Afghanistan Fears Literal Darkness as Taliban Fail to Pay Electric Bills

People are worried Afghanistan could have its power supply cut off, triggering a mass blackout and plunging the country into "the Dark Ages."
October 5, 2021, 6:54am
afghan civilian
Since reclaiming control of Afghanistan on August 15, the Taliban hasn’t paid the nation's Central Asian power suppliers or resumed collecting money from consumers. Photo by Marcus Yam / Contributor, via Getty Images

There are fears Kabul could face a mass blackout, and a subsequent humanitarian crisis, if the Taliban don’t start collecting money for utility bills and paying the city’s electricity suppliers.

About half of the power consumed in Afghanistan – which does not have its own national power grid – is currently supplied by electricity imports from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Since reclaiming control of the country on August 15, however, the Taliban hasn’t paid the Central Asian suppliers or resumed collecting money from consumers, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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Unless that changes, the nation's state power monopoly, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), could have their power cut off altogether.

“The consequences would be countrywide, but especially in Kabul,” Daud Noorzai, who resigned as chief executive of DABS but remains in close contact with the remaining management, told the paper. “There will be blackout and it would bring Afghanistan back to the Dark Ages when it comes to power and to telecommunications. This would be a really dangerous situation.”

The flow of capital that literally keeps the lights on in Afghanistan has grown worryingly quiet on multiple fronts. Even before the Taliban takeover, DABS officials had raised concerns that customers in conflict-riven provinces were unable to pay their bills. This problem only worsened as the extremist group tightened their control over the country. Now that they’re in power, the Taliban – whose funds have been heavily impacted by international sanctions – aren’t giving approval for the remaining money in DABS’ accounts (some $40 million) to be used to pay invoices from power suppliers. 

The company’s liabilities have since grown to more than $90 million, and continue to rise. A document obtained by TOLOnews shows that DABS owes over $51 million to Afghanistan’s four neighbouring countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran.

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Meanwhile, the collection of revenue from consumers has continually slowed to a trickle, shrinking by 74 percent in the month of September. According to DABS officials, only $8.9 million has been collected since the Taliban takeover of Kabul nearly two months ago. And while last year customers accounted for about half of DABS’s $387 million in total revenue, disruptions to the country’s banking systems have left many Afghans unable to pay their bills.

“Our neighbouring states now have the right to cut our power, under the contract,” Safiullah Ahmadzai, the DABS chief operating officer who stayed on and served as acting CEO after the Taliban takeover, told WSJ. “We are convincing them not to do that and that they will get paid.”

Kabul residents have been enjoying a higher-than-usual supply of power since the Taliban took control, as militants stopped attacking transmission lines from Central Asia and the city’s industrial, military and government facilities, which usually consume much of the electricity, ground to a standstill. That situation is looking less sustainable by the day though, and with winter now less than two months away, a widespread blackout could be devastating for millions of Afghans.

Ahmadzai, who was replaced as CEO by a Taliban cleric on Sunday, claimed that an urgent infusion of $90 million is needed to save DABS from collapse, and urged international donors – including those from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) – to cover either the money owed by the company or the unpaid bills of consumers. 

“UNAMA contacted us and told us what they can do for us. We requested they provide $90 million to Afghanistan,” said Ahmadzai, according to TOLOnews. “We asked UNAMA to pay the electricity bill of those customers who have not paid or cannot pay to the neighbouring countries.”

“This is not a political issue, this would be a direct payment to the poor people of Afghanistan, not the government,” he told WSJ. “And electricity is needed to keep the wheels of the economy turning.”

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