Thursday 22 August 2002

Afghans Thirst for Web Access

I wrote this article for Online Journalism Review, which ran it on 22 August 2002. It looks at how some Afghans became experts at online publishing while in exile and then returned after the fall of the Taliban to confront their country's devastated communications infrastructure.


On my recent media-training visit to Kabul, a group of Afghan journalists asked me for some instruction in online publishing. “Just one problem,” they said. “No one has any Internet access here yet.”

On the list of Afghanistan’s priorities, you might not think the Internet rates very highly. This is, after all, a country still hobbling away from more than two decades of war, with perhaps three million refugees trickling home to find crippling poverty, an unsure security situation, a widespread gun culture, 30 percent literacy, and food shortages in certain regions to name but a few of the country’s problems. With all that, the Internet hardly seems relevant.

But among local journalists, government workers and other educated Kabulis, there is a real thirst for access. In large part this is because many returning Afghans became accustomed to the Internet while abroad, where they scoured the Web for news from home and used e-mail to keep in touch with family members in Germany, Pakistan, England, California and everywhere else Afghans have been dispersed by years of conflict.

Tuesday 13 August 2002

Victory Tour

I wrote this article from Mazar-i-Sharif for TIME magazine, which ran it on 13 August 2002.


Entering the 19th-century fortress complex of Qala-i-Jangi on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif in north Afghanistan, you would never suspect this place was the center of world attention just a few months ago. The tranquility of the enormous inner courtyard is a surprising though welcome retreat from the fourth-world hustle and poverty outside the massive mud walls.

More surprising still, at least initially, is that they let us in at all. A handful of journalists showing up unannounced at a military facility is not usually given a friendly reception. And given that the security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif is still fragile and tense—with one warlord, Mohammed Ustad Atta, controlling the center of the city and another warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, controlling the outskirts—we expected to be quickly repelled at the main gate as suspected spies or worse.