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Mobile phone mast attacks could jeopardise aid deliveries

Officials at Afghanistan’s National Disasters Management Authority said mobile phones were one of its major communication tools all over the war-torn country.
(Akmal Dawi/IRIN)

A blackout of mobile phone services, particularly during the night, in parts of southern Afghanistan has created serious problems for local people and raised concerns about humanitarian and development activities. 

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“I cannot call the police or a hospital in an emergency because the phones do not work at night,” said Abdul Gafar, a resident of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

“We feel cut-off and isolated from the rest of the country,” said a resident of Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province.

Taliban insurgents have burned down three mobile telephone antennas belonging to private companies in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the past five days, provincial police and local people said.

The attacks happened after a purported Taliban spokesman reportedly warned telephone companies to shut down their networks from 5pm to 7am for security and intelligence reasons.

The spokesman said Afghan and international forces had tracked insurgents via their mobile phones and that government supporters had often disseminated information about Taliban activities by mobile phone.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communication and Technology has condemned attacks on the telephone infrastructure and said the right to communication should be respected by all warring parties.

Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), called the attacks on telephone masts a “sinister ploy”, which would not limit the ability of Afghan and international forces to launch military and/or intelligence actions against Taliban insurgents.

Disaster responses could be affected

Officials at Afghanistan’s National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) said mobile phones were one of its major communication tools all over the war-torn country and a shutdown of the network would have grave consequences for operations.

“Without mobile phones we will not be able to quickly receive, verify and send information about the occurrence, response to, and management of, natural and man-made disasters everywhere in the country,” said Mohammad Siddique Hassani, ANDMA’s director of policy and coordination.

With the flooding season coming up, ANDMA is concerned that in the absence of proper communications the agency and its partners will find it difficult to effectively coordinate evacuation, needs assessments and aid delivery operations in vulnerable rural areas.

A shutdown of mobile telephone networks would not prevent UN agencies from doing their work in southern provinces, Siddique told IRIN in Kabul on 3 March: “We have radios which we use for communications,” he said.

Currently four private mobile telephone companies operate in Afghanistan. They not only provide employment opportunities for hundreds of Afghans but also pay considerable amounts in taxes to the government.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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