Kabul, Afghanistan – When Ali Atayee, 30, enrolled in his first computer lessons when he was an Afghan refugee child growing up in Iran, he learned that this is what he would like to pursue as a career in his career. adult life.
When he returned to Afghanistan in the following years, with this goal in mind, Atayee directed all his energy, time, and resources toward computer learning, particularly web development.
A graduate of the prestigious American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, Atayee has worked with numerous companies and growing information technology (IT) technologies in the country’s small but thriving IT sector.
For the past two years, Atayee has gone on to work as a freelance web developer for local businesses.
“I had a passion for computer programming, but also seeing how the situation improved in Afghanistan at the time, I speculated that there would be a lot more development and opportunities in the sector when I graduated,” he told Al Jazeera.
As more and more Afghans connected to the Internet (12.8 million Afghan users by 2021), the industry has thrived over the past 20 years.
A 2012 USAID report noted that the telecommunications field had become one of the most revenue-generating sectors in Afghanistan with an average annual revenue of $ 139.6 million, which was more than 12% of total government revenue.
Many experts considered the IT sector in Afghanistan to be one of the few success stories of the war-ravaged nation.
“It was an industry where the public and private sectors have been able to build a partnership to provide services to Afghans, while generating revenue for the government and private companies,” said Mohammad Najeeb Azizi, the former director of the Regulatory Authority. of the Telecom of Afghanistan (ATRA), told Al Jazeera.
However, that potential is rapidly diminishing as the conflict in Afghanistan worsens, with U.S.-led forces leaving the country and the Taliban regaining their position in a nation that once ruled with a fist of iron.
As the Taliban have made huge gains across the country in the past two months, Afghanistan’s computers and other basic infrastructure have been frequently attacked.
On July 5, Taliban fighters blew up fiber-optic devices and system equipment at Islam Qala in Herat province, a city bordering Iran and a major trading port.
Islam Qala is also a migrant crossing where several international NGOs operate daily working with thousands of deported refugees.
The Taliban attack has left residents in the city without Internet connectivity.
Last month, ATRA reported that 28 telecommunications antennas were destroyed across the country in the past three months, while another 23 were partially damaged due to the ongoing conflict, severely affecting digital communications services and mobile phones in the country.
Simultaneously, the electricity infrastructure of the impoverished country was also removed, making the electricity supply extremely erratic even in the capital Kabul.
“In the last six months, 39 electricity pylons carrying imported energy to Afghanistan have been damaged,” Da Afghanistan spokesman Breshna Sherkat (DABS), the country’s national energy supplier, told Al Jazeera Sangar Niazi. country.
Afghanistan imports almost 70% of the 1,600 megawatts of its electricity needs from neighboring countries through these pylons.
“Some were completely destroyed, while others were partially damaged, affecting the power supply in Kunduz, Baghlan, Kabul, Nangarhar and Parwan provinces,” Niazi said.
Although Niazi did not share who the attackers were, the Afghan government has often blamed the Taliban for the destruction of infrastructure.
Millions of Afghans have become intimately acquainted with regular power outages and have been forced to navigate daily chores and tasks with few hours of electricity supply.
However, the lack of electricity has severely affected the country’s small IT sector, especially for young professionals like Atayee.
“People in Kabul only get a few hours of electricity a day, some not even an hour, which is just enough to charge your devices and cut back,” he said to highlight the challenges of delivering work in the middle. of power outages and the internet.
As a freelance web developer, Atayee has struggled to meet the deadlines of his ongoing project.
“Lately, I have barely been able to work, and all my tasks are accumulating. The other day, my laptop’s charger went off due to unstable electrical currents. Not only does it slow down my work, but it also creates a problem for customers trying to launch a website for their new business, ”he told Al Jazeera.
“If I don’t deliver on time, I lose customers.”
Atayee said the lack of adequate infrastructure has also discouraged Afghan companies from going online.
“They hesitate to put their business online or use technology to their advantage. Impact on both clients and professionals in the field, ”he said.
“We are so behind in the use of technology compared to other countries. We should have had the ability to pay online. ”
Many companies in the IT sector in Kabul have purchased large power generators and invested in adequate backup to ensure continuous supply. But costs affect its benefits.
For smaller, self-employed companies like Atayee, it also means that job opportunities that once seemed abundant are no longer lucrative.
“When infrastructure is not ideal, companies will not invest in online space. As a result, there are fewer technology-related jobs. So many people who study this as a principal are working in other fields, ”he said.
Business experts in Afghanistan warn that if the conflict continues at the same pace, the additional costs and risks of infrastructure will discourage new investments.
“When warring factions close the services, it affects the generation of income of these companies and makes it difficult to justify the costs. It could lead to a decision to proactively close the sites or reduce investment in their maintenance, depriving locals of these essential services, ”former AZRA director Azizi said.
Not only private companies are financially affected by Taliban attacks on computer and electrical infrastructure. DABS spokesman Niazi told Al Jazeera that the cost of repairing the electric pylons has been rising, putting pressure on the government treasury.
“If a pylon is destroyed, it costs about $ 100,000 to recover. Other minor damage will cost between $ 500 and $ 5,000, ”he said, adding that Afghanistan’s national power company has only spent about $ 1 million in the past six months.
According to Azizi, it is ordinary citizens who are most affected by damage to infrastructure.
“Afghans use communication services not only to improve their lives, but to keep in touch with their loved ones at such critical times,” he said.
“Telecommunications is a public service infrastructure and a basic need of the Afghan public.”
Azizi called on the warring factions to “protect the essential services that are not only used by ordinary citizens, but also by the warring parties.”
Niazi said the Taliban attackers were the “enemies of light”, who are turning essential infrastructure into another victim of the war.
“It is an attempt not only to push the country into physical darkness, but also into intellectual darkness.”