A piece from mid-August 2010, considering the Taliban’s attempt to collect a traditional Islamic tax — not only to support their efforts, but to build legitimacy for themselves in the eyes of the populace.
1. The main focus of the Taliban in the southern districts of Paktia Province is to collect the annual agricultural tax, or Zakat, during Ramadan. The Taliban in 2010 have demonstrated an ability to collect more than previously, a sign of growing grip over the rural population.
Comment: In terms of understanding the long term trajectory of the Taliban and why the local people support them, this is significant. In spite of their limited military effectiveness, the Taliban still have more grip over the rural population than the Kabul government has. This permits the Taliban to develop a parallel system, which, even if it is not a real rival for the Kabul-based administration in terms of running cities and creating national infrastructure, matters to the local farmers and can certainly support the fielding of thousands of young fighters and retain its own viability.
2. The Taliban have collected zakat in most of the areas of Paktia Province where they have control. In Paktia, the Zakat is paid in the form of wheat, grain and grapes. In 2010, so far the Taliban have collected 100 metric tons of wheat just in Zurmat Provice — an unprecedented amount, more than has been collected since the 1970s.
3. Something new is happening in Zurmat District with the Zakar. This year the Taliban distributed the collected wheat among the poor people of the district. This is different from their policy of previous years, and has indeed created a bond in the hearts of the people. They took a portion of the zakat to their bases for the fighters to eat, but most of the zakat has been redistributed among the people.
4. Comment: The Zakat is a traditional Islamic tax at the end of the harvest season, and consists of ten percent of of wheat and other grains produced. It is paid in kind to the local Mullah and retained in the mosque. In the rural areas, this tithe is designed to support the mosque, serve as a reserve in face of famine, and provide food for the poor people of the immediate area. Because the Zakat is returned to the community in the form of social services and religious benefits, it generally is paid willingly. Under the Taliban regime, however, the Zakat was collected by the central government in Kabul, the grain sold on the international market to raise cash, and it was all retained by the central government for its own operating costs. As a result, in Afghanistan resistence to paying the Zakat developed, and in the 2002-2006 period, no one collected it at all. The report below shows that the Taliban is trying to break from its own past and act in a more traditional Islamic manner, a ploy to appeal to the traditionalist rural population that supports the Taliban.