collecting taxes to fund the construction.
The Taleban do not have a special team to implement construction projects. Therefore, projects are implemented based on traditional construction methods and with the support of local elders. In general, these projects are of very poor quality and they need maintenance every month. In most cases, the local Taleban only monitor the implementation of such projects, rather than providing technical assistance.
The Taleban also sometimes organise public services projects. In these cases, they mobilise local financial and human resources, ie they call on locals to donate money or to provide construction material, such as cement, sand, stones or construction machinery. Then, the work is mainly carried out by locals, but monitored by the Taleban.
The largest construction project in the Taleban controlled-areas of Zurmat was the rehabilitation of parts of the 52 kilometre-long Gardez-Ghazni road. This road, leading through the Sahak area, was the main link between the two provincial capitals in the past. When US forces had a base in Sahak, they asphalted a 20 kilometre stretch between Gardez and their base to make it easier to supply it. After the US withdrawal, the base was handed over to the ANA who also use only this part of the road. The Taleban and locals also use the old road’s remaining 32 kilometre stretch that leads from Sahak via Dawlat Khan village on to the border of Ghazni’s Deh Yak district and further to Ghazni city. The Taleban organised funding by local population and called on them to take part in the primary construction work, ie using soil, sand and stone aggregates, but not yet asphalting it. The completion of this project enabled the Taleban to collect taxes from truck drivers transporting goods from Paktia to Ghazni.
Another example of a Taleban public works project was the primary construction of a 30 kilometres road that connects Sahak and Kulalgo villages, again funded by locals.
When it comes to taxes in general, the Taleban collect ten per cent of farmers’ income at the end of harvesting season. For businessmen, such as shopkeepers and market owners, taxes are payable at the end of the year or in advance at the beginning of the year. This depends on the Taleban financial committee’s decision. The Taleban’s financial committee estimate the amount payable based on the income of their business. However, the money collected is not allocated to construction or public services, but instead used to cover the Taleban’s own operational costs.
An interviewee described the justice sector as the only area that is fully controlled and implemented by the Taleban in their territory: “The only service that Taleban provide is justice. People register their cases in a Taleban court – because it is fast and without corruption.”
In September 2014, the Taleban sentenced to death and executed three men who kidnapped and murdered a child after failing to receive their ransom demand in a high-profile case. The Taleban made the execution a public event, and over 1,000 people in Zurmat watched the sentence being carried out. The Taleban ordered the bodies to be displayed for three days as a warning to others. There are no reports of other similar cases. (15)
Over the course of a few years, the Taleban have provided a much wider array of court services and justice. One local government committee member stated that the Taleban courts play “a key role in the district, where different cases are registered daily in their court.” Interviewees described most cases as being either land disputes or family conflicts.
Two interviewees, one highly placed in the district government, stated that, if a local Taleban court fails to reach a resolution or, if they refer the case to a local religious scholar and he fails to issue a verdict, then the case can be referred to a Taleban court based in Pakistan. One interviewee added that this usually does not happen as local Taleban courts resolve most disputes that come before them. Sometimes, smaller cases, such as disputes between two families, are referred to local Jirga for a solution. In these cases, if the Jirga fails to solve or if the Jirga’s decision is not acceptable, then the case can be registered to the Taleban court.
It is clear from the interviews conducted for this project that the Taleban have a powerful local presence in Zurmat that has translated into a control over public services that is stronger than that of the government. The Taleban’s presence in more than 80 per cent of the district has marginalised the government to a role as a monitor in certain sectors. This is particularly notable, for example, in education. Here the Taleban assert its will over this government-funded service, but still need the input of funds, materials and the know-how of the government-trained teachers. Here, the Taleban play a dominant ideological role – influencing the education curriculum – and a ‘law-and-order’ role – checking the teachers’ attendance records and, if necessary, deducting salaries for non-attendance. Their influence also allows them to appoint their own members as school teachers, to deny girls the right to an education, and to recruit students as fighters, as well as to deliver anti-government speeches in a state-run education centres.
The only public service that the Taleban fully deliver is the justice sector – an important part of asserting their control over the population, and also not an expensive public service (compared to the health sector, for example). The Taleban also have begun to collect money in support of public works, such as minor secondary roads and agricultural irrigation canals. This is usually project-related and not a regular payment used to build up a steady revenue from which funding could then be allocated for future projects. This demonstrates that the Taleban are in an on-going process of evolution from an all-out insurgent group to an operational quasi-government administration, also locally.
The Taleban have turned other sectors into revenue generation activities to fund their operations. Several telecommunications companies pay taxes directly to the Taleban, while improved road quality is used as a justification to collect taxes from truck drivers. Furthermore, projects must not just provide revenue to the Taleban, but this must take a form that the Taleban will not object to.
The extent of their control also has enabled the Taleban to decide where infrastructure can and cannot be constructed and to impose rules on telecommunication companies as to what times their service may be scheduled and provided.
The Taleban in Zurmat have created a system in which they can control and monitor when they need to for ideological reasons, to extract revenue for their operations, and to collect taxes to fund smaller construction projects that are important to the rural populations, such as minor roads and irrigations canals. The Taleban do all of this, while avoiding responsibility for the more expensive and complex public services, such as health. This leaves in doubt the ability of the Taleban to function in the future as a full-fledged government that is capable of delivering a full spectrum of public services without outside funding and technical assistance.
Edited by Thomas Ruttig and Kate Clark
(1) The use of this term here is controversial. Some former Dari speakers, for example, in the large village of Kulalgo, called ‘Tajiks’ by other local groups – and ‘Dehgan’ (village dwellers) by others –, insist they are originally (Mohsenkhel) Pashtuns who relocated from Ghor province some generations ago.
(2) Conrad Schetter and Rainer Glassner (2011), “Local configurations of violence: Warlords, tribal leaders and insurgents in Afghanistan,” Sicherheit und Frieden, Volume 29, No. 4, p235.
(3) Schetter and Glassner, “Local configurations of violence,” page 235.
(4) Thomas Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, in Decoding The New Taliban: Insight from the Afghan Field, ed. by Antonio Giustozzi (2009) London: Hurst, p78.
(5) Abubakar Siddique (2014), The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan, New York: Hurst, p175.
(6) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, pp79-80.
(7) Siddique, The Pashtun Question, p175
(8) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, pp79-80.
(9) Siddique, The Pashtun Question, p175.
(10) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, pp79-80; Siddique, The Pashtun Question, p175.
(11) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, p79.
(12) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, p78.
(13) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, p78.
(14) Barnett Rubin and Clancy Rudeforth (2016), ‘Enhancing Access to Education: Challenges and Opportunities in Afghanistan,’ Center on International Cooperation, New York University, p14.
(15) Vasja Badalič, The War Against Civilians: Victims of the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, p243.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020