Kabul, Afghanistan – When 30-year-old Ali Atayee attended his first computer course as an Afghan refugee child growing up in Iran, he knew that this was the profession he wanted to pursue as an adult.
In the following years, when he returned to Afghanistan, with this goal, Atayee devoted all his energy, time and resources to studying computer science, especially network development.
Atayee graduated from the prestigious Afghanistan American University in Kabul and worked with many growing information technology (IT) companies and development projects in the country’s small but thriving IT department.
In the past few years, Atayee has converted to work as a freelance web developer for a local company.
“I am passionate about computer programming, but I also saw how the situation in Afghanistan improved at the time. I speculate that when I graduate, there will be more development and opportunities in the industry,” he told Al Jazeera.
With more and more Afghans going online (12.8 million Afghan Internet users as of 2022), the industry has flourished in the past 20 years.
A 2012 report by the United States Agency for International Development pointed out that the telecommunications sector has become one of the largest income-generating sectors in Afghanistan, with an average annual income of 139.6 million U.S. dollars, accounting for more than 12% of the total government revenue.
Many experts believe that the IT department in Afghanistan is one of the few successful cases in this war-torn country.
“This is an industry in which the public and private sectors can form a partnership to provide services to Afghans, while generating revenue for the government and private companies,” said Mohamed Najib Aziz, former director of the Afghanistan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ATRA) (Mohammad Najeeb Azizi), told Al Jazeera.
However, as the conflict in Afghanistan worsens, this potential is rapidly fading, and the US-led army withdrew from the country, and the Taliban regained their foothold in a country that once ruled with an iron fist.
In the past two months, with the Taliban’s national victory, Afghanistan’s IT and other infrastructure have been frequently attacked.
On July 5, Taliban militants blew up fiber optic equipment and system equipment in Islam Qala, Herat Province, a border city and an important trading port on the border with Iran.
Islam Kala is also an immigration crossing point, where many international non-governmental organizations operate and cooperate with thousands of expelled refugees every day.
The Taliban attack prevented residents of the city from connecting to the Internet.
Last month, ATRA reported that in the past three months, a total of 28 telecommunications antennas were destroyed across the country, and another 23 were partially damaged due to ongoing conflicts, which severely affected the country’s digital and mobile communications services.
At the same time, the power infrastructure of this impoverished country has also been demolished, making the power supply of the capital Kabul extremely unstable.
“In the past six months, 39 electrical towers that supplied electricity to Afghanistan were damaged,” Sangar Niazi, a spokesperson for the country’s national power supplier Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), told Al Jazeera.
Afghanistan imports nearly 70% of its 1,600 MW electricity demand from neighboring countries through these towers.
“Some were completely destroyed, while others were partially damaged, affecting the electricity supply in Kunduz, Baghlan, Kabul, Nangarhar and Parwan provinces,” Nyazi said.
Although Nyazi did not disclose who the attackers were, the Afghan government often blames the Taliban for infrastructure damage.
Millions of Afghans are already very familiar with periodic power outages and are forced to complete daily tasks and housework under a few hours of power supply.
However, the power shortage has severely hit the country’s small IT departments, especially young professionals like Atayee.
“The people in Kabul can only use electricity for a few hours a day, some even less than an hour, which is only enough to charge your device, and then the power is cut off,” he said, to emphasize in the event of a power outage and internet interruption. The challenge of delivering work.
As a freelance web developer, Atayee has been working hard to meet the deadlines of his ongoing projects.
“I can hardly complete any work lately. All my tasks are piled up. A few days ago, due to unstable current, my laptop charger was burned. It not only slowed down my work, but also gave those who tried The customers who launched the website for their new business posed problems,” he told Al Jazeera.
“If I don’t deliver on time, I will lose customers.”
Atayee said the lack of proper infrastructure also prevents Afghan companies from going online.
“They are hesitant to bring their business online or take advantage of technology. It will affect customers and professionals in the field,” he said.
“Compared with other countries, we are so backward in the use of technology. We should at least have the ability to pay online now.”
Many companies in the Kabul IT sector have purchased large generators and invested in appropriate backup power to ensure continuous supply. But costs eroded their profits.
For small businesses and freelancers like Atayee, this also means that previously seemingly plentiful job opportunities are no longer profitable.
“When the infrastructure is not ideal, companies will not invest in online space. Therefore, there are fewer and fewer technology-related jobs. Many people majoring in this major are working in other fields,” he said.
Afghan business experts warn that if the conflict continues at the same rate, additional infrastructure costs and risks will hinder new investment.
“When the warring factions shut down their services, it will affect the revenue generation of these companies and make it difficult for them to justify the costs. This may lead to the decision to actively close the site or reduce the investment in its maintenance, depriving the locals of these basic services,” Said Azizi, former director of ATRA’a.
It is not only private companies that are financially affected by the Taliban’s attacks on IT and power infrastructure. DABS spokesperson Niazi told Al Jazeera that the cost of repairing power towers has been increasing, putting pressure on government finances.
“If a tower is completely destroyed, restore it to approximately US$100,000. Other minor losses incurred costs between US$500 and US$5,000,” he said, adding that the Afghan National Power Company has only been Nearly $1 million was spent in the middle of the month.
According to Aziz, it is ordinary citizens who are most affected by the destruction of infrastructure.
He said: “Afghans use communication services not only to improve their lives, but also to keep in touch with their loved ones at such a critical time.”
“Telecom is a public service infrastructure and a basic need of the Afghan people.”
Aziz called on the fighting factions to “protect basic services not only used by ordinary citizens, but also by the warring parties.”
Niazi said that the Taliban attackers are “enemies of light” and they are turning important infrastructure into another war victim.
“This is not only an attempt to push this country into material darkness, but also an attempt to push it into intellectual darkness.”