India and Afghanistan are stepping up collaboration in technology, specially in the areas of e-governance, ICT in education and election management
What comes to your mind when you hear Afghanistan? Perhaps Taliban, terrorism or a war-torn country, struggling to balance itself and its relationship with India, Pakistan and the US. But this is not the full story. After the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, much has changed in Afghanistan—be it construction, communication, key infrastructure, education and security—there is gradual improvement. In all these sectors, India is playing a crucial role. So far, it has committed $3 billion and now governments of both the countries are stepping up their collaboration in technology, specially in the areas of e-governance, smart cities, ICT in education and election management. Under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, 16,000 Afghan students have completed different courses in ICT and vocational education, attorneys from 50 provinces have been trained in fingerprint technology and now Afghanistan aims to equip its election officers with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with the help of India.
“India’s assistance, particularly in education, is considerable given the fact that it was our priority. Having suffered for decades, we needed an impactful education for our youth. India got on this early on. Today, we have thousands of students who have studied in India and have returned to Afghanistan. Now, we are keen to explore India’s technology prowess in areas like e-governance, smart cities and election management,” said Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan ambassador to India .
The growing impetus on technology is part of India’s recent commitment of $1 billion to Afghanistan. The new investment will be used for irrigation, rehabilitation and training which includes digital capacity building and training in ICT.
“We are looking at India’s National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) to understand the different facets of e-governance as technology intervention in the government improves transparency and it is a weapon to fight corruption,” said Abdali. The other key areas that the war-ravaged country is exploring is smart cities and election management. Free and fair election is a dream which is yet to be delivered by its election body. The last three elections have been mired in controversy for election fraud, favouritism and poor handling. Once again, Afghanistan is headed for two crucial elections – President and Parliamentary, and it does not want to go the old way. It is looking to leverage election technology, specially EVMs with the help of India.
“India’s usage of technology in elections, specially the EVMs, have been very cost-effective and we are looking to adopt this. We have already discussed and agreed to collaborate on elections. Now, the planning is under process so that we can start systematically as in which particular field training should start first,” said Abdali.
On the question of how soon this training could be completed as Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) is scheduled to held elections on July 7, 2018, the ambassador said, “The decision has been taken at the highest level and number of delegates have already been exchanged. Since we recently announced redress for election in Afghanistan, we will now step up this effort more than what we did in the past.”
Inspired by India’s Smart Cities Mission project, Afghanistan is also looking to explore the possibilities of imbibing technology for improving city infrastructure. Under bilateral relations, both the countries have agreed on a concept of sister cities relation, in which an Indian city will have a symbolic relation with an Afghan city, based on some commonality. So far, 12 cities of Afghanistan have agreed with various states in India to have sister city relationship which includes Delhi-Kabul, Hyderabad–Jalalabad and Kolkata –Mazar-i-Sharif. According to Abdali, this will enable the cities to share their best practices and key projects to each other.
On the question of how Afghanistan is attracting technology companies, given the fact that they usually invest in a market where they find stability and substantial business, Abdali said about 65% of the Afghanistani population is below 25 years of age. They have hunger for education, development and high interest in technology, media and communication.
“One of the biggest achievements of Afghanistan in last 15 years is in the communication field. We had nothing till 2001 when Taliban was ruling. Today, we have 20 million mobile users in Afghanistan, this signifies the interest in technology. Once, we had only one state TV station. Today, we have more than 60 TV channels, more than 200 newspapers and use of social media has grown like never before. So, the market is huge in Afghanistan because of the youth. They are attached to technology, the way any other nation is around the world, perhaps ours is more because they are young and fresh ,” he said.