Taliban target telecoms in $3bn blow for Afghan leadership

An Afghan talks on his mobile phone in Kabul. Taliban insurgents recently shut down private telecommunication companies in several parts of the country. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2018

Taliban target telecoms in $3bn blow for Afghan leadership

  • In recent years, engineers and employees of firms have been targeted and killed when the companies failed to follow insurgents’ orders.
  • Scores of mobile phone towers have been destroyed by Taliban insurgents after firms ignored their demands to shut down operations during military offensives

KABUL: Taliban insurgents and criminal groups are targeting Afghanistan’s telecommunications network, raising the security threat in the country and putting an industry with an estimated $3 billion value under growing strain.

Attacks by insurgents and criminals extorting money from private telecommunications firms have increased throughout the country. Raids have taken place in previously secure areas in northern and northeastern provinces that are outside the traditional power base of the Taliban, officials and phone operators said.

In southern Helmand and neighboring Uruzgan provinces, the Taliban who lead the insurgency against the government and US-led troops have broadened their ban on mobile phone firms following offensives by Afghan and foreign troops.

Insurgents also want to show that the government is unable to safeguard mobile phone operations.

“Telecommunication was one of the success stories in the new Afghanistan from the viewpoint of generating investment and revenues for the government,” a senior official for a major mobile company told Arab News on Friday.

“Foreign investors and ordinary Afghans have become reliant on the industry in recent years.” 

The official, who declined to be named, said: “We are talking about the country’s biggest private investment suffering, an investment that provides several hundred million dollars as tax revenue to the government annually and offers jobs to tens of thousands of Afghans.”

Scores of mobile phone towers have been destroyed by Taliban insurgents after firms ignored their demands to shut down operations during military offensives. Militants believe locals or government agents use the networks to relay information on the location of their fighters.

Each tower costs at least $400,000 to replace. In some insecure areas, firms have been unable to deliver fuel to keep the towers’ generators running, or have been barred by the government, which fears insurgents will steal the fuel, an official with another mobile firm said.

In recent years, engineers and employees of firms have been targeted and killed when the companies failed to follow insurgents’ orders. Now when the Taliban tell operators to shut down operations, there is rarely any delay in doing so.

“This is a major economic, political blow to the government,” Obaidullah Barekzai, a lawmaker from Uruzgan province, told Arab News.

“Mobile phones have been banned in the entire Uruzgan, except for an hour every day in its provincial capital.”

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed the restrictions on mobile operators, particularly in Helmand.

“According to our intelligence in Helmand and in some other parts of the country, American troops have been misusing the telephone companies and are bombing people’s houses and conducting raids on them,” he said.

“As long as security threats exist and danger is posed to the lives of people, we are forced to shut down telephone networks and will allow resumption of their activities only when security allows.”

Until a few years ago, it was the country’s younger generation that relied on mobile phones and Internet, but now older people go online to contact relatives and family members who have been living abroad as war refugees or migrants, another official said. Mobile Money has been used by some firms to pay the salaries of government troops and civil servants in remote and volatile areas in recent years.


Italy’s Lombardy region to impose virus curfew

Updated 59 min 26 sec ago

Italy’s Lombardy region to impose virus curfew

  • The curfew from 11pm to 5am is expected to begin on Thursday night and last to November 13
  • More than 10,000 new Covid-19 infections were recorded in Italy on Friday for the time ever

ROME: Italy’s northern Lombardy region prepared Tuesday to impose a nighttime curfew, the most restrictive anti-coronavirus measure the country has seen since emerging from a national lockdown in the spring.
The curfew from 11pm (2100GMT) to 5am is expected to begin on Thursday night and last to November 13.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza gave his consent late Monday to the more restrictive measure proposed by the regional government, after an hours-long meeting.
“It’s an appropriate and symbolically important initiative that shouldn’t have particularly serious economic consequences,” Regional President Attilio Fontana said in the newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday.
More than 10,000 new Covid-19 infections were recorded in Italy on Friday for the time ever, with Lombardy the hardest hit region, as it was in the beginning of the health crisis in February.
The region, which includes Italy’s financial hub of Milan, reported 1,687 new cases on Monday, with Italy’s southern Campania region coming a close second with 1,593.
Since Italy became the first hard-hit European country earlier this year, more than 36,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the country.
On Saturday, Lombardy ordered its bars to shut at midnight and prohibited the consumption of food and drink in public outside areas.
Italy has put in place recent restrictions to try to stem the new wave of infections, but none have so far imposed a curfew.
They include banning amateur contact sports, such as football matches, school trips, and restricting bars and restaurants to table service after 6pm.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said he does not envision another country-wide lockdown, which would further sap Italy’s struggling economy, but has said that he would not rule out limited ones.
Lombardy’s curfew is expected to only allow people to leave their home for reasons of health, work or necessity.
The new decree will also call for large shopping centers to be shut on weekends, according to Italian media reports.