IGF 2019 – Day 3 – Convention Hall I-C – Pre-Event #37 Landlocked Countries: Turning a Weakness into an Opportunity

The following are the outputs of the real-time captioning taken during the Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin, Germany, from 25 to 29 November 2019. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid to understanding the proceedings at the event, but should not be treated as an authoritative record. 



So you thank you very much.  Thank you very much.  I'm from Bangladesh, and I'm the chairman of the Bangladesh Internet Governance Forum of Bangladesh, but at the same time, I'm a member of parliament, and I'm also the chairman now of the parliamentarian on the ministry of information.

I belong to a political party, which is called socialist party, and it's in coalition with the present government, so we are in the government for the last 11 years.  Many years back in 2009, I was the chairman of the parliament standing committee on the ministry of telecom in cities so at that time many new laws are enacted come cooperate with the digital process.  Our regulatory authority was changing to a modern system at that time, so having said that, I've been invited by the Afghan regulatory authority, a Mr. Hashme, and the other Afghan dignitaries to moderate this session.

Thank you all for participating in this session.  Here with me in this session is Bill Hashme, vice chairman of Afghan Telecom Regulatory Authority, ATRA.  Miss Havana and Mr. Alibab ‑‑ he's a Commissioner of ‑‑ existing commission of the interim government Delguna.  She's a board member of the authority regulatory of Afghanistan.  This meeting is authorized by the regulatory authority of Afghanistan.

So having said that, the vice chairman of ATRA will come up with the keynote and statement.

I invite Mr. Bill Hashme to bring up the statement.  Bear in mind, that the subject is:  How to digitize and connect internationally the landlocked countries, Afghanistan being a landlocked country.  We will discuss Afghanistan, but the whole model is to be evolved ‑‑ how to address the problems of landlocked countries who doesn't have access to ocean, seas, to get networks connected.  We'll discuss Afghanistan, but we'll generalize it all landlocked countries of the world.  Mr. Hashme, please.

>> Hello.

>> I'm so comfortable when I'm standing.  I'm so sorry for the time.

Thank you very much.

>> Turning opportunities turning a weakness into opportunities.  Turning a weakness into opportunities and turning weaknesses into strengths that presents opportunity is the key to success.

A lot of people have done it.  A lot of countries have done it.

India and China, with a population of more than 2.5 billion, has made weaknesses and turned them into the strength and established and created the opportunity.  Today, they are not creating and creating the jobs within their countries, but they are exporting the professionals, the expertise around the globe, and there's are the factors for stability are economic stability in their countries.

I'm Bill.  I'm a vice chairman of Afghanistan telecommunication regulatory authority, and it's my pleasure and honor to be here to present the topic under the landlocked countries turning weaknesses into strengths that create the opportunity and thank you very much for all the audience and respected government officials, private sectors, ladies and gentlemen.

Before I go to the weaknesses into opportunities, let me talk about ATRA first.  Afghanistan is located at the central of Asia with a population around 32 million and the area is 62500,000 kilometer squared.  ATRA is the highest regulatory body for regulation for telecom sectors in the country.  It was established in 2005 and became an independent body in 2017.  That is the highest regulatory body in the country that regulates the telecom sectors in the country.  We have five telecom operators, and we have introduced or launched 2G services back in 2003 and 3G services in 2012 and 4G in 2017.

There is the statistics which comes from the NSR, the statistics institution, government institution.  We have a GSM subscriber of around 23 million and a total of subscribers of the data reached to around 13 million, and the LAN lines is 133,000 investment in this sector is 3 billion, which is the biggest investment in the country.  In the sector of the telecom, a population coverage of 90% and a penetration of 72%.

The weaknesses, yes, we do have the weaknesses as I stated earlier, but that is not the population.  It's the weaknesses of the security situations and the mountainous area as majority of the land is occupied by the mountainous areas which can create problems to lay the fiber ‑‑ optical fibers and lay the broadband penetration.

There is no submarine cable access and the low literacy rates are the factors in which we can call in our country and as a result the users are paying the high prices.  Opportunity, it doesn't come to you.  You have to create.  It must be created

We have a digital hub as Afghanistan is at the central of Asia, we can change Afghanistan and landlocked interconnecting country because we can use Afghanistan as a digital hub and the fiber for international and local and local licenses.  The opportunities we have is the IP transit.  We can use Afghanistan as the IP transit.  We did it before as transit for transport and for electricity, and the government has taken this initiative to go for the transmission and the transit of the optical fiber and the IP transit, which connects the south Asia to the central Asia and vice versa.

