Telecommunications in Afghanistan
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Afghan War News > General Info > Development > Telecommunications
Boom to the Economy. The Afghan telecommunications industry was a strong economic boost to the Afghan economy. The cellphone industry pumped $148 million into the Afghan economy in 2015. The telecommunications industry provided over 140,000 jobs making it one of the country's largest employers. The telecommunications sector also provides vast sums to the Afghan government in the form of taxes; however, the government taxes are also undercutting the viability of the industry.
Mobile Money System by Cell Phone. The rapid spread of cell phones and cell phone towers coupled with technology has brought about advances in the banking and financial system in Afghanistan. There are cell phone applications that allow mobile subscribers to purchase airtime, make money transfers, and conduct electronic bill payments. One payment-by-phone plan is run by Roshan and is called "M-Paisa". 13. In addition, government employees are paid via cell phone accounts. 12.
Computerized Pay System for Security Forces. Afghan security force members can now receive verification of payment via cell phone. When an Afghan soldier is paid he can get confirmation via text or e-mail that a deposit was made to his account. This is especially useful if he is in a remote location without an ATM to use his debit card to withdraw cash. Local moneylenders will provide credit based on receipt of e-mails indicating deposits. The pre-approved moneylenders will transfer the funds from a centrally managed account for a small fee. The system can get the money to the Afghan soldier or policeman and is one mechanism for defeating corruption.
Etisalat Afghanistan. This firm is a subsidiary of a telecom based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Roshan. This company started business in Afghanistan in January 2003. The company is owned by several entities; the largest of which is the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development. www.roshan.af
Afghan Wireless or AWCC. This firm was launched in November 2002 and is a joint venture between Telephone Systems International (U.S. firm) and the Afghan Ministry of Communications. www.afghan-wireless.com
MTN Group. A South Africa-based multinational mobile telecommunications company.
Taliban Interdiction of Telecommunications. For the past several years the Taliban and other insurgent and criminal gangs have been interdicting the cell phone service in Afghanistan. For the last few years the cell phone service has been consistently interrupted at night. Those phone companies that don't obey the Taliban demands to power off the cell towers at night find the towers destroyed, telephone company workers killed, and subject to other means of coercion. It costs the phone companies about $100,000 to $250,000 to repair a cell tower. 7. If a cell tower can't be destroyed then the Taliban will coerce or bribe the guards or cell tower workers to destroy, damage or turn off the cell tower. The interdiction of the cell towers is done for a number of reasons.
Diminish Anti-Insurgent Tips. The Taliban conduct many of their activities and movements at night and they don't want local villages calling in their locations to the authorities or Afghan military. If a villager sees a small group of men digging by the side of the road to plant an IED - he might report it via his cell phone. However, if the cellular service is down then the IED will likely not get reported in a timely manner.
Inhibit ANSF Coordination. Many of the Afghan security forces rely on cell phones to communicate their operations and activities and cell towers not operating at night prevent the Afghan security forces from coordinating their activities.
Taliban Operational Security. The Taliban don't trust their lower echelon rank and file not to use their cell phones - which makes them susceptable to intercept and targeting by the coalition forces. 2.
Propaganda War. Also of importance is that shutting down the towers proves to the Afghan people that the Afghan government cannot provide services and cannot protect them from the Taliban. The interdiction of cellular service demonstrates the weakness of the Afghan central government. This reminder of the weakness of the Afghan government takes place every single evening when the citizens of Afghanistan lose their cell phone service. The provinces affected the most by Taliban interdiction of cell coverage are Helmand, Zabul, and Paktika. 8.
Damage the Economy. The Taliban does not want to see a robust economy in Afghanistan. A good economy does not aid the Taliban's cause. Cell phones provide the ability to aid economic activity - so the cell coverage systems are targeted by the Taliban.
Taliban Use of Telecommunications. The Taliban have come a long way from a crowd that hated technology and the Internet only ten years ago. They have mastered the Internet, can produce a propaganda message faster than the United States (an ambush that they film can be posted on the Internet within minutes), out-perform our Informations Operations personnel almost all the time, and utilize the numerous cell phones and cell phone towers to their advantage. Cell phones are now used to transmit pro-Taliban messages. Their websites are professionally done and can be uploaded via mobile phones. 1. They have Twitter accounts and use them to transmit messages to cell phones in their Information Operations campaign. 6.
Ministry of Communication & Information Technology (MCIT). The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has oversight on the communications industry of Afghanistan. It website is www.mcit.gov.af/en.
ISAF Telecom Advisory Team (TAT). The International Security Assistance Force had a Telecom Advisory Team that worked in partnership with the Government of Afghanistan and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT). The purpose of TAT was to help with the introduction of technology to assist in the stabilization of the country as well as to help it thrive economically. The TAT was a small team of about ten personnel from the military and civilian sectors. The goal of TAT " . . . is to synchonize and harmonize the programs sponsored by the embassy, various elements of the economic sector and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to deconflict or leverage similar programs". 10.
U.S. Funded Parallel Phone Systems. The United States has sunk millions of dollars to develop a parallel phone system that the Taliban cannot interdict. It is reported that in 2010 over $260 million was spent by the military and the state department on the telecommunications system in Afghanistan. Many of the cell phone towers were located on secure coalition bases, Afghan security compounds, or in provincial or district centers. 3. Each of the cell tower projects had a different purpose. Some were to be used strictly by the Afghan security forces and would be located on Afghan compounds. Others would be available to the public at large. 10.
Expeditionary Cellular Communications Service (ECCS). 9. The ECCS program was designed to only operate when the commercial phone towers were inoperable. This project involved 20 towers that cost $68 million placed along the " . . . Helmand river valley and along the southern portion of Highway One. The hope was that villagers would then roam on to the US-provided network after the main carriers turned off their masts at night". 4.
One reason for paying for the increased capacity of cell phone coverage security benefits associated with that coverage. The security situation is certainly enhanced if cell phone coverage is available - tip lines can be called, security operations can be coordinated, IEDs reported, and calls for assistance from Afghan security forces that need medevacs, route clearance teams, a quick reaction force (QRF), or to provide a situation update (SITREP).
Another reason for increased cell phone coverage is the economic benefit. Cell coverage and use of cell phones can provide feul to economic development by helping Afghans conduct business, receive wages electronically, and use services such as banking.
Comprehensive Telecommunications Effort. The U.S. and its coalition partners - working with the Afghanistan government - is providing assistance on a number of telecommunications fronts to include ground-based fiber wire routes along the ring road, microwave transmission towers 11, telecom switches, and Internet access.
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