According to a news report, the Afghan Taliban are demanding that four mobile operators in the country—Etisalat, MTN, Roshan and Afghan Wireless Communication Company—pay the group a “protection tax” and threatening to destroy their infrastructure and harm their employees if it is not paid. The demand, which was made at a secret meeting of the Taliban leadership in Quetta, Pakistan, last month, came in the wake of an announcement by the Afghan government that it made US $1.4 million by imposing a 10 percent tax on MNOs. The Taliban want the same amount paid to them, which telecom executives say would be ruinous.
With revenue of US $150–200 million a year and growing fast, the Afghan mobile industry is a rare bright spot in a country with a largely stagnant economy. However, this looming extortion by a group that has proven its ability and willingness to damage mobile infrastructure in the past is casting a shadow over the market. The situation exemplifies the fact that lawlessness and weak central governments are major challenges to mobile operators, even as demand among embattled populations surges. By building networks and creating services, operators aim to bring people together—a key aspect of telecommunication. But they cannot do that if the government is unable to protect them.