Telecom services unstable in a quarter of Afghanistan
KABUL (Pajhwok): Due to security threats telecommunication towers remain switched off round the clock in 15 of the most violent districts of the country. In 74 other districts, the services are suspended only at night due to lack of adequate security, Pajhwok Afghan News has learnt.
Via telephonic interviews from January 23 to 30 2017 in all 34 provinces of the country, Pajhwok created a database of telecommunications cuts across the country. The data reveals that threats posed by armed groups resulted in permanent or temporary closure of telecom services across a quarter of the districts in the country. 89 administrative units (districts of provinces and capital of Urozgan province), including the capital of Uruzgan province, are affected.
Thirteen administrative units of the country are still without telecom facilities of any kind, the telephonic conversations indicated.
Pajhwok learnt services of wireless communication companies were off round the clock in nine districts of Helmand, three districts and the capital of Uruzgan and two in Herat.
But in 74 districts of 18 provinces, including Helmand and Herat provinces, the telecommunication service cuts were limited only to nighttime hours.
According to the Central Statistic Organisation (CSO) over 5.5 million people lived in 102 administrative units of the country where telecommunication services remained unstable.
5.5 million People accounted for over 18 percent of the total population of Afghanistan
In some cases, the 89 districts without their own functioning telecommunications service receive signals from towers located in neighboring districts.
Varying access across provinces
Pajhwok found the suspension of services happened more frequently in eastern and southeastern provinces of the country, compared to other zones.
The data indicated similar telecom issues exist in the rest of the country country, where the services are interrupted during the night or round the clock.
In addition to the nine provinces in the chart above, two districts each of Nuristan, Farah, Parwan, Kapisa, Helmand and one of Nimroz, Zabul, Kunar, Badghis and Faryabare are deprived of services at night or round the clock.
The MCIT spokesman said telecom antennas had been installed in all administrative units, but some far-flung areas might not have been covered.
According to him, in case the security situation improved, telecom antennas would be installed to bring all areas under coverage.
However, the Pajhwok study shows 13 districts of various provinces are still without telecom services.
Locals say the 13 districts areAjristan, Nawa, Rashidan and Khogyani districts in Ghazni, Yamgan and Wardujin Badakhshan, Qalandar and Sparain Khost, Deshu and Baghranin Helmand, Raghistanin Kandahar, Sancharakin Sar-i-Pul, and Charsaddain Ghor.
Mahmood, a resident of the Chak district of MaidanWardak province, said, “The Taliban don’t allow telecommunication towers to function at night. But in some parts of the district, the services remain available.”
He said Roshan Telecommunication Company doesn’t maintain any signal towers in Chak District and some signal towers outside the district provide signals in some areas.
Mahmood said the communication services in the district were very limited and unreliable.
Eng. Ainuddin, Ghazni telecom director, confirmed towers had not been installed in Khogyani, Rashidan, Nawaand Ajristan districts of the province due to insecurity.
“In some areas of Khogyani, Nawa, and Ajristan, signals are received from telecom towers in neighbouring districts,” the official continued.
As soon as security improved, telecom towers would be set up in the districts, the director promised.
Eng. Sher Ahmad, Kandahar telecom director, confirmed towers had not been installed in Registan district due to insecurity and as small population of the district. However, efforts are ongoing to resolve the issue.
Telecom networks evince a keen interest in providing services in stable and populous areas.
Registan is one of Kandahar’s districts, whose population was put at 1,600 people in 2006.
Service disruption dilemma for citizens
Syed Gulab Shah, an inhabitant of Batikot district of Nangarhar province, complained about the lack of telecom services in the area. He said: “When someone faces health issues or when someone dies at night, we have to wait until morning to inform people or take the patient to the doctor.”
He recalled his sister got an appendix problem two month back but there was no mobile phone service to inform anyone to take her to hospital. As a result, she died.
Mohammad Shakir, the resident of Alasei district in central Kapisa province, where telecommunication services are interrupted during the night said: “If any problem occurred during the night to us we cannot ask for help nor can go out of the home due to security issues.”
He urged the government, militants and telecom companies to address public issues and make sure the towers are functional at night.
The government's response to service disruption
Mohammad Yasin Samim, spokesman for the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) without providing figures, said mobile signals towers in some administrative units of the country had been deactivated. He, however, disagreed the number of these disconnected mobile signals towers was as high as 89.
He also confirmed communication services had been suspended in some districts until the security situation improved, saying in insecure environment the government could not oversee the operation of telecommunication networks.
He said efforts were on to remove security threats and resolved the telecommunication services issue.
Najeeb Danish, deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said telecom towers had stopped functioning in some districts because of security and technical problems. He did not name such districts.
However, he said, operational plans aimed at overcoming security threats had been drawn up. With their implementation, the issue would be resolved, he added.
“If telecom networks seek security for installing antennas, the MoI is ready to cooperate with them.”
The Taliban Justify Attacks on Communications Infrastructure
ZabihullahMujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said the Taliban prohibits telecommunications companies from operating their towers at night in areas where security operations were underway or US aircraft provided the government with air support. They target areas and individuals with the help of mobile signals, he argued.
Mujahid blamed the government and the US for the Taliban ban on telecommunications services and said they conducted illegal airstrikes and bombardments with the help of mobile signals.
Despite telephone calls from Pajhwok, officials of telecom networks were unwilling to speak on the issues.
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