The digital revolution comes to Afghanistan

The digital revolution comes to Afghanistan

The telecommunications landscape stagnated in Afghanistan for many years due to war and civil strife. The only (state-owned) television channel was put out of commission after the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996. Fixed-line phone services were sparse, and internet connections were non-existent. Although conflict is still rife, the telecommunications sector has begun to flourish. By the end of the Taliban regime, internet users numbered in the hundreds; today it is more than 2.2 million. The state-owned television channel went back on air and, with private enterprises becoming involved, the number of channels has ballooned to more than 90. The lack of fixed-line infrastructure and the cost of installing one led Afghans to adopt the usage of mobile phones, which now have an 80 percent penetration rate. The expansion of telecommunications systems became a focal point for driving economic development. An increasing number of Afghans are turning to online bazaars for everything from electronics to vehicles and houses. For the young and educated, especially women, job searching is also done online, with email being the preferred form of communication, given the absence of a well-functioning postal service. Social media apps have also established a foothold in the country, with subscribers to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, and other platforms increasing day by day. Their presence is aiding progress in civil society, allowing people to follow their political interests, organize protests, mobilize strikes, and voice their opinions on various platforms.

However, not everyone has welcomed this development. Having faced frequent protests concerning the deterioration of security and governmental corruption, including electoral fraud, conservative lawmakers have tried a few times to limit social media access. One example is the recent attempt to ban WhatsApp and Telegram. News of this spread swiftly over social media, and the Ministry of Communication and Information quickly backed down after a strong public outcry denouncing the attack on freedom of expression. The government, though, is embracing other aspects of the digital revolution. A «one-stop shop» (Asaan Khedmat) for common public services, government services for businesses, and auxiliary services from the private sector has been established. The goal is to improve the effificiency and effectiveness with which public services are delivered and enhance responsiveness to the needs of Afghan citizens and businesses. Its implementation is the first step toward e-governance, greater transparency, and accountability. The digital landscape in Afghanistan has a lot of catching up to do, but it is making steady progress.