What is the state of the ICT sector in Afghanistan?

ABDUL RAZAQ VAHIDI: In Afghanistan, in 2002, there was no infrastructure. We almost started from a zero base, with 20,000 fixed lines in Kabul city and some major cities. But now, we have 80% mobile penetration and 3 million people out of the 30 million population are using the Internet. For sure we have many challenges in Afghanistan. As you know, we are suffering by security issues and the poverty and lack of economic stability, but we hope that the ICT can play a good role in mitigating and causing a decline in corruption through better management system in the government, good governance initiatives, and we hope that in future, in near future, we can have a good financial management system by using mobile and ICT equipment and infrastructure.

How has the increased access to ICT infrastructure and services affected social development?

ABDUL RAZAQ VAHIDI: We have conducted a survey and we have learned that almost 70% of the mobile owners are poor people. So it means that at the moment, the mobile and telecom sector is with the hands of the poor people. So it means that we can play with this data and we can have planning for poor people to, for instance for their home economy. We can make money for them, we can help them to make money and to give them opportunity to create jobs. For instance, when we have some SMEs, small and medium enterprises, to play in the market, so they can make create a lot of jobs for the people. Right now, mobile is only a cost for the people. So in the future we'll have some planning and some programs for people to be benefit of the mobile, rather than to be only cost for them.

What are your main policy priorities for the ICT sector in Afghanistan?

ABDUL RAZAQ VAHIDI: We have three main policy priorities. One of them is to provide better services and a decline in the cost of the Internet. For this we started some negotiation with neighboring countries and regional connectivity will for sure be a win-win policy for Afghanistan and neighboring countries in the region. Afghanistan can be also be part of the strategy for the region to be a hub for transit data. And with this, we can also have some revenue.

The second item is the eGoverment initiatives. Through using the existing infrastructure, like almost 4,000 Kilometers of fiber optic backbone and we already have satellite, by using all this infrastructure, we can have a better capability for running eGovernment initiatives in Afghanistan. In this regard, we started some negotiation with stakeholders.

The third one is security. Security also is one of the main issue. Adapting ICT in the security is one of the major factors and government is committed to the public to provide for them the security for sure. Without security we'll not have an economic stability and social welfare. This is one of the good factors and one of the major items which we are considering, and we'll have some progress in this regard in future.

How much does the ICT sector contribute to the GDP of Afghanistan?

ABDUL RAZAQ VAHIDI: With the lack of information and data in Afghanistan, it is hard to give you a clear picture about this. But we expect, we have some 12% of GDP contribution. One of the issues that I mention to you for good governance is adapting ICT to get better data and proper data and clean data. Fortunately, we had some good achievements in this regard though a big data management systems we already installed. All this systems are adapted and in near future we'll have better planning for the government strategy and government programs.

What are the main opportunities open for foreign investors?

ABDUL RAZAQ VAHIDI: There are lot of opportunities for investors in Afghanistan especially in ICT and Internet and telecom. But we can tell you that there are lot of obstacles on the road too. We gradually overcame all these challenges and obstacles, legal framework is one of them. We have prepared and we have right now many laws and regulations, which we finalized with the government, with the parliament and in near future in a couple of months we'll have overcome most of these issues and we'll have new laws come in place. One of them is open access policy. For this open access policy, we'll open the opportunity for all investors to come and work on infrastructure like fiber optic, satellite, and other facilities in the ICT.

What is your vision for the ICT sector in Afghanistan going forward?

ABDUL RAZAQ VAHIDI: There are lot of initiatives on the floor and we would like to have a benefit from telecoms in Afghanistan for social welfare. Also, for instance, we can have in the future smart cities to give better services to the people, to mitigate the cost for the people, and also to give them access to information for better understanding of their situation and better selection of the best way of lifestyle.