When the Taliban rode into Kabul and captured the presidential palace on Aug. 15, it marked the return to power of one of Toyota’s most loyal—and most regrettable—customers.
For more than a quarter-century, Toyota’s sturdiest pickups and SUVs have been the Taliban’s vehicles of choice. They’re rugged enough for Afghanistan’s terrain, and they have air-conditioning to beat the summer heat. Asim Elhag, an independent Sudanese researcher who studies conflict in Africa, has seen Toyota Land Cruisers retrofitted with anti-aircraft guns. As in troubled regions all over the world—Syria, Iraq, Chad, Mali—the Toyota was indispensable to the Taliban’s ambition to control a population scattered over difficult terrain.
The Taliban’s association with the Toyota became iconic.
The first time the Taliban’s fighters stormed the presidential palace, back in 1996, journalists from India Today described how “tanks and ammunition-laden Toyota Hilux trucks raced into Afghanistan’s capital.” The vehicles were “ideal platforms for intimidation and enforcement,” the New York Times wrote in 2001.
“From their Land Cruisers and Hiluxes, the Taliban were ready to leap down and beat women for showing a glimpse of ankle or to lock a man in a shipping container for three weeks until his beard grew to the approved length. Or, most dismal, to drag an accused adulterer or blasphemer to the soccer stadium for execution.”
It wasn’t exactly the kind of association that made Toyota proud. Which makes the company seem prescient today for an odd rule it instituted in late July, in an attempt to prevent its vehicles from being used by sanctioned groups like the Taliban.
The 2022 model of the Toyota Land Cruiser, the company’s longest-running model, went on sale in Japan on Aug. 2, priced at around $46,500. Anyone buying it, though, has to sign a contract promising not to resell the vehicle within a year, Japanese media outlets reported a few weeks ago. Even dealers might have to pay damages if their customers resell Land Cruisers, the Japanese publication Creative311 found.
In a statement, Toyota confirmed the purpose of this clause. The Land Cruiser, Toyota said, “is particularly popular overseas, and we are concerned about the flow of vehicles from Japan to overseas immediately after their release, as well as the possibility of them being exported to certain regions where security regulations are in place.”
It isn’t just pure altruism driving Toyota’s contractual demands. Selling Toyotas to proscribed groups like rogue governments or terrorist outfits can invite legal penalties. “There is a risk of violating foreign exchange law, and depending on the export destination, it may lead to major problems that threaten global security,” Toyota said in its statement.
Tracking the ways by which these groups acquire Toyotas in the first place isn’t easy. In 2015, for instance, the US state department had to seek Toyota’s help to determine how ISIS was buying new trucks and pickups. Toyota said, at the time, that although its policies prohibited sales to “potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities,” vehicles that were stolen or resold were difficult to trace.
The new Land Cruiser contractual clause might have only the most limited effect on these misappropriations of Toyota’s cars. It is a neatly timed precaution, though. By assuming government, the Taliban will have Afghanistan’s treasury at its disposal once again—a handy fund with which to buy itself some new wheels.