RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi
October 29, 2021
War, drought, and COVID have devastated farmers across Afghanistan.
Now, Afghan farmers who’ve lost money trying to grow crops over the past year say the Taliban is dealing them another crippling blow.
The cash-strapped regime is making them pay so-called charity taxes on their land and harvests, describing the payments as an obligation under Islamic law.
The charity taxes are being collected despite the fact that farmers themselves are among the 14 million Afghans that the World Food Program says are already facing acute hunger.
Samiullah, a 28-year-old Afghan farmer with eight acres of land in Kapisa Province north of Kabul, is among those whose families need humanitarian aid to survive the coming winter.
Irrigation canals in the so-called green belt around Samiullah’s village of Kham Zargar helped him weather the drought better than farmers who had to haul water from wells to keep their crops alive.
But even before the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August, the cost of fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals had soared due to Taliban blockades on transport routes and global COVID supply-chain disruptions.
Samiullah was not allowed to write off the thousands of dollars in unexpected costs he incurred due to war and COVID. Taliban tax collectors do not take into consideration the losses farmers have incurred.
Thus, Samiullah’s “ushurp” tax was calculated as a flat 10 percent of the funds he received for his harvest.
Samiullah also has to pay a 2.5 percent “zakat” tax on the value that Taliban tax collectors estimated his property is worth.
“When we calculate our costs, with such a high price for chemical fertilizer alone, there is nothing left for us in the end except the hard work we go through,” Samiullah tells RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.
To the east of Kabul, in neighboring Nangarhar Province, 30-year-old livestock rancher Ezat took out loans last year to buy land.
But the drought and economic collapse under the Taliban have left Ezat unable to repay those loans — forcing him to sell much of his land at a loss.
Now, because the Taliban taxes him without considering his losses, Ezat says he cannot afford to pay the tithes and “zakat.”
The Taliban justifies its charity taxes as one of the five pillars of Islam that are considered obligations for all Muslims.
Other such obligations include a declaration of faith, daily prayer, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and taking part in the Hajj pilgrimage.
Zakat differs from the voluntary act of giving charitable gifts out of kindness or generosity.
It is meant to be compulsory for those who earn incomes above a certain amount, and it is based on a person’s income as well as the value of their possessions.
Recipients of zakat are meant to be the poor and needy, struggling converts to Islam, people who are enslaved or in debt, stranded travelers, and soldiers who fight to protect the Muslim community.
Those who collect zakat also are compensated for the work they do.
Critics of zakat include Islamic scholars and aid workers who note that the practice has failed to alleviate poverty in the Muslim world.
They argue that the funds often are wasted and mismanaged.
Agha Gol, a resident of Kabul’s Shakardara district, was forced to pay taxes to the Taliban for his garden.
Gol says the Taliban has yet to standardize its rules on collecting tithes and charity taxes. He says that can make the taxes arbitrary and prone to corruption by abusive tax collectors.
“You have to pay the [Taliban-led] government,” Gol told Radio Azadi. “But first, they need to have a specific law and create a specific office for payments to be forwarded to the Taliban’s treasury.”
In Kabul, the Taliban-led government’s Agriculture Ministry says it is collecting charity taxes from farmers, ranchers, and people with small garden plots in order to bolster revenues and increase the “self-sufficiency” of the country.
Representatives of the Taliban ministry tell Radio Azadi that they are not sending out tax payment notification letters through mosques and villages in rural areas.
But they admit that work on collecting tithes and charity taxes is under way.
Residents of Ghor Province refute the ministry’s claim that the Taliban is not delivering tax payment notifications.
They tell Radio Azadi the Taliban’s tax collection process began when local militants posted so-called night letters at local mosques and on the walls of residential compounds.
Farmers in the central Afghan province also tell Radio Azadi that Taliban gunmen have stormed their homes at night to demand that they pay tithes and charity taxes.
Those without money to make the payments say the Taliban has seized their livestock instead — making their families even more dependent on humanitarian aid in the months ahead.
Taliban Cash Crunch
The Taliban argues that its cash shortage could be alleviated if Washington would release $9.4 billion in Afghan central bank reserves held in the United States.
Those reserves remain frozen amid uncertainties about the Taliban regime’s human rights record and reservations about whether to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government.
Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, notes that regular EU development aid to Afghanistan also remains frozen.
Massrali says a $350 million EU humanitarian aid package announced to support “basic needs in direct benefit of the Afghan people” will not be delivered through the Taliban.
“It goes through international organizations, I mean the United Nations, and nongovernmental organizations on the ground” to guarantee the aid is not diverted by the Taliban, she told Radio Azadi.
“The Taliban are facing a shortage of liquidity not just to pay salaries but to pay everything. So they need the international community’s help,” Massrali explained. “Our engagement will also depend on the action of the Taliban.”
Meanwhile, cash shortages, bank closures, and the suspension of money transfers to Afghanistan since the Taliban seized Kabul continue to contribute to hyper inflation and rising food costs.
According to the World Food Program (WFP), more than 60 percent of Afghans rely on agriculture for their incomes.
In September, just weeks after the Taliban seized power, the WFP estimated that 93 percent of Afghans were not getting enough food to eat — an increase from 80 percent before the Taliban took over.
“Taliban control will undoubtedly make a bad situation worse,” says Jamie Lutz, a global food security researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Lutz notes that the former Afghan government depended heavily on foreign aid, with about 80 percent of its budget coming from the United States and other international donors.
“The withdrawal of international support in the country has raised questions about how the Taliban will fund social services and food assistance,” Lutz says.
“The Taliban takeover is also worsening disruption to food supply chains,” she concludes.
Written by Ron Synovitz in Prague with reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.