Everything is more complicated than it appears in Afghanistan. I learned about this reading last night’s WSJ, where a story by Yaroslav Trofimov detailed that a newly rebuilt power plant courtesy of the United States is actually providing money for the Taliban…the people we are fighting! It’s a $100 million hydropower plant, the biggest source of electricity in the south. But the wires that leave the plant with power cross through Helmand province–the center of the war and Taliban country.
In Afghanistan, the T-men don’t charge for usage; they prefer to hit everybody up for about $11.65 US per month. The Taliban bill collector arrives with wire cutters, and anyone who doesn’t pay gets snipped. The government figures it loses about $4 million a month from the insurgent’s simplified flat rate plan. Plans are afoot to put in a new Chinese-made turbine, to increase capacity. But the machine is still in its crate, because the T’s have blocked the convoy of cement and other materials they need to install it in the hydro plant.
There is a duel system here, and it’s cruel. In areas controlled by the allies, the government can’t collect anything. Because the Taliban decrees that anyone paying government electric bills must pay the same amount to the insurgents.”There are two governments, the official one and the Taliban one, and they both have electric departments,” explained Hajji Abdulaziz, a tribal elder.
Recently the T-men blew up a pylon and knocked out electricity in Helmand. After 11 days, the local governor began shutting off power supplies and it had an immediate effect. A delegation of chiefs arrived to seek a compromise and yielding to public pressure, the Taliban allowed the pylon to be fixed. And now the marble factory in Lashkar Gah is cutting stone again. “But with the Taliban, there are no guarantees,” said the governor.