On Wednesday April 26, 2017, Afghanistan had its first two-day long school on Internet Governance. The event was organized by a home grown civil society by the name of National IT Professionals Association of Afghanistan (NITPAA). Afghanistan School on Internet Governance (AfSIG) is a new initiative by a group of volunteers at NITPAA, who worked tirelessly for months to put up an event that comprised of speakers from multiple organizations and multiple stakeholders across the country. The school also had five international speakers who presented remotely via the internet.
The school was conceptualized during the APrIGF 2016 in Taiwan when I first met Prof. Kilnam Chon, who is the Chair of Asia Pacific School on Internet Governance. Prof. Chon offered cooperation after my interest to hold a national SIG and also agreed to cooperate on developing the capacity of more Afghans at the India SIG and Pakistan SIG. APSIG supported 3 Afghans who attended InSIG in Hyderabad along with ICANN57 (Nov 2016) that was scheduled right after InSIG in the same city. APSIG also supported us to send 5 individuals to Lahore to attend PkSIG in late November 2016. Upon return most of these individuals became part of the program committee for AfSIG, helping with all the logistics, sponsorship, venue selection, partnerships and also presentations. We also had two individuals participating at APNIC 42 and SANOG, and they also joined the program committee upon their return. This powerful and enthusiastic team got together and delivered a successful school on the Internet Governance, training 40 more individuals in the country.
Among the international speakers we had Rinalia Abdul Rahim from ICANN, Satish Babu from APRALO, Leonid Todorov from APTLD, Adli Wahid from APNIC and Nighat Dad from Digital Rights Foundation. Prof. Kilnam Chon could not present due to technical difficulties but he conveyed his message to the participants. All the international speakers presented through online platform which was provided generously by APTLD. The remote presentations were limited to half hour only in order to keep the sessions live and interactive but it was surprising to see the number of questions coming from the audience considering that this was their first time attending such an event.
Our focus was on having a diverse set of local stakeholders present their perspectives to the participants and that made the whole event so interactive and a great atmosphere for all the participants to gain new insights. From government agencies we had Mr. Ata Yari, advisor to Afghan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (ATRA); Shahzad Aryobee, director of Asan Khedmat, an e-government program by the Ministry of Finance; from private sector we had Nataraja Sappany, CTO of Wasel Telecom; Noor Liwal, CEO of Liwal Soft; Rohani, Chancellor of Karwan University; from academia we had Sayed Hasan Adelyar, Dean of Computer Science Faculty at Kabul University (One of the oldest public universities in the country); and from NGO we had Mr. Habibullah Wajdi, Deputy Chief of Party of the USAID’s University Support and Workforce Development Program (USWDP).
The participants registration process was established on the event website at sig.afig.af, through which 164 applications were received of which only 22 were females i.e. only 13.4%. 40 applicants (29 male, 11 female) were selected after a thorough selection process where besides applicant’s responses to the questions other diversity factors were also considered such as gender, stakeholder group, previous involvement at similar activities etc.
The event was hosted at Karwan University, one of the private universities in Kabul, providing academic environment to the participants which was greatly appreciated by all.
The event received financial support from two local private companies namely Liwal Soft and Wasel Telecom.
ICANN’s Middle East team also generously offered financial support to the event.
IO-Global, an Internet Service Provider, setup broadband internet service at the venue. The internet facility was critical for remote presentations and as well as for the participants’ internet use during the two days.
Mitra TV, a private TV channel, broadcasted the first three hours of the first day of the event live on their channel.
Karwan University also streamed the event live on their facebook page.
