Afghanistan’s Future as a Digital Hub in the Region

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On February 23, 2018 Afghanistan witnessed the Launch of one of the most important projects that could be a trigger to one of the long waited wishes of Afghans for their nation to become a land connected country instead of being a landlocked country.

There are 44 landlocked countries in the world, out of which 32 are classified as a middle or low –income by United Nations. These countries are also known as Landlocked Development Countries (LLDC’s). The fact that separates LLDC’s from other countries is their access to sea, as they continue facing challenges accessing the international markets. Their problems are not with the trade of goodies only, but as Internet has become a fundamental necessity of each society these countries also face challenges in accessing submarine fiber optic cables as well.

Being as one of 44 non-coastal counties in the world, and as well as one of the LLDCs, Afghanistan is paying a huge amount to reach seaways. Karachi port in Pakistan, which is 1,406 kilometers away from Kabul, and Iran’s Chabahar, which is farther away — about 1,840 kilometers from Kabul are the two closest sea ports to Afghanistan. The projects like CASA1000, TAP, and TAPI could really transform Afghanistan from a landlocked country into a Land-connected country not only by transferring energy from Central Asia to South Asia but as well as digital data and information.

The work On Afghanistan section of TAPI which is a number of different projects in between Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India launched on 23th February of 2018 in Herat Province, where laying Afghan section of the pipeline, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan power transmission line and the commissioning of the (Turkmenistan) Serhetabat-Turgundi (Afghanistan) railroad is also part of it.

Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline (TAPI), also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, is a natural gas pipeline being developed with the participation of the Asian Development Bank that will transport natural gas from the Galkynysh Gas Field in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India.

As part of the TAPI gas pipeline Afghanistan will be installing a fiber optic cable that will connect Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India through Afghanistan. Additionally the mentioned fiber optic cable will be connected to Trans-Eurasian Information Superhighway (TASIM) project which will be connected under the Caspian Sea to the port of Baku and then to Italy. In other words Afghanistan will play a major role by connecting Europe and South Asian Countries by providing shorter and more efficient telecommunication route and thus this will reduce latency by providing redundant link for the South Asian country to reach Central Asian and European countries.

Trans-Eurasian Information Super Highway (TASIM) project that is a major regional initiative aimed at creation of transnational fiber-optic backbone targeting primarily the countries of Eurasia from Western Europe to Eastern Asia. Initiated by Azerbaijan the project aims to connect the biggest data exchange centers of Europe and Asia. Countries are interested in connection through various channels and ways, and once connected Afghanistan will be a very reliable route to connect South Asian countries to Europe through this project. The TASIM Project is also part of the Digital Silk Road which is also known as “One belt One Road”.

For long Afghanistan played a major and substantial role in the Silk Road, connecting Central Asian countries to south Asian countries and Europe. Perhaps this is the time that Afghanistan can use it is unique position once again and utilize its geographic dividends to serve as a regional hub connecting Central Asia to South Asia as well as China to Europe in an east-westerly direction through these connections and as well as using its own Fiber Optic Backbone which is laid in a ring shape side by side to Afghanistan’s Super Highway or Ring Road and is connected with all its neighboring countries.

The Silk Road is the ancient network of trade routes that over 2,000 years ago carried goods, services and ideas across the Eurasian continent. The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk. Though silk was certainly the major trade item exported from China, many other goods were traded, as well as religions, syncretic philosophies, and various technologies. Trade on the Silk Road played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of the Countries along its pathway, opening long-distance political and economic relations between the civilizations. For long the countries in the region has taken advantage of trade through Silk Road. Perhaps now they have the chance to change the form and material of trade and transfer digital data instead of the Silk while naming it as a Digital Silk road.

The Digital CASA Afghanistan is yet another project that crosses Afghanistan and will connect Central Asia to South Asia. It is a one of the regional series of projects program that aims to expand and strengthen the Regional and National level broadband connectivity based on Optical Fiber Networks. The project will improve broadband Internet connectivity in the landlocked countries in Central Asia and South Asia. In this regards on 12 and 13 January 2017 a seminar was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates where the delegations from Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the Presidential Office (AOP), Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority (ATRA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, USAID, IFC and the World Bank talked on the finalization of the Digital CASA Afghanistan Project text and its implementation in Afghanistan.

Seeing to some of the projects that are completed and some underway, we can say that this country is taking some practical steps to transform the disadvantage of being a landlocked into an advantage for the prosperity of this war-torn country. Furthermore, the Optic Fiber Cable of the country can also play a magnificent role in connecting the neighboring countries with Afghanistan and through Afghanistan with each other to form a regional data connectivity.

Note: This Article is a part of my University Thesis.