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Afghanistan Appoints New Provincial Revenue Collectors - 2003-05-23

Afghanistan's central government says it plans to replace all provincial finance and customs directors to make sure that regional governors pay millions of dollars in customs revenues to Kabul. Border provinces are being accused of withholding the money, making difficult for the central government to operate.

Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani told reporters in the Afghan capital Friday that the government is appointing new provincial customs directors to organize the flow of revenue to the central government. He says the officers will report to Kabul about the amount of customs revenue that is collected in the provinces each day.

The U.S.-backed Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has accused governors in border provinces of keeping tax and customs revenue and using the money to fund militia that they personally control.

On Sunday, 12 provincial governors met with President Karzai in Kabul and agreed to deliver millions of dollars in customs duties. The meeting took place after Mr. Karzai threatened to quit if the governors did not comply. The central government seriously needs these funds to pay civil servants and security forces.

Afghan officials estimate that the 12 provinces earned more than $500 million from customs last year but only 20 percent reached Kabul.

Since coming to power after the U.S.-led forces dislodged the Taleban 18 months ago, President Karzai has struggled to establish his authority in provinces ruled by warlords and militias widely known for human rights abuses. Washington has been under fire from providing financial and military support to these warlords to seek their help in tracking down remnants of Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist network.

Analysts say that President Karzai's latest efforts to extend his authority beyond Kabul could be the result of a change in the U.S. policy toward these regional forces. Barnet Rubin runs the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.

"I think its clear that the United States is strongly supporting this movement," said Barnet Rubin who runs the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. "Its telling these warlords that even if we supported you in the fight against the Taleban we are not supporting you in weakening this government."

Professor Rubin says that unless President Karzai consolidates his rule and brings security to most of Afghanistan, efforts to rebuild the war-shattered country will not succeed.