The other opportunities that we do have is to paint the infrastructures.  Before there was only one fiber, optical fiber company in Afghanistan.  And back in 2017, ATRA, Afghanistan Telecommunication Regulation Authority, has decided to change and create the opportunity by providing ‑‑ by eliminating the infrastructure development monopoly which was only one company in Afghanistan operating in the optical fiber by having the open‑access policy.  Now we have three more other viable optical fiber companies that are currently working and laying the fiber connectivity within the country.

And for the other opportunities, is the opportunities to facilitate in investment and growth in the I.T. sector.  The government has already started investing in Afghanistan, and they are providing the facility for the FDIs in foreign investors and the arrival of other opportunities, so that they can invest in all sectors especially in the telecom sector.

The other one is facility infrastructure for smart cities as every country is going for the smart cities.  The same Afghanistan is eager to go for the smart cities and the government is entrusted and eager to go for the smart cities and the long‑term objectives are opportunities we have as well.

The first is the open‑access policy that we have already started, and we have given licenses.  In the second stage, we have the open access regulations that we already developed the regulation for the open‑access policy and provided the license for the fiber ‑‑ optical fiber companies.

There are three other companies who are now having the license and working in the optical fiber.  The 4G spectrum is the other one, and we have digital costs.

There are certain things that the government has decided in the recent years to change Afghanistan from the land lock into the land connected countries.  We have done in the electricity we have introduced additional roads, and we have opened the roads as a transit to the central Asia to the south Asia to the central Asia.

In the same area, it's happening in the digital projects and late in 2015, the world bank considered the digital feasibility of the costs that would connect several cities and at the second stage Iran and other countries such as China as well, and this is the map that we have already connected to the fiber optical fib to many countries.

ATRA is not doing only ‑‑ not regulating the sector in the country.  We have other services, which is the TDF fund, which is being funded, and we fund some government institutions, which are very much important to us and for the development of the country.  We have split them into four major areas:  The rural communication development; the internet bandwidth and the ICT labs and the telemedicine.

These are the four major areas that we are funding the government institutions around the country, so far we have erected 850 powers in order to access the telecom services in the rural areas.

And also we are funding the ministry of higher education to facilitate the interconnectivity or connectivity services to the students at the universities and ATRA has funded this project, and so far we have developed and connected with 54 university, state universities and all the students are being benefited of those services that we have provided.

In the meantime, the ministry of education ‑‑ we are giving around 30 million U.S. dollars to ministry of education to facilitate and provide the services I.T. and ICT labs that we are developing, and we are making ICT labs at different schools around the country to facilitate the students to get benefit of the I.T. services, and the ministry of education and the other one is health ministry also.  We are providing all the services to ministry of education.

On average, up to 70 to 90 million USD is being funded to the government institutions in order to facilitate them for providing the services, the internet services ‑‑

(Technical difficulties)

>> Yes, we have the way forward.  We do want to change Afghanistan as a transit government to connect the north Asia and the south Asia, and we do provide all the facilities for the foreign investors and all the foreign investors ‑‑ some of the foreign investors are entrusted to take part not only provide services but use Afghanistan as a transit one of those services and do business ‑‑ to use Afghanistan as a transit to other countries, to make Afghanistan more reliable for interconnectivity, yeah, we do have the transit, and we improve the communication and last but not least we want to change Afghanistan from the landlocked country to the land‑connected country.

Thank you very much.


>> Let's give a hand to Bill.  I hope you've gotten an overview of the Afghan process.  Afghanistan is being very fine.

By the way, I have not introduced myself.  My name is Hasan Hack Inu, so the major important proposal from Hashme is that the landlocked country needs to be transformed into land‑connected country.

The second, he said that Afghanistan can be a transit for other landlocked countries around the region so Afghanistan can become a hub of telecom connections and fiber optic connections in that they can arm different businesses, so that is a very interesting proposal.

And third the it's opening up the fiber optical infrastructure development process to private sector breaking up the monopoly, which is great news.

So having said that, I invite Miss Urbana.  She belongs to international society of Afghanistan.  Please.  There is internet society, not international society.

>> Hello, everyone.  I represent internet society of Afghanistan.  I'm also founder of a national program by name of Afghan ICT.

My presentation will really focus on the gender perspective of landlocked countries turning it into other opportunities in order to make Afghanistan a digitized country, gender perspective is crucial for achieving this goal.

Well, to give you an overview of women's state in the country.  The total population of women is 49% and 53% 52.2%, which means 57.8 have not any formal education and/or illiterate.

