The Taliban are expanding their
extortion campaign, demanding that businesses pay "protection money" to avoid being attacked.
Well, that's nothing new with terrorists and rebels. But what is new is how an
effort to control cell phone use has quickly evolved into just another extortion
campaign. Naturally, the Taliban call it a "tax", as the Islamic radicals
consider themselves the rightful (if unelected) government of Afghanistan.
began earlier this year, when some Taliban groups in southern Afghanistan
launched a campaign to shut down cell
phone service at night. This turned into a public relations nightmare. The Taliban damaged or destroyed ten cell
phone towers outside the southern city of Kandahar, and forced the cell phone
companies to shut down service at night for about 300,000 rural customers in
areas where the Taliban gunmen were active. The Taliban believed NATO was using
cell phone signals to track Taliban movements at night. Actually, NATO has
several ways to track the Taliban at night. Few in the Taliban seem to
understand how ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) works, so this campaign against
cell phones was simply a desperate reaction to many smart bomb attacks, or
police raids, on houses where Taliban were spending the night.
Taliban themselves make heavy use of cell phones, especially since service has
been installed in many rural areas. To make this happen, the cell phone
companies make deals with the local tribal leaders, who want cell phone service
and are willing to protect, or at least not attack the cell phone towers (which
cost up to $250,000 each.)
tribesmen are often pro-Taliban, but want the cell phone service in order to
stay in touch with friends, family and the few government services that are
available. Thus the Taliban attack on the cell phone companies even angered
people who were pro-Taliban. The tribesmen demanded that night service be
restored. It was, But then, noting that there were several cell phone companies
operating in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban went to the different companies
and offered not only "protection", but damage to a competitor, for a price. The
Cell Phone companies are demanding some protection.
now over five million cell phone users in Iraq, and many rural areas are
getting access to phone service for the first time ever. The cell phone
companies have invested over a billion dollars so far, giving many Afghans
access to world class telephone service for the first time. This is a common pattern
in poor countries, where government monopolies and high costs prevented the
establishment of conventional landline phone systems anywhere but in a cities
and some large towns. Cell phones are cheaper, and can more quickly be
installed. People much prefer cell phones to conventional land-line phones.
government is publicizing all this as another example of Taliban efforts to
prevent reconstruction efforts, while the government struggles to improve
infrastructure and the economy. The story is getting a lot of play throughout
the country, depleting what little good-will the Taliban had left.