Libmonster ID: EE-585
Author(s) of the publication: U. V. OKIMBEKOV


Candidate of Historical Sciences

KeywordsAfghanistantelephonymobile communication

Afghanistan was and remains one of the most backward countries in the world. The civil war, which has been going on for more than three decades, has turned this state into one of the most politically unstable and unreliable in terms of security.

Investment of any funds by private foreign companies, as well as international funds and organizations in the economy of Afghanistan remains more than problematic, since the risk of doing business in the country's unhealthy investment climate is very high. Foreign financial resources are allocated exclusively within the framework of humanitarian and economic assistance programs for the restoration of certain sectors of the economy.

Nevertheless, in the last two decades, foreign companies and international financial organizations have shown interest in developing telephone communication in the country. And some have even invested in the telecommunications sector.


Telephone communication in this country appeared after it gained political independence in 1919. The basis of the Afghan telephone and telegraph communication was laid by the USSR. With the help of the Soviet Union, the first telegraph and telephone line was built in 1927, connecting Herat with Kandahar1. By 1929, the total length of such lines was 2 thousand km2.

The backwardness of most sectors of the economy and other factors caused the fact that telephone communication was virtually unavailable to the population of Afghanistan until the end of the 1940s. Only in 1949, the first automatic telephone exchange (PBX) for 1.3 thousand numbers was launched in Kabul.3 The second - for 5 thousand numbers-appeared only in 1957. In 1961, the PBX for 1.5 thousand numbers began to operate in Kandahar. In the 1960s, Afghanistan developed international connectivity.4

Total length of telegraph and telephone lines by 1979 it was approximately 17 thousand km. The Government of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, which came to power in 1978, has made great efforts to develop the country's economy, including the communications industry. At that time, three-quarters of telephone sets were owned by the private sector, and a quarter - by state institutions. In the late 1970s, payphones first appeared on the streets of major cities. The country's leadership has taken quite energetic steps towards the development and modernization of international telephone and telegraph communications. In 1982, the first space communication station 5 was put into operation.

The radical change in the political situation in the country with the coming to power of the Mujahideen not only stopped the further development of the communications industry, but also marked the beginning of its gradual degradation.

The Taliban, unlike the Mujahideen, first tried to restore the telephone network when they came to power in 1996. They turned to the American company Telephone Systems International (TSI). It was planned to organize satellite communications between 15 major cities in Afghanistan and provide telephone sets for about 1 million people. there are 6 subscribers. And these plans were partially implemented: in 1997, telephone communication via satellite was established between the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Kabul. A commercial satellite telephone center has been launched in Ghazni province. Since 1998, the Afghan Wireless Communication Company has operated in Kabul, serving Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif as well.7

Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE had already connected Kabul to Kandahar via wired telephone service. However, during US air operations in 2001, the line was severely damaged.8


The overthrow of the Taliban regime in a US-led coalition operation in 2001 and the beginning of Afghanistan's economic recovery with the support of the international community enabled the national communications industry to start over from scratch. The fact is that during the operations against the Taliban, some of the equipment and communication lines were disabled, and the other part was obsolete. Afghanistan did not have access to international telecommunications lines. The only line that connected to the Pakistani telephone network was disconnected. In order to call foreign countries, Afghans - and this was at the beginning of the twenty-first century! - had to travel to neighboring Pakistan.9 And the international country code (93) was sold by someone to one of the 10 porn companies.

In a short time, it was possible to restore approximately 57 thousand telephone points in five main cities of the country, of which about 60% were located in Kabul.11 For Afghanistan, with its multi-million population, this was clearly not enough.

October 2002 Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies

page 54

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies (hereinafter referred to as the Ministry of Communications) has published the "National Telecommunications Development Strategy". The task was to connect all regions of the country by telephone with each other, as well as with the capital and the outside world.

Afghanistan did not have the resources to implement the "Strategy" and relied solely on the support of donor States. The telecommunications sector has attracted the attention of foreign investors since the first days of the recovery process, despite the unstable political situation in the country. Private investment in the telephone industry, especially mobile communications, was estimated at approximately $130 million in 2002 and 2003.12


Investors generally had an idea of the real political situation in Afghanistan, but they took risks in developing a new market in the hope that the situation might change for the better in the future. In addition, it was obvious that in some parts of the country, the coalition forces would provide relative stability, and it would be possible to receive certain dividends by investing in certain sectors of the Afghan economy.