Primary country involvement is more than 3 million and public university enrollment is more than 63,000.  Women's life expectancy is 46 years.

To tell you about national programs in the country, we have ‑‑ Afghanistan 93% ‑‑


>> Which explains the strategy of the country in order to for full development we also have national purity program, which is a bit aligned to the global statistics, and we have a community for women's empowerment, and we have a group, which is a specific committee which works towards achieving SDGs and it's cochaired by Afghanistan resident ‑‑ vice president office.

And for SDGs also in charge of achieving SDGs and the committee is chaired by ministry of economy.

Well, about our stakeholders in Afghanistan, we do have the approach of multistakeholder.  We have involved the government, private sector, independent groups and civil societies and also international community.

From government issues, we have communication formation, and a national ICT council of Afghanistan.

From private sector we have different groups of network operators and also companies, and we do have NGOs and independent groups, which are including international society of Afghanistan and vision and technology resource center for Afghanistan and also I have helped Afghanistan through initiatives through independent groups.

We also have public universities and universities, which is ICT, and we have where we're working towards ICTs agencies and also European Union.

To talk about woman‑specific initiatives of our programs, I'm glad to represent here and share with you a number of programs accomplished, which we navigate in Afghanistan.

When we participate in a global IGF in 2017, I remember we had a presentation and here we only named 1 to 2 initiatives in the country which works towards inclusion of woman and digitalization of the country and also and gender equality when it comes to the discussion of ICT.

We have an initiative in the country which works towards involving women in ICT studies and careers.  There's another program which names, which is through the international IGU.  We have to take women ‑‑


>> We have a code for peace program, which is run through Uniwoman, and we have a team to ‑‑ which focuses on teaching girls with coding.

And we also ‑‑ we have also been run IT international ICT, and we have been ensuing this, and it has been submitted through ATRA, the ministry and also the local initiatives.  Well, it has been discussed many times in order to change Afghanistan to a digital country and when the discussion of gender comes, we do have some challenges.

There are two important challenges.  The first challenge is when you give attention to gender equality and the second challenge is when you start a program, so the major challenges we still have ‑‑ although I named a number of programs and initiatives which have been running in the country, we do lack a change for women in parliament ICT and lack of national program for inclusion of woman in ICT and lack of specific data macro data of women in ICT.  We have been involved in order to find solutions for these big challenges, and we have a specified solution entry and specific points.  We said we want supportive change in order to support ‑‑ in order to work more for gender equality and ICT in order to achieve the bigger goal, the goal of making Afghanistan a digitized country.

We also need to have a national program such as ‑‑ we have guaranteed women ‑‑ we do need specific program a national program in order to increase more women in ICT in order to achieve the global ‑‑ the bigger load.  And we also need the support of international community and proposed solution.

And while we think more girls and women in ICT are important, because ATRA represented we are working towards changing Afghanistan from a landlocked country to a land‑connected country.  For that we need to consider general perspective as well because gender equality in ICT is important and also ICT can work for gender equality in the end for the country.  Thank you.


>> Thank you.  You have got an overview of the women of Afghanistan and girls of Afghanistan.  She emphasized on the eve of sustainable goals with NDGs while the missions and groups have had some certain parameters by 2030, and one is gender equality.

We in Bangladesh still lagging behind in the pursuit of gender equality, so she is focusing on the woman community with ICTs.  We call digital intelligence, so gender equality is a challenge but when you apply ICTs you need to develop ‑‑ what the agenda equalities is incorporated, and the gender group is cooperated.  She of them sized on this issue that means ICT application needs to follow an inclusive policy.  Emphasizing on woman and girls.  Thank you very much.  I hope Afghanistan will catch up with the present world by 2030 there'll be gender equality in Afghanistan.

I invite the Commissioner of an institute called Access to Information.  In Bangladesh we have an information commission set up by law is an independent body, so we have enacted another law right to information RTI so RTI gives the citizens, journalists to seek any information from the government machinery or the government officials also all the private sector while the Bangladesh is financing or the international community is financing, so they are bound to give information if a citizen asks for that particular information.

So by that, the right information allows the citizen to focus ‑‑ focus on the internal corridors of the bureaucracy.  I hope he's doing a good job.  I invite the Commissioner to access to information.  Thank you very much.


>> Thank you very much.

I've been told I have three minutes, so I'll just make it as short as possible.

>> A little bit louder.

>> Thank you.  We are talking about internet governance, actually, we're talking about transparency and accountability and public access to information because it's their human right.  Everyone should have access to government holding the information.  And also, to ensure accountability and transparency what the government is doing for the public.

