Taliban Target Afghanistan’s Crucial Power, IT Infrastructure | Internet News
Kabul, Afghanistan – When Ali Atayee, 30, enrolled in his first computer lessons as an Afghan refugee child growing up in Iran, he knew then that this was what he would like to pursue as a career in his life. ‘adult.
Upon returning to Afghanistan in the years that followed, with that one goal in mind, Atayee devoted all of his energy, time and resources to learning computer science, especially web development.
A graduate of the prestigious American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, Atayee has worked with many growing information technology (IT) companies and development projects in the country’s small but thriving IT sector.
Over the past two years, Atayee started working as a freelance web developer for local businesses.
“I had a passion for computer programming, but also seeing how the situation was improving in Afghanistan at the time, I assumed that there would be a lot more development and opportunities in the sector by the time. I would have graduated, “he told Al Jazeera.
As more and more Afghans go online – 12.8 million Afghan internet users in 2021 – the industry has flourished over the past 20 years.
A USAID report in 2012 noted that the telecommunications field had become one of the largest income-generating sectors in Afghanistan with an average annual income of $ 139.6 million, accounting for over 12% of total income. of the government.
The IT sector in Afghanistan has been viewed by many experts as one of the few success stories in the war-torn country.
“It was an industry where the public and private sectors were able to partner to provide services to Afghans, while generating revenue for government and private companies,” Mohammad Najeeb Azizi, former director of the Regulatory Authority telecommunications in Afghanistan (ATRA), told Al Jazeera.
However, that potential is rapidly diminishing as the conflict in Afghanistan worsens, with US-led forces leaving the country and the Taliban regaining a foothold in a country they once ruled with an iron fist.
While the Taliban have made huge gains across the country over the past two months, Afghanistan’s IT and other basic infrastructure is under frequent attack.
On July 5, Taliban fighters detonated fiber optic devices and system equipment in Islam Qala, Herat province, a border town with Iran and a major trading port.
Islam Qala is also a crossing point for migrants where a number of international NGOs operate, working daily with thousands of deported refugees.
The Taliban attack left the townspeople without an internet connection.
Last month, ATRA reported that 28 telecommunications antennas had been destroyed across the country in the past three months, while 23 others had been partially damaged due to the ongoing conflict, severely affecting digital communications services. and mobile in the country.
Simultaneously, the impoverished nation’s power infrastructure was also cut, making the power supply extremely irregular, even in the capital Kabul.
“In the past six months, 39 electricity pylons that carry imported electricity to Afghanistan have been damaged,” Sangar Niazi, spokesman for Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), the national supplier of the company, told Al Jazeera. electricity of the country.
Afghanistan imports nearly 70 percent of its 1,600 megawatts of electricity needs from neighboring countries through these pylons.
“Some were completely destroyed while others were partially damaged, affecting the power supply to the provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Kabul, Nangarhar and Parwan,” Niazi said.
Although Niazi did not say who the attackers were, the Afghan government has often blamed the Taliban for the destruction of infrastructure.
Millions of Afghans have become familiar with the regular power cuts and are forced to complete daily chores and chores with only a few hours of electricity supply.
However, the lack of electricity has hit the country’s small IT sector hard, especially for young professionals like Atayee.
“The people of Kabul have only a few hours of electricity a day, some not even an hour, which is just enough to charge your devices and it’s cut off again,” he said to point out the challenges. to provide work amid blackouts and Internet cuts. .
As a freelance web developer, Atayee struggled to meet the deadlines for his current project.
“Lately I’ve barely been able to work and all my chores are piling up. The other day my laptop charger went off due to unstable electric currents. This not only slows down my work, but also creates a problem for clients who are trying to launch a website for their new business, ”he told Al Jazeera.
“If I don’t deliver on time, I lose customers.
Atayee said the lack of proper infrastructure has also discouraged Afghan businesses from going online.
“They are reluctant to take their business online or use technology to their advantage. This impacts both clients and professionals in the field, ”he said.
“We are so far behind in the use of technology compared to other countries. We should at least have online payment capability now. “
Many companies in Kabul’s IT sector have purchased large generators and invested in an appropriate power supply to ensure continuous supply. But the costs eat away at their profits.
For small businesses and freelancers like Atayee, it also means that the work opportunities that previously seemed plentiful are no longer lucrative.
“When the infrastructure is not ideal, businesses will not invest in the online space. As a result, there are fewer tech-related jobs. So many people who study this specialty are working in other fields, ”he said.
Afghan business experts warn that if the conflict continues at the same pace, additional infrastructure costs and risks will discourage further investment.
“When warring factions shut down, it affects the revenue generation of those businesses and makes it difficult for them to justify costs. This could lead to a decision to proactively close sites or reduce investments in their maintenance, depriving residents of these essential services, ”said former ATRA’a director Azizi.
It’s not just private companies financially affected by Taliban attacks on IT and power infrastructure. DABS spokesman Niazi told Al Jazeera that the cost of repairing electricity pylons is increasing, putting pressure on the public purse.
“If a pylon is completely destroyed, it costs about $ 100,000 to get it back. Other more modest damages cost between $ 500 and $ 5,000, ”he said, adding that Afghanistan’s national electricity company had only spent nearly $ 1 million in the last six years. last months.
According to Azizi, it is ordinary citizens who are most affected by damage to infrastructure.
“Afghans are using communication services not only to improve their lives, but also to stay in touch with their loved ones at such critical times,” he said.
“Telecommunications are a public service infrastructure and a basic need of the Afghan public.
Azizi called on the warring factions to “protect essential services which are not only used by ordinary citizens but also by belligerents”.
Niazi said the Taliban assailants were the “enemies of the light”, who turn critical infrastructure into another victim of war.
“It is an attempt not only to push the country into physical obscurity, but also intellectual obscurity.”