The Taliban wants to expand high-speed internet connectivity in Afghanistan despite a history of online censorship and internet blackouts to thwart protests against the militant group.
It’s been a year since the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and the Taliban reclaiming power following 20 years of conflict. The Taliban claim they want to establish an independent government with “positive interaction with the world,” according to a statement released by the group on Wednesday. Despite previous attempts to cut off internet connectivity in Afghanistan, the Taliban now seems to want to get the country more plugged in. The Taliban recently said that it was upgrading Afghanistan’s internet networks to 4G, and is reportedly working with a network provider to expand that connectivity to remote areas of the country, according to Bloomberg.
Today, most people in Afghanistan rely on 2G network, but a few areas in the capital Kabul are already connected to 4G with plans to expand further, Najibullah Haqqani, the Taliban’s acting minister of telecommunications and information technology, told Bloomberg.
It’s a bizarre move for the fundamentalist group with a long track record of actively preventing people from having online access. In 2001, the Taliban banned the use of the Internet in an effort to control things that are “wrong, obscene, immoral and against Islam,” Taliban Foreign Minister Maulvi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil said at the time. In 2021, the Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority (ATRA) reported that the Taliban destroyed 28 telecommunications towers across the country just months before taking over the government. Taliban officials also cut off people’s connectivity across Kabul to prevent them from organizing protests during their takeover of the capital.
As the group assumed power last year, there was an increasing concern that the Taliban would cut off internet connectivity altogether. But the Taliban leaders seem to be embracing technology. Some officials have even joined Twitter, and used WhatsApp to broadcast government orders. The militant group is perhaps making a desperate attempt to upgrade its global image in an effort to be officially recognized as a government. But providing 4G network likely won’t do the trick if the people of Afghanistan don’t have freedom to access the internet without government oversight.