Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Lack of Internet Cuts Off Afghan Province

Education, journalism and other areas held back by technology gap in Uruzgan.
By Ahmad Shah Jawad

Although internet access has increased in Afghanistan in recent years, people in the central Uruzgan province say they remain almost completely unconnected, leaving them isolated from the outside world.

About one million of Afghanistan’s 30 million inhabitants were online as of 2010, according to US-based internetworldstats.com, but officials say that in Uruzgan, one of the least developed provinces, hardly anyone has computer access.

Many students do not know what the internet is, while journalists told IWPR it is often impossible to report from Uruzgan because they cannot file stories electronically.

Provincial education officials have to communicate with Kabul via post, often waiting months for a reply, said Eid Mohammad Khan, deputy director of the provincial education department.

“We have to be provided with internet facilities. It would be a great help to government and non-government employees,” Khan said.

The province has few skilled teachers and no well-stocked library, he said, and educational opportunities are further hampered as students are unable to do research online and broaden their horizons.

“Nowadays, scientific information can be retrieved from the internet very fast,” Khan said. “All these problems could be solved if there was internet access.”

Ambitious students travel out of the province to spend two or three months learning IT skills elsewhere. One of them is high school graduate Samiollah, who recently returned from Kandahar in the south, which was an eye-opening experience for him.

“The internet is a different world. It is a unique teacher,” he said.

“Now I know how people behave in the rest in the world, and what direction we are moving in,” he said, expressing regret that young people in Uruzgan are missing out on knowledge and education.

Mohammad Yunus, who goes to the Saidal Khan High School in the provincial centre Tarin Kowt, said pupils like him had little chance of going on to university.

“We are very unfortunate in having neither professional teachers nor access to modern technology,” he said. “Universities won’t accept us because of these problems.”

Ezatollah, an 11th-grade school pupil in Tarin Kowt, laughed when asked whether he would like to access the internet.

“Brother, first explain to me what the internet is, and then I’ll tell you whether I am interested in using it,” he told IWPR.

Farid Ayel, head of the Uruzgan provincial press club, described how the lack of internet cafes hampered local journalists, who have to go round the handful of connected offices in Tarin Kowt asking permission to email their articles.

“Our press club doesn’t have internet yet.” he said. “Reporters file their stories and interviews by begging to use the internet in other offices. When they don’t get permission, they miss deadlines and their stories get stale. It’s a big problem.”

Local reporter Ajmal Wesal said the process of emailing stories was exhausting, and his articles would never see the light of day if no one would let him borrow their computer.

“Believe me, when I start work, I’m already really worried about how I will file my report and who I’ll ask to let me use the internet,” Wesal said.

A glimmer of hope recently appeared when the Afghanistan Research and Translation Centre attempted to open an internet cafe here. The centre sets up remote rural internet cafes in conjunction with local government, sharing the costs with it for the first year and training up local staff before handing the facility over to them.

Quite who is responsible for the project’s failure in Uruzgan is unclear, though the centre and local officials both blame each other. Centre director Abdollah Elham claimed that when he phoned deputy provincial governor Khodai Rahim about the project, he refused to cooperate.

But Rahim said he would like to see an internet cafe established, and denied that the phone call ever took place.

“What Elham said is not true. If he wants [to set up a cafe] we are prepared to cooperate with him by all means,” Rahim said. “We look forward to having people in Uruzgan who will work for the next generation and improve their abilities.”

Gholam Nabi Olfat, director of the provincial government’s culture and information department, said he would happily have helped establish an internet cafe, but Elham never contacted him.

Elham conceded that he had not done so, but thought this was unnecessary as he was already contacting the governor’s office.

“If Uruzgan’s culture department is really prepared to help, we are prepared to send our team to the province again,” he said.

Uruzgan residents said they were frustrated by the delay, and were paying the price for the lack of modern technology.

Yunus said that without basic IT skills, students stand little chance of finding work.

“In future, all work is going to depend on computers and the internet, but we lack both,” he said. “When we graduate from high school, we won’t know anything. Nobody will employ us. So we will have given 12 years of our lives for nothing.”

Ahmad Shah Jawad is an IWPR trainee reporter in Uruzgan province.

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