Analyzing the Taliban budget for 2023-24: Prioritizing military spending over citizen welfare

By Rustam Seerat 

A leaked document detailing the Taliban’s budget for 2023-24 provides insight into the regime’s priorities. The budget shows that the Taliban are directing a significant portion of its funds toward security, including $1.1 billion going to the Ministries of Defense and Interior Affairs, the Directorate of Intelligence, and their subsidiaries. That the regime is spending almost half of its revenues on security represents a significant investment in the Taliban’s military capabilities. That’s an even larger share of the overall budget than is spent by Iran, a theocratic peer of the Taliban. (In contrast, the largest military spender, the United States, devotes less than one sixth of its federal budget to defence.) 

That the Taliban is devoting nearly half of its budget to its security shows the prioritization of the regime: The regime is focusing on its ability to consolidate power, maintain control, and fight against opposition groups instead of spending funds to improve the lives of the citizens of Afghanistan. This budgetary choice may have significant long-term implications for Afghanistan and its people. 

One implication is that the terrorist regime is not concerned with the well-being of people in the war-torn country. This happens at a time when poverty is raging in the country. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the US-supported government on August 15, 2021, sent the country’s economy into a downward spiral. As a result of the political crises, the gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 20.7 percent in 2021, according to a World Bank report. According to the United Nations, 97 percent of the population is at risk of poverty, with more than half relying on humanitarian aid. According to International Rescue Committee, an average family spends 91 percent of its income on food, which is often still insufficient and means that many families are resorting to rationing and other coping strategies. The World Food Programme is asking for $800 million to continue its humanitarian mission in Afghanistan, a source of survival for many families.  

At the same time, the regime congratulates itself on its ability to extract large amounts of revenues from poverty-stricken people. Recently, the Taliban announced that it collected $2.24 billion in revenue in 2022. This revenue does not come from production or corporate taxes because Afghanistan does not have vibrant export or industrial sectors. The Taliban revenue is generated largely from four sources: imports, telecom levies, business taxes, and narcotics.  

Imports are Afghanistan’s main source of customs revenue, yet high customs taxes increase the prices of foreign products and fuel inflation, which hurts poverty-stricken consumers. The second revenue source is a 10 percent tax levied on telecom customers (for every 100 afghani loaded to a phone, 10 go directly to the Taliban, leaving consumers with 90 afghani on their phones). The third source are taxes on shopkeepers, vendors, and agricultural products. Street vendors must pay about $100 a month to keep their carts on a street corner, a fee that is now so expensive that poor vendors earn little profit and are forced to stay at home. Finally, narcotic production contributes significant amounts to the Taliban coffers. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), since August 2021, opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 32% from the previous year. It found 233,000 hectares under cultivation, making the 2022 crop the third largest in size since monitoring began.  

That the Taliban’s budget revealed its disregard for the people’s social and economic well-being didn’t come as a surprise to observers. Last year, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, gave a speech in which he made it abundantly clear that the Taliban is not responsible for people’s food security and widespread poverty. Instead, he said that the people should ask God to feed them. In contrast, he believes that the Taliban are responsible for people’s religious lives and will make sure the people live by the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic texts.  

In addition, the huge share of the budget devoted to the security sector may also indicate that the Taliban anticipate resistance to its regime, and intend to quell any opposition that may arise. Furthermore, the Taliban’s military focus may also affect regional stability. Its influence has already been felt beyond Afghanistan’s borders, with the regime’s close relationship with Pakistan drawing concern from neighboring countries such as India and Iran. The Taliban’s militarized regime may also be spreading its ideology beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has already been posing a threat to the government of Pakistan, which forced it to launch an “all out-comprehensive operation” to eliminate the terrorist group, a statement by its National Security Committee reads.  

This budget offers a blueprint for a dark future. A militarized Taliban regime is terrible news for the people of Afghanistan; it’s bad news for the region and the world. The sooner that is understood, the easier it is to prevent the menace that the Taliban is unleashing. 

 Rustam Ali Seerat is a research scholar at the Department of International Relations, South Asian University New Delhi. 




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