The Ministry of Communications of Afghanistan has begun to modernize its remaining facilities, replacing old equipment and installing new digital stations, thus restoring domestic and international communications.13

In two years - 2002 and 2003 - the situation with telephony in Afghanistan has significantly improved, and the industry itself has become the fastest growing sector of the economy. Not only landlines, but also mobile phones have become widespread.

Some neighboring countries continued to play a role in the development of the communication system. In particular, in 2005, Iran signed a memorandum with Afghanistan on the installation of payphones in major cities-Kabul, Herat, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif.14

Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE also continued to cooperate with the new Afghan government. In 2003, they won a tender to build telephone lines in nine cities, including Kabul. The Afghan government has signed a contract with them and India's TCIL to build a so - called "Code Division Multiple Access" (CDMA) network. As a result, as of 2008, there were 31 CDMA switches and 85 transceiver base stations operating in the country. Hauwei switches were installed in nine provinces, ZTE plus 11 TCIL switches were installed in ten provinces, and Siemens15 switches were installed in one province.

With the advent of mobile communication, wired phones in Afghanistan have not lost their importance. Although at a relatively slow pace, the number of landline phones grew every year and in 2008 exceeded 103 thousand, which is 9.6% more than in the previous year. In 2009, the increase was 35.2% - in total, there were already over 140 thousand subscribers.16


Private telecommunications companies played a significant role in the development of the Afghan wireless and fixed-line telephone system. The first of them - Afghan Wireless, which received a license from the Ministry of Communications of Afghanistan-was established in April 2002 (known in the country as Afgan Visim). 80% of its assets belong to the American company TSI, and 20% - to the Ministry of Communications.

The second private entity operating in the Afghan market, the Afghanistan Telecommunications Development Company, also known as Roshan, was established in July 2003 with an initial capital of $55 million. Its owners are the Aga Khan Foundation for Economic Development* (51% of the company's assets), Monaco Telecom International (35%), MCT-a US holding company (9%) and Alcatel (5%)17.

By 2008, Roshan's operations had expanded to more than 160 cities and districts in the country. This, of course, led to an increase in the company's income and tax revenues to the state treasury. According to some sources, about 6% of the internal revenue of the Afghan state budget was then provided by Roshan 18.

Mobile phone companies are contributing to the creation of additional jobs in Afghanistan, where, according to some reports, unemployment is at the level of 40%. Thanks to Roshan, a parallel network of small businesses was created, including kiosks for the sale of mobile phones and accessories, workshops for the repair of devices, etc., where about 15 thousand people were employed.

With a very low level of literacy in the country, low incomes of the population and the high cost of connecting to a telephone connection, the results achieved by Roshan exceeded all expectations. In a short period of time, it has become the most popular mobile provider in the country. In 2005, the number of its subscribers reached 500 thousand. Roshan's service area includes Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad, Kunduz, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar, and 42 other cities and districts in the country.19 In 2009 it registered 120,000 subscribers every month.20 Foreign and international financial institutions willingly invested resources in its development 21.

The number of subscribers grew at such a high rate that the two operators operating in the country did not fully meet the needs of the population. In Afghanistan, a third mobile phone company appeared - Areeba, which received a license from the Ministry of Communications in September 2005 and belonged to the Lebanese Investcom. In 2006, the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group provided her with $40 million. in the form of a loan and $5 million as an investment in the company's share capital 22.

During a 2006 visit to the United Arab Emirates. Karzai at a meeting with the head of Arab telecommunications-

* The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) is a non - denominational international development agency. It was founded by Prince Karim Aghahan IV, the spiritual leader and imam of the Ismaili-Nizari Muslim Shiite community. The Foundation's mission is to develop and find innovative sustainable ways to overcome challenges in Asia and East Africa.

page 55


State of telecommunications development in Afghanistan (as of March 2010)




GSM network subscribers (millions)



CDMA network subscribers (thousands)



Wired phones (thous.)



Investments ($million)



Telecom base stations



Population coverage (%)


over 80

Источники:; asp

Etisalat, which has subsidiaries in various countries of the Middle East and Africa, has been granted a license to operate in Afghanistan for a period of 15 years. The company intended to invest $40 million in the telecommunications sector of Afghanistan, but there is no information about whether it managed to do this.


By 2008, according to the Ministry of Communications, more than 256 cities and districts of Afghanistan were covered by telephone services. In 2010, more than 80% of the country's residents had access to a telephone. The number of mobile subscribers increased from 2.5 million to 14.2 million between 2006 and 201023.

In the first years after the advent of mobile communication, a single call within the network cost 18 Afghani*, by 2008 it had dropped to 1; an international call - from 100 Afghani per minute to 9. If in 2002 a Sim card cost $300, then by 2008 it was reduced to 1. it has generally become free 24.