Having said that in Afghanistan we likely have one of the strongest law because it got into center for law and democracy for Canada out of 150 we got 13 points, so we have one of the best laws.  But when it comes to its implementations, we do face challenges.  To briefly speak of the challenges in Afghanistan we are facing with the implementation of the law.  The first thing is that the lack of public awareness because public should know about it's their human right, and they should approach their government of human entities and the lacks of accessibility in remote areas.  People do not have access to internet.  The other problem is that the digital days of the information.

In Afghanistan we are progressing towards that.  We do have a number of ministries, ministry of agriculture, the national of RRD and the national procurement authority, and so it's online ‑‑ they have online data systems so public has access to that.  But when it comes to the rest of the government entities most of them, they do not have the data in a digital form, which is a challenge.  We hope in the future when it comes to implementation of the law, we will push for the digitization of the data so not only the Afghanistan and the rest of the world they have access to it, and we also hope and request IGF to do some lobbying and push for it because if you don't have strong law access to information law then it becomes a challenge because you may have data, and then there'll be a culture of secrecy because when it comes to government, government is to serve the public whether it's in a digital form or other forms so once we have strong law we'll be able and the public will be able to have access to data, thank you.


>> Thank you very much.  You are doing a great job.  The law is here, but the application of law is always a challenge.  In Bangladesh also.  We are trying to educate the journalist community, how to use this law, what information is there because the general public ‑‑ though many ‑‑ it's on the net on board but to seek information from the government machineries you must be a little bit ‑‑ you should have initiative, so we advised the generalist community can do this initiative, take this initiative, use the law that will help the government to be more accountable and transparent, so I think these challenges can be ‑‑


>> After this ‑‑

>> No, no.  After the question

>> Okay, so this is ‑‑


>> Because many countries doesn't have this law, I.T. information.

In Bangladesh we are considering a right to internet as one of the basic human rights.  It's not to have been enacted in the constitution.  But in the Scandinavian countries, up in the north, some countries have already enacted this law into the institution.

Internet, you breathe in and breath out is life, and so the point is that right?  To internet, which is affordable, accessible, need to be ensured with the government, so you have internet, you have a mobile phone, but you don't know how to use it.  You don't have access centers, and it's very important, and I give you this idea to discuss, so that the global community can come up with the basic human rights, right to internet like food is a basic right.

So this is one thing that I think we need to apply and bear in mind on this subject.

And I'll open the floor for question and answers.  If you have any questions you can direct it to the speakers or to me or to anybody else.  Thank you very much.

>> Well, it seems everyone knows what we were talking about.


>> Does anyone have any inquiries or questions?  I think the speakers are pretty self‑explanatory and everything is clear.

>> To break the ice, I would like to share some words.  We have ‑‑ we have a previous chairman of ATRA that under his leadership of ATRA got the independency and welcome

As it has been mentioned in the presentation Afghanistan really started a infrastructure in services of telecommunication and as you know, the country was very war‑torn and starting from scratch, and one of the characteristic of Afghanistan was that ‑‑ and it's not only Afghanistan but also some other less developed countries could do, so that in a very rapid manner make growth of infrastructure of services in the country, and one of the strategies that the country successfully implemented so was a multidimensional approach for telecommunication sector.

Our listeners were very clear starting from that we give productivity for connectivity, and then focus on redundancy to make sure that the country, which is very mountainous to be connected, and then increasing capacity of internet, and then focus on access.

After that the country, especially the regulatory authority, focus on inclusion.  We in a very good manner approach the financial inclusion and also digital inclusion.

Now in Afghanistan, there are many finance sector players that are involved in digital economy although the first steps, but it's very good sign of future of the country that this inclusion will expand to the rural area, and now governmental employees are receiving their salaries athlete network, the mobile networks and banks are using digital financing transactions inside the country and also outside.

With that, inclusion we are focusing the public sector and also the promote area communities and, so we can fully proceed some of the very important needs to be fulfilled.

And one thing, which is very important, and that is characteristic not only of Afghanistan but other landlocked countries as well ‑‑ Afghanistan has no access to undersea cables, and one of the things that we are seeking to tackle how we can provide a virtual presence in the country of the ‑‑ points of presence in the country of a major carrier, which is also possible before this session we discussed with Mr. Chairman that lead to the decision, the region has the potential to do so.

