by Carolyn O'Hara
Worldpress.org contributing editor
May 7, 2005
Before the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, 27 million Afghan citizens had to make due with approximately 20,000 working telephone lines. Domestic connections were spotty, while only a handful of expensive satellite phones could dial internationally. Today, through the extraordinary efforts of the Afghan Wireless Communication Company and its parent company, Telephone Systems International (TSI), more than 300,000 citizens subscribe to the Afghan wireless network, with coverage in twenty cities and an additional twenty cities slated for service by the end of the summer.
The development of the Afghan wireless network has been the mission of Ehsan Bayat, an Afghan-American who fled
This digital network "leaves no part of
Demand for private service has been much greater than anticipated, but TSI has consistently devoted more resources to accommodate demand, while simultaneously expanding service throughout the country. By December 2002, the service provided by the network was sophisticated enough that during a three-day holiday period, 300,000 calls, many of them international, were successfully connected. "When a mother thanks me for connecting her with her daughter or son," says Bayat, "that makes it all worthwhile."
Bayat emphasizes that this desire to communicate, both with other Afghans and with the outside world, will propel
Building on his success with the wireless network, Bayat will launch television and radio stations simultaneously in mid-June this year. Ariana Television Network (ATN) will be broadcast by the most powerful television transmitter in the country, and, in a field of competitors that show primarily programs from abroad, ATN will
provide more local content than any other Afghan television station. "The main difference is that we'll try to get maximum local content and try to be as educational as possible," says Bayat. "It
will be like a PBS."
The television station already employs more than 50 Afghans, who have created at least three months of programming ready to air. Live news will be broadcast several times a day in Dari and Pashtu, the two
official languages, and documentary features on warlordism, poppy production, crime, and the upcoming parliamentary elections are being produced.
Bayat is also keen to develop cultural and educational programs for children traumatized by years of war and displacement. "One of the things we've lost during the last 25 years of war has been the cultural heritage of
traditions of Asia and
systems are integrated. "Once you start with 21st-century technology [like wireless], there is a greater potential for becoming the hub of technology and communications for countries around you," says Bayat. "That's why we're building a backbone system in
The larger goal behind these communications and media ventures is building democracy, Bayat insists. "I'm afraid of politics," he chuckles, but "promoting democracy is the goal that I have. It means having free and independent radio and television. We are in the crossroads of