Total investment in the communications sector in 2010 was almost $1.3 billion (see table). The communications industry has now become one of the most important internal sources of budget revenues. Telephone revenues account for about 12% of the State treasury's revenues.

The telecommunications industry, therefore, served as a kind of" locomotive " of the economy, helping to solve many problems in Afghanistan, including the problem of employment. In 2008, 60,000 people were employed in the mobile communications sector, working for five telecommunications companies, 18 Internet service providers, and hundreds of medium and small companies.25

Mobile operators are also actively involved in the social life of the country. They hold sponsorship events and are engaged in charity work. Roshan, for example, helps the Ashiyana shelter in Kabul, where 600 street children are kept, by providing them with bed linen, food, educational materials and sports equipment. The company also holds similar promotions in the north of the country. In some cases, it helps local authorities organize and conduct elections.26


At the same time, the Afghan communications industry faces many problems in its development, among which one of the main ones is the extreme shortage of highly qualified technical personnel. The authorities, working together with the operators, are trying to solve this problem.

In 2003-2004. The Ministry of Communications established 16 training centers in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Khost, Jalalabad and Kandahar, where more than 3 thousand ministry employees and civil servants were trained. 547 officials of the Ministry of Communications studied domestically, and 138 were sent abroad to take courses in English, computer knowledge, management, and information technology in the field of telecommunications, etc. 27

Every year, graduates of these courses join the ranks of employees of telecommunications companies. In 2007, five more training centers were opened in Jozjan, Takhar, Logar and Kunar provinces.

All these and other efforts eventually proved fruitful. As of 2009, Afghanistan ranked 139th in terms of installed landline phone points per 1,000 people, and 57th in the world in terms of the number of mobile phone users per 1,000 people. 28 Data on the state of telecommunications development in the country are presented in the table.

The Government of Afghanistan is closely engaged in the construction of a ring fiber-optic line (parallel to the national ring road), which could connect all the provinces of the country, as well as open uninterrupted communication with neighboring countries. The highway, with a total length of 3.3 thousand km, is being built along the route Kabul-Ghazni-Kandahar-Herat-Mazar-i Sharif-Puli-Khumri-Kabul.

Since 2007, this work has been carried out by Afgan Telecom, which has invested its own funds in the amount of $70 million, and hundreds of kilometers of fiber-optic network are already ready.29 However, according to some reports, the company did not comply with all the recommendations of the World Bank, which financed the feasibility study of the project. So, for security reasons, it was recommended to draw a line at a depth of one and a half meters; however, in fact, the depth is from 30 to 90 cm,which can easily turn the line into a target for intruders. 30

The country is currently connected by a fiber-optic network to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, and Pakistan.31

* $1 equals 43 Afghani.

page 56

In neighboring Tajikistan, a fiber-optic line has already been laid across the Gorno-Badakhshan region to the border with China32. In the future, if the domestic political situation develops favorably, Afghanistan can connect its national telephone network with the PRC through it.

Russian companies have been operating in the Afghan telecommunications market since 2005, including a branch of Rostelecom-the Multi-net company, which provides Internet services and wireless telephony.33

The development of the communications sector, as well as all other sectors of the national economy of Afghanistan, is negatively affected by political instability in the country.

Telephone communication equipment and installations were targeted by the Afghan armed opposition from the very first days after their creation. In some areas, mobile operators are forced to pay tribute to the militants or, according to their demands, turn off communication at night.34

Private mobile phone companies are also concerned about the unpredictable state financial policy. For example, the sudden increase in customs duties from 5% to 10% greatly upset mobile service providers, who were not informed in advance of the planned changes. Representatives of mobile operators are right when they say that it is difficult for them to develop long-term plans if they do not know what changes will take place, for example, in the tax system35.

In addition, the government has recently applied penalties to mobile phone companies too often and not always on convincing grounds for various reasons. Recently, the Ministry of Communications fined all four mobile operators twice in a short time for allegedly providing poor-quality services to the population. In 2010, the amount of the fine was set at $50 thousand per operator, and in 2011, it is likely to increase significantly 36.

* * *

Further telephony of the country also depends on the development of another important industry - the electric power industry. The lack of electricity, which leads to failures in communication systems, is particularly acute in the periphery of the country, where mostly only provincial centers have their own power plants, but even they face a lot of problems. Of course, the prospects for the development of the electric power industry, as well as the entire Afghan economy as a whole, also depend on the normalization of the political situation in the country.

