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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

World Telecommunication Development Conference 2014


Statement by H.E. Eng. Amirzai Sangin, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afghanistan

Excellences Ministers, respected delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen;

WTDC 2006, Doha, I was there. WTDC 2010, Hyderabad, I was there. Now WTDC 2014 in Dubai, it is great honor for me to be here also.

Is it development or is it revolution. The change we have seen in our lifetime is like science fiction comes true. In the 1960s, I was in secondary school in Gardiz, which is located about 100km from my hometown Urgun. My father used to call me on the phone once every few months. We were not able to hear each other voice, we talked through a third person midway as a repeater since it was a single wire on wooden pools with the return earth path.

In the 1970s I was doing my higher studies in London. For six years, I had no contact with my parents, as phone connectivity from London to my hometown did not exist. My only way of communicating was through letters via the post.

Last week in Kabul, me, my wife, my son, my daughter in law and 2 kids aged 3 and 7 were sitting in the living room. I looked and observed that while we talked and watched TV, at the same time we all had and were using a personal mobile device.

ICT has changed the way we live and work. One wonders how the previous generations managed without it. Today, it is impossible to be without it.

WSIS set a good target of universal access to ICT by 2015. Are we meeting this target? We have made good progress, but the answer is unfortunately no. Different countries have different challenges, but government's policies also play important role.

1. Some governments try to maximize spectrum license fees to the tune of billions of dollars. Nothing to be proud of. It is not the winning bidder who pays but, in the long run, it is the citizens.

2. Heavy taxation on ICT infrastructure and services. Slows down ICT development, which may, in the long term, be more costly, then the short-term cash.

3. Some governments deliberately hold back on ICT development, saying the citizens are not ready for it. They keep citizens in the dark so that they can rule the way they like.

4. Some governments still keep government monopoly or duopoly resulting in slow development, ineffective service and high prices.

5. Many government collects money in the name of universal access fund but going to the treasury and never being used for the intended purpose.

6. Roaming services prices are ridiculously high, slowing down development. I have to pay 4$ per minute if I make a local call here in UAE. Why? Governments, regulators, operators, ITU and GSMA all need to work together to resolve this issue

Distinguished delegates,

Afghanistan. What comes to your mind when I mention Afghanistan? Taliban, Al Qaeda, terrorism, suicidal attacks, war, etc….

The most recent and most horrible example is the attack on Kabul's Serena Hotel on March 21, 2014, by four gunmen who entered a restaurant shot dead nine guests, including an Afghan journalist, his wife, and three of their children aged 6, 5 and 2. Shooting a 2-year-old baby in the head with a pistol. What a savage and barbaric act of terrorism? It deserves the strongest condemnation. Shame be upon those who supports and sponsors such acts of terrorism and shame be upon those who commit and take responsibility for these savage acts.

In similar acts of terrorism, in my 10 years as Minister of Information and culture, I have lost many friends including governors, members of parliament, high ranking officials, ordinary citizens, who were serving the people. There were several instances where I myself was close to losing my life. This is the environment we are living and working in.

The question you may ask is it worth all the risks that we take. The answer is a definite yes. We have to defeat terrorism; we have to achieve peace, stability and progress for our people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

ICT in Afghanistan:

WTDC 2002, Istanbul, the Taliban regime was just overthrown and a new era started. Afghanistan had no ICTs. Our people travelled to neighboring countries to make a phone call.

WTDC 2006, Doha. I was very happy to report that Afghanistan has 1.2m mobile phone users and over $600m of investment in ICT infrastructure.

WTDC 2010, Hyderabad, I was very happy to report that Afghanistan has 15m mobile phones and investments of 1.5b$

WTDC 2014, Dubai, I am very happy to report that Afghanistan today has over 22 m mobile phone users. There is now no one in Afghanistan without a mobile phone. Services reach over 90% of the population. We have 5 operators providing GSM/3G broadband services. Investments have reach 2.3B$.

Afghanistan has optical fiber backbone connecting to all of our neighbors. Afghanistan has 35 TV channels and digital TV broadcast will start in May of this year. Afghanistan now has a satellite named the Afghansat 1 placed in orbital position ready to provide DTH TV services and bring connectivity to the rural areas.

An advanced digital ID system has been developed and ready to issue electronic IDs to all of our citizens.

I am on Facebook in direct contact with 2m afghan Facebook users. I have found it the most enjoyable part of my life to hear their views, suggestions, criticisms and appreciations.

Distinguished Delegates,

This may be the last WTDC I participate, as Afghanistan will have elections on Saturday next week with a new President and a new government.

I thank Allah for having given me the strength and courage to serve my people for ten years as Minister of Communications and IT. And I pray that there will soon be peace and stability in my country and that our people live a life without fear and that we continue on our path of progress.

On behalf of the Afghan people, I wish to thank the people and governments of the world, the ITU, the UN and all the world organizations and bodies who have supported us in our endeavors to rebuild our beloved country Afghanistan.