Many of the countries in the region are a member of the world trade organizations, and there's some really clear principles that need to be applied so in a nondiscriminatory manner not market of a particular country to rely on, so we can do so anyone think of the digital alliance in the legion

So first starting bilaterally providing a ground for facilitating access to the internet which ‑‑ without that it's very difficult to talk about the global internet governance so even the global arena there should be paper to work closely with the country in a manner that this access problem to be solved, and we would like to cull the countries of the regions to work together in a collaborative way in a work organization to be applied in the region.  Thank you.

>> We are at the end of the session but is now Seguna will address you before she takes the floor, what I understood that as a landlocked country Afghanistan has certain problems so do the landlocked countries of the world.  There is a research by its parts that the undersea submarine cables connection is costlier than the land‑connected cables but at the moment it's not connected to the land.  So if we wanted to reduce the cost of the optical fiber networks bandwidth ‑‑ if you can switch over to the fiber networks then it would reduce the costs by one‑third, so this year they are planning to develop an information highway and along the information, highway the stakeholders can ‑‑ of the countries can build an information highway from binge to the end of Asia ‑‑ to central Asia, and then to Europe so here the major question is:  When you build this network ‑‑ so what the professor said is that if we don't follow certain global rules then the internet connection, say, coming from Iran to Afghanistan they can block it, and then you are dead.  You are gone.  So we must follow certain global norms likes water, but the treaty was there and the water flowed.  There's no deception so internet is lifeline.

Water is the lifeline.  So any agreement on the internet NRA landlocked cannot be disrupted, cannot be cut off by the supplier country so there should be digital global alliance.

The WTO for that can be used unless there is a new United Nations sponsored format on eCommerce in that process, so long we can go to those standards, and that is one thing, and the second thing is the infrastructure development is very important.

So when you go for tester connections in your investment you cannot leave it to the private sector.  These need to be assured from the government and international corridors that if you digitate the society, you digitate their goals, so the strategy of goals every country it be landlocked or not landlocked should have the capacity of facilities for internet connections accessible to everybody, so this is really important, and then all the neighbors of the landlocked countries are bound to get internet connections to the country, so these are taken tea global level, so I always say that internet is a global common and shared source in that case we need for peer planning, global planning, local level planning and technological planning.  If we don't do this, then we are gone.  But in this fourth‑year planning, it's inclusiveness, inclusiveness ‑‑ and if the inclusiveness is there that is the goal and if inclusive goal is not there then we will not achieve the goal.

Miss Seguna, she's a about them of ATRA, she'll summarize the whole thing.  Thank you very much.

>> I want to welcome you all at the outset I would like to appreciation to the government of the Germany and the CNP for extending excellent hospitalities to all host participants I have the association and the respect for this vital forum.  I have members to elaborate of that emerging issue of internet and the landlocked countries, which are of common interest to the communication regulators in this countries.  This IGF meeting attendance countries collaboration experience‑sharing, and this is very important for developing common consensus to speed up the technological economy and social progress of the landlocked countries.

The law as we know is rapidly changing as well as the digital access.  It is the responsibility of regulators to lay out a conducive technical and business environment via the digitization is service delivered and the quality consumers are protected and business communities facilitated.  I believe all regulatory bodies will meet their challenge to the best of their abilities.

Distinguished gentlemen and ladies and gentlemen we have worked hard in bridging the digital divide by connecting the unconnected.  Afghanistan holds the chance to considerably increase its social economic indicators by force setting the development of that bond digitization and the main cities of the country.  That penetration can be increased in many ways including the use of that telecommunication development fund to develop the communication networks by providing societies to universal access projects.

We're going to work in all three subdimension of coverage, performance and affordability.  In order to promote connectivity.

The following recommendation are demonstrated in there ATRA ICT roadmap in Afghanistan; create auxillerate and collaborate in the development of the sector.  For remote private advancement to the simplification of the licensing system.  Implement open access and telecommunication development lands.  Establish the best for a knowledge‑based society in Afghanistan.  Promote the information technology usage in the public and private sector.  Improve the level of security and safety for the end users.  Promote and develop human capacity.  Increase the penetration and utilization of ICT amongst citizens.

I would like to thank the Afghanistan delegation for those in attendance in the session.  Healthy discussion and open and sharing.  I believe that this diverse group of and direction between professionalism of different countries can give help Afghanistan.

At the end, I would like to thank the IGF organizers and CODP for their continued support.  I wish all delegates a successful meeting and pleasant stay in beautiful City of Berlin.  Thank you very much.


>> Okay.  Thank you very much.

I conclude all the participants and discussions for your communication and help moderate the discussion.  Thank you all.