At the same time, it can be argued that the organization of "telephone support" for the population of Afghanistan and, in general, the current state and development of telecommunications represent one of the most prosperous sectors of the country's economy.

Pobedina M. P. 1Tsibulsky V. V. Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey. Ekonomiko-geograficheskiy obzor [Economic and Geographical Review], Moscow, 1961, p. 26.

2 Afghanistan: Handbook, Moscow, 1964, p. 128.

Golovin Yu M 3 Afghanistan: Economics and Foreign Trade, Moscow, 1962, pp. 72-73.

4 Ibid.

5 Afghanistan: Handbook, Moscow, 2000, p. 146.

6 Afghanistan: Handbook, Moscow, IVRAN 2000, p. 158.

Girard Bruce 7Jo van derSpek. The Potential for Community Radio in Afghanistan. Report of a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan October 5 to 22, 2002, p. 8; Wentz LarryKramer Frank and Starr Stuart. Information and Communication Technologies for Reconstruction and Development Afghanistan Challenges and Opportunities. Center for Technology and National Security Policy National Defense University. Washington, DC, January 2008, p. 10.

8 Chinese Companies Win Contracts in Host-war Afghanistan. Shanghai. 27.08.2003 -

9 Afghanistan in Perspective. An Orientation Guide. Defense language Institute Foreign Language Center, 2008, p. 3 BBC News. Afghanistan Joins Mobile Age. 19.02.2002 -; Wentz LarryKramer Frank, and Starr Stuart. Op. cit., p. 10.

10 An Industry on the Line: Telecommunications in Afghanistan. 26.03.2009 -

11 Securing Afghanistan's Future: Accomplishments and the Strategic Path Forward. Telecommunications Technical Annex, Report prepared by Charles Kenny (World Bank) in close coordination with the Ministry of Communications (PDF doc). Kabul, January 2004, p. 6.

12 Zita Ken. Afghanistan Telecom Brief. U.S. Trade and Development Agency South Asia Communications Infrastructure Conference, New Delhi, India - April 21 - 23, 2004.

13 Securing Afghanistan's Future.., p. 7.

14 Iran and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of Cooperation in telecommunications 17.05.2005 -

Wentz Larry 15Kramer Frank and Starr Stuart. Op. cit., p. 18.

16 Afghanistan Statistical Yearbook 2009 - 10, p. 172.

17 Afghanistan: State Building, Sustaining Growth, and Reducing Poverty. A Country Economic Report No. 29551-AF. Document of the World Bank. September 9, 2004, p. 54.

Wentz Larry 18Kramer Frank and Starr Stuart. Op. cit., p. 15.

19 Proposed Loan and Political Risk Guarantee.., p. 5.

20 An Industry on the Line...

21 Voice and Data. The SAARC Report 2008. A Cyber Media Publication. Hyderabad, November 6 - 8, 2008, p. 9.

22 International Finance Corporation: Annual Report 2006, p. 74.

23 Afghanistan Statistical Yearbook...

24 Summary of Achievements in the Year 1386.., p. 4.

25 Op. cit., p. 5.

26 Proposed Loan and Political Risk Guarantee Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: Roshan Phase II Expansion Project. Asian Development Bank, Project Number: 40918 June 2006, p. 7.

27 Ministry of Communications (MoC) Five-Year Development Plan 1384 - 1389 (2005 - 2009). Kabul, 13 August 2005, p. 4; Summary of Achievements in the Year 1386 (21 March 2007 - 20 March 2008).., p. 11.

28 Сайт ЦРУ -

29 Summary of Achievements in the Year 1386. Op. cit., p. 6.

30 An Industry on the Line: Telecommunication in Afghanistan. Op. cit, 26.03.2009.

31 MCIT Inaugurates the Administrative Building of Khinj and the Post Office of Onaba Districts of Punjshir Province. 07.11.2010 -

32 In GBAO, the construction of the fiber-optic line is almost complete. 15.01.2011

33 Bratyakov: relations between Moscow and Kabul will develop progressively 09.11.2010 -

34 Yearbook "Mass Media and IT abroad" for 2008 (vol. IX-XVIII). The Plenipotentiary directory. Council of Veterans of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Moscow, 2008, pp. 55-58.

35 An Industry on the Line: Telecommunication in Afghanistan. Op. cit., 26.03.2009.

36 Information and analytical bulletin on the economy of Afghanistan "MIZAN". Published by the Center for the Study of Modern Afghanistan (CISA). No. 9 of 24.01.2011, p. 10.


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