Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

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Basharmal Dawlatzai, a Kabul Buber driver, tuning up his application to start his journey in the streets of Kabul. (AN photos)
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Basharmal Dawlatzai, a Kabul Buber driver, tuning up his application to start his journey in the streets of Kabul. (AN photos)
Updated 18 November 2018

Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

  • Popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads
  • Buber will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019

KABUL: Booking a ride that picks you up from your doorstep has been a dream for many Afghans for a long time. The dream is now coming true. After the popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads, a private national firm came up with a local solution: Buber.
Currently on its test run, the service will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019.
Basharmal Dawlatzai, a Buber driver, says the initiative in a congested city where violence and criminal activities have been part of daily life for years, is a relief for both clients and drivers.
“It is very convenient for both sides, the customer does not need to walk to a street, wait for taxi in cold or hot weather and bargain with a taxi he or she does not know,” Dawlatzai told Arab News. “We go to their homes and drop them at their favored destination, which saves both sides time and hassle.”
He has been with Buber for two months and has taken around employees of Afghanistan’s Holding Group (AHG) that owns Buber, which in Dari means “Take me”.
AHG’s headquarters near the ancient Darul-Aman palace is tucked away behind blast walls with a sprawling compound that enjoys far better security measures than many state institutions which are the targets of routine attacks by militants in Afghanistan.
The security precautions at AHG include a series of body searches by armed guards as well as scanners and the layers of checks that make it look as if the compound is in top-secret location.
There is a different world and mood inside, and for a moment you may think that this is not Afghanistan, given the pace of its work and manner of efficiency. Groups of young sleek men and women are busy typing away on computers or discussing their regular daily activities.
AHG hopes to gallop and make Afghanistan catch up with the revolution in the field of technology that has spread across the globe in recent years.
Staff at AHG say that since its launch in 2009 the company has provided professional business services to more than 700 organizations across Afghanistan. Its clients range from small companies, non-profits and corporations to development institutions and government customers. It offers a range of services that include legal and human resources support and assistance with licensing, visas, payroll, taxation, audit and procurement.
Now, AHG is working on its new innovation, Afghanistan Technology Services (ATS), which covers Hesab (accounting) and Buber, online taxi ordering similar to Uber.
The Hesab application allows customers to pay online power and water bills and order goods for home delivery, as well as paying for Buber.
The online car ordering has been operating in Afghanistan for several years, but business is tailing off for the other two firms, which according to officials had not managed to develop an advanced application.
“Technology is taking over each and every thing across the world, we do not want to be behind those guys and we would like to reach somewhere and rebuild Afghanistan. This is our mission, to rebuild Afghanistan,” said Zaheeruddin Naeabkhail, Buber’s senior manager.
Until its launch in January Buber is on a test run to make sure that the application works smoothly. It has enlisted 500 vehicles, with Kabul being the immediate target, and with the intention to expand to other major cities later.
Not many will be able to afford the Buber service: Smart phone owners and literate people are its target.
Even the drivers will have to be literate.
In a country where there is no fixed rate for taxis and customers usually bargain, Buber will have fixed prices and can come to a customer’s desired address for pick up.
In a country riven by violence and crimes, such as abductions, Buber can offer peace of mind to clients as it has a tracking mechanism which clients can share with anyone they want to for their safety, AHG officials said.
“The problem for now in the market is the security concern. We have this facility for the user as well as the driver that allows them to be able to track users through our GPS,” Naeabkhail said.
Drivers will be registered with full details for security measures and they can help the police with information if anything happens to a client between pickup and drop-off.
The application can be a great help for the customer to avoid congested areas and routes where there is protest or there has been an attack, officials said, adding this will save time for the client and money for the driver, as well as reducing pollution.
“This application is very challenging application, nobody else has it, it is not easy for others to build it easily. Afghans have developed the application themselves,” Naeabkhail said.
Roadblocks created by officials, some embassies, foreign troops and factional leaders are the key challenges and Buber hopes to address that with the help of Google, he said.
“The main challenge that we face is the map, because Afghanistan is not mapped very well. We would like the support of Google if they are willing to help us … it is like general support for the public at large and also for any company that comes later and invests.”

Martial law ‘is helping us fight terrorism more effectively’

Updated 11 min 48 sec ago

Martial law ‘is helping us fight terrorism more effectively’

  • Filipino congress asked to extend reign of martial law on the troubled island a third time
  • Philippines defense secretary says martial law in Mindanao has curtailed terrorist capabilities

MANILA: Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has defended his recommendation to extend the implementation of martial law on Mindanao island for another year, saying it is the only way to quell terrorism in the country. 

“National security is contingent on being able to protect people from threats,” said Lorenzana, who acknowledged that the Philippines continues to face internal security issues thanks to communist insurgencies and violent extremism.

He was speaking at a forum organized by the Filipino Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies in Makati on the outskirts of the Filipino capital, Manila.

On Monday, Lorenzana, a member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other top security officials briefed senators in a closed-door meeting on the situation in Mindanao before putting forth the recommendation.

The lawmakers, however, are still divided on the issue.

“The Duterte administration is putting in place a comprehensive strategy to address terrorism and violent extremism,” he said, adding that the five-month armed conflict waged by security forces against ISIL last year in Marawi, the capital of one of the Philippine’s several provinces, would not happen again.

President Rodrigo Duterte first imposed martial law when the Marawi siege broke out. After a 60-day grace period, the president asked for a five-month extension, which was granted by congress.

Even after the president declared Marawi liberated from terrorists in October 2017, he had made a second request to extend martial law at the time.

Lorenzana said the military conducted ground operations against the ISIL-affiliated Abu Sayyaf group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and pro-ISIL group Dawlah Islamiya. He went as far as saying that the “significant success” they have had countering such groups was down to declaring martial law on the island in the first place.

“The capabilities of threat groups have been significantly curtailed since there has been less threat-initiated violence and fewer kidnappings,” said Lorenzana in Friday’s forum. “Several guerrilla fronts were cleared and firearms recovered. Vital infrastructure was secured and government approval rates have since gone up.”

He added that martial law enabled law enforcement agencies, local officials and the military to coordinate, collaborate and communicate efficiently and effectively. 

Lorenzana told reporters that putting the island under martial law would help address terrorism in the whole of the southern Philippines, adding that they would also deploy an entire military division to the province of Jolo, Sulu to address problems in and around the area.

"If our laws were stricter, we could have done without martial law,” he said, adding that it should always be a last resort for governments.

Lorenzana told reporters that between five and 10 expat extremists renowned for their bomb-making skills are believed to have entered the country from the south. 

“The foreign extremists don’t look Arab,” he said. “They are more likely Asians, particularly from Malaysia and Indonesia, who have mingled with the local terror groups.”

The AFP has expressed confidence that the recommendation would surpass any legal scrutiny.

“We leave the final decision to the discretion of lawmakers,” said Noel Detoyato, chief of the AFP public affairs.