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Kabul Claims Progress in Revenue Battle with Warlords - 2003-06-04

Afghanistan's central government is reporting new progress in its fight to stop local warlords from siphoning off customs revenues. The Afghan Finance Ministry has taken control of a key northern border crossing, previously used as a cash source by local militias.

Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani says his officials have stopped what he calls "local factions" in the country's north from taking customs receipts for their own use.

The move marks the latest effort by the central government to wrest control of import duties, seen as one of the impoverished country's most important sources of funding.

Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused provincial governors and other local leaders of withholding hundreds-of-millions of dollars in customs and tax receipts.

Mr. Ghani reports that his ministry is taking control of one of Afghanistan's most lucrative customs posts on the northern border with Uzbekistan. It is controlled by ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Afghan Central Bank Governor Anwarul Haq Ahadi says extending central authority over the provinces is key to rebuilding the country economically.

"I do not think that foreign investors will be very much impressed if they see the country [and] there are different warlords in different parts of the country," said the bank official. "I think the Karzai Administration has just begun to address that issue and I think receiving the revenues from the provinces by the central government, that is the first step in this direction."

The government appears to be making progress in the war for revenue. Earlier this week, Ismail Khan, governor of the southwest province of Herat, also bowed to the Karzai government's demands by turning over $20 million in tax and customs revenue.