Re: Internet Banned in Afghanistan

From: Bill Douglass (
Date: Wed Jul 18 2001 - 10:55:59 MDT

On Sun, 15 Jul 2001 12:03:42 -0700 E. Shaun Russell wrote:

"This is very disturbing, but it was probably bound to happen at some point.

Apparently they have decided to ban internet use not because it is
inherently bad, but because they don't like the bad "stuff" available on

It is indeed bad news, but I also don't find it very surprising. Regimes
that are quite bad but somewhat less repressive, perhaps, than
Afghanistan's, such as those of Syria and Myanmar, have had bans on the
internet in place for some time. Syria has recently started to allow
limited access, though, and when I was there in 1997-98 (when the full ban
was still in effect) I found that the well-to-do were covertly accessing the
net by dialing over to Lebanon. The same may be the case in Myanmar (calls
to Thailand, perhaps?), but I didn't come across it when I was there. Also,
international long distance in Myanmar is very expensive, with the lowest
rate from the capital, Yangon to the US, for example, being around
US$3.00/minute, making even covert long-distance access available only to
the well-to-do (at hotels it's more like $12.00/minute). Add to that the
fact that most of the well-to-do in Myanmar are themselves government
ministers and other officials, and you have a very grim situation indeed.

I understand that Saudi Arabia has partially lifted its ban. I haven't been
to Iraq, but I can guarantee there is no internet access there. In Sudan
the internet was completely unavailable during visits in 1996-97, but it
wasn't entirely clear if this was because of a ban or just the crumbling
telcommunications infrastructure. In Kyrgyzstan in 1996 email was available
via UUCP (hey, welcome to the 1970s!) but the US Ambassador there told me
that the country's only email node was located at the President's house, and
that his staff kept an eye an all the messages. So, even when email is
available it can be of limited use in political activism and other
activities states might frown upon. Others on this list would know better
than me to what degree encryption could be used to get around that type of
snooping in a primitive system like UUCP.

The Afghanistan government seems to enjoy thumbing its nose at the outside
world with announcements of new and novel methods of repression and
self-destruction, but now one is left to wonder, what's next? After all,
they've banned women from the workplace, as well as games, paper bags (might
be made from pages of the Koran,) even clear windows facing the street in
private homes (someone walking by could see a woman inside, so they must be
painted black,) men from cutting their beards, and now the internet. Before
long they'll come up with something new, but they're running out of things
to ban!

I'd hazard a guess that, even before this ban, there were fewer than fifty
internet-connected computers in all of Afghanistan, and that most of them
belonged to NGOs (foreign Non-Governmental Organizations). Don't get me
wrong, zero is worse than forty or fifty, and this news certainly shows that
things, as bad as they are in Afghanistan, can get even worse.

I'm reminded me of those absurd, poorly-designed internet forms where you
fill in your country, and the first one that comes up is Afghanistan.

Best wishes,

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