The agenda was developed in close coordination with APSIG. International speakers participated through online system. They were able to display their presentations and were heard loud and clear, following by Q&A at the end. Below is the complete list of topics presented with remote presentations italicized.
|Multistakeholder Model and the Stakeholders||Renalia Abdul Rahim|
|Internet Ecosystem in Afghanistan||Abdul Khalil Azizi|
|DNS System||Ahmadullah Alnoor|
|Asia and the Next Billion: Challenges in Digital Inclusion||Satish Babu|
|Local Language Support||Said Zazai|
|Local Content Development||Qudratullah Hiwadpal|
|Panel Discussion: Internet Access, Infrastructure, government policy for its development||Moderator: Said Zazai
Panel Members: Aimal Marjan, Javid Hamdard, Nuttraj Sappany
|Internet Governance Introduction||Said Zazai|
|Digital Divide||Shamsullah Shams, Ahmad Waleed Khaliqi|
|Primary School Via Internet||Liwal Distance Learning Team|
|IG Perspectives: Governmental – Telecom Regulation||Ata Yari|
|IG Perspectives: Governmental – Asan Khedmat||Shahzad Aryobee|
|Domain Name Industry & .AF||Leonid Todorov|
|Cyber Security||Adli Wahid|
|IG Perspectives: Human Rights on the internet||Nighat Dad|
|Women’s rights, gender and Internet governance||Nooria Ahmadi|
|Panel Discussion: ICT for Education & ICT in Education||Moderator: Javid Hamdard
Panel Members: Noor Liwal, Sayed Hassan Adelyar, Habibullah Wajdi
Each day of the program ended with a panel discussion. I moderated the first day panel discussion. The topic was “Internet Access, Infrastructure, government policy for its development”. We kept diversity in terms of the stakeholder representation in the panel and we invited ex-deputy minister of IT at the Ministry of Communications and IT, Mr. Aimal Marjan, industry expert Mr. Javid Hamdard and CTO of a telecommunication company Mr. Nataraja Sappany. We had invited the current Minister of Communications & IT but he was not able to attend due to other engagements. The discussion started with the ICT sector’s achievements over the past 15 years. The early days of digitization were briefly recollected and the challenges of early 2002 were compared to the challenges of today. Though I do not quite agree with such benchmarking techniques but unfortunately that is how the progress is reported to the general public. Most of the members agreed to my question of whether the sector (including the Ministry of Communications & IT) received the appropriate attention and support from the senior leadership in the government. The panel also highlighted the fact that there is skillset deficiency in the country. Ex-Deputy Minister also briefly described the historic timeline of fiber optic connectivity through Pakistan and Iran. He mentioned that 1 STM64 was established in 2010 and expanded to 3 STM64 later in 2011. However the question of regular internet outages and disruptions was unanswered. From the discussion it was obvious that Afghanistan used the latest and greatest equipment whether fiber optic or VSAT but when it comes to service delivery the customers, whether individuals or organizations, are very unhappy.
On the second day NITPAA board member and Vice Chancellor of Karwan University Mr. Javid Hamdard moderated a panel discussion under the topic of “ICT for Education & ICT in Education”. This session too had a very diverse set of panel members where academia, private sector and NGO sat together and carried out two hour long discussion on the topic. The panel included Mr. Noor Liwal, CEO of Liwal Soft, Habibullah Wajdi, Deputy Chief of Party at USAID’s University Support and Workforce Development Program (USWDP) and Sayed Hasan Adelyar, Dean Computer Science faculty at Kabul University. The panel members emphasized on the importance of local content and encouraged everyone to take part in content creation. Mr. Habibullah Wajdi appreciated the effective use of technology at AfSIG and called it a great demonstration of using internet for education purposes.
The event was entirely a volunteer effort by the NITPAA community members. This was the first time for NITPAA to hold two full days long event. The event was very successful in bringing together a number of stakeholders in the ICT sector to the discussion table. The event also brought individuals from other sectors to establish cross-sector partnerships for Internet application and policy discussions. The event was a great exercise of using internet for education in the country, bringing together multiple stakeholders and sectors. Participants appreciated the concept of the school and were also happy with all the facilities provided by the host. Participants attended all the sessions during the two days and asked great questions from the local and remote presenters. They came in with just a few questions about Internet Governance but left with many more, because of the new knowledge they gained.
The event was an outcome of 10 NITPAA community members attending other regional and national schools such as MEAC-SIG, InSIG and PkSIG. They were all inspired by the schools they participated at and wanted to repeat the same in their country. After the successful completion of the school, the event organizers are hopeful in repeating the same school next year where more Internet Leaders will be trained and a general awareness about the internet governance issues will be attempted again.