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Taliban Wage War Over Coal in Northern Afghanistan. The battle for cash pits the Kabul extremists against Hazara locals.

YAKAWLANG, Afghanistan—Fighting has been ongoing in the remote Balkhab district of Afghanistan’s northern Sar-e-Pol province over the past several weeks, part of a showdown between a cash-strapped central government run by the Taliban and locals who are trying to keep their own cut of the district’s riches. At the heart of the dispute is a battle over coal mines, and who gets to profit from them, trapping local residents in the middle.

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan last August, which subsequently resulted in international sanctions and the freezing of funds, the group has been in desperate need of money, and resources in Balkhab are providing just that. The district is home to five operational coal mines, according to Ministry of Mines and Petroleum spokesperson Mufti Esmatullah Burhan, as well as to one of the world’s largest copper reserves.

Coal extraction had long been ongoing but started spiking three months ago, with dozens of heavily loaded trucks navigating the rough mountain terrain to Kabul every day before heading east to Pakistan, where most of the coal is sold. Afghan coal exports to its neighbor have surged since Indonesia, a big exporter of the type of thermal coal used in power plants, imposed an export ban earlier this year due to a domestic supply crunch. Even after Indonesia lessened its export restrictions, Afghan coal has been attractive for Pakistan due to sky-high fuel prices and long distances from other potential suppliers.

Foreign Policy. By Stefanie Glinski, a journalist covering conflicts and crises with a focus on Afghanistan and the wider Middle East.

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