Thursday marked another milestone in Afghanistan’s modern history when President Ashraf Ghani inaugurated the new fiber optic connection between Turkmenistan and the commercial port of Aqina in Afghanistan’s Faryab province.
Within four months of having signed the memorandum of understanding with government the Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC) had successfully completed the task of connecting the two neighboring countries.
In a virtual address at the launch, Dr Ehsan Bayat, the founder and chairman of AWCC, said he was “delighted” to celebrate the company’s success in connecting Afghanistan with its friends in Turkmenistan – especially given the past year that has involved unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, which also impacted people’s ability to connect with each other across the globe.
“When Afghan Wireless embarked on the journey to build Afghanistan’s largest nationwide fiber network, we did so with the goal of realizing President Ghani’s vision to transform the country into a hub of digital data connectivity for Central Asia.
“Today marks an important milestone in the building of a digital silk road across the region with Afghanistan at its center; a road that will connect millions of Afghans to the digital economy.
He said the latest optical fiber connection, between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, is the country’s fifth and sixth international border connections. Others include Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan.
“From Mazar to Jalalabad, and from Kabul to Kandahar to Kunduz, communities across the country are benefiting from high-speed connectivity. And now our connection to Turkmenistan through Torghundi and Aqina will enable Herat and western cities to become Afghanistan’s next major bridge for digital transformation,” he said.
However, Bayat stated that the impact of AWCC’s project should not be measured in kilometers of fiber laid, or megabytes of data transmitted, or even money invested but instead, it should be measured by the industries revitalized, the local businesses boosted, the jobs created, the pace of economic development and the enhancement to critical services in health, education, commerce and finance.
“This project could not be delivered without Afghanistan and Turkmenistan working together.
“Afghan Wireless’ optical fiber connection between the two countries that we are celebrating today is a powerful testament that when we work hand in hand with our neighbors, not only do we strengthen our countries individually, but we also strengthen our region together,” he said.
The Turkmenistan to Aqina cable has the capacity to transfer 2,500 megabits of the Internet and can therefore provide high quality and cheap Internet to Faryab province.
According to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, a fiber-optic network is the result of the rapid development of telecommunications and information technology, which has become an integral part of modern life.
The ministry states that along with the progression of technology and innovation, the shape and quality of tools have also changed to a great extent.
At the beginning of the invention of the telephone, copper cables were used to transmit information and sound, but today, with the advancement of technology and increasing human needs, these cables have been replaced by a new generation of signal conductors or fiber optics.
Because of the need for fast and cheap digital connectivity in the country, Government has already connected a total of 25 provinces in the country with the national fiber-optic network.
USAID facilitates trade between Pakistan and Uzbekistan via Afghanistan
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in collaboration with TCS Logistics in Pakistan, has successfully carried out a trial shipment of herbal medicines to Uzbekistan, from Karachi in Pakistan, via Afghanistan.
The shipment left Karachi on April 29 and arrived in Tashkent on Tuesday, the US Embassy in Uzbekistan said in a statement.
The pilot shipment was inline with the Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) Convention, a customs agreement that facilitates the international transport of goods.
The pilot is the first in a series of five planned trial runs to the countries of Central Asia through Afghanistan and China aimed at testing the viability of various routes for international transit to Central Asia and beyond under the TIR Convention.
The successful execution of the first pilot to Tashkent will build confidence among traders and transport operators from both sides to adopt TIR for cross border trade and transit and boost regional trade integration and connectivity, the statement read.
Officials at the Afghan Ministry of Industry and Trade said Thursday that for the first time, a commercial shipment of Pakistani health products arrived in Uzbekistan from Afghanistan in accordance with the TIR.
According to officials this is also in line with the Afghan government’s attempts to improve relations with neighboring countries.
Members of Afghanistan’s private sector have welcomed the move, calling for stronger trade ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They express the hope that they will be able to transport their commercial goods to Central Asia through the TIR system.
Technical and financial support for the initiative has been provided by USAID through its Pakistan Regional Economic Integration activity in support of its ongoing assistance to Pakistan for streamlining TIR operations to enhance trade connectivity.
Additional support in destination countries for the execution of these pilots is being provided by the Competitiveness, Trade, and Jobs, another USAID-funded activity in Central Asia.
TCS Logistics is a leading Pakistani company providing courier, logistics and e-commerce services to the corporate sector, SMEs, and individual households both nationally and internationally.
It is the only logistics operator to date that has been licensed to carry out TIR operations by the Pakistan National Committee of the International Chamber of Commerce under the authorization of the International Road Transport Union.
The TIR Convention was signed in 1975 under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
Pakistan acceded to the TIR Convention on July 24, 2015 and was declared as a ‘TIR operational country’ by the IRU on April 19, 2018. TIR is widely used for international transit of goods in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and is being rapidly adopted in Afghanistan and Central Asian countries which are all contracting parties to the Convention, the US Embassy stated.
Afghanistan’s GDP to expand by 3% in 2021: ADB
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) forecasts that Afghanistan’s gross domestic product GDP growth will increase by 3% in 2021 and 4% in 2022 after the normalization of business activity and market sentiment.
In its Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2021 released on Wednesday, the ADB stated that Afghanistan’s economic growth is expected to recover this year and accelerate next year after a sharp decline in 2020 from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and continued violence and instability.
“Afghanistan’s economy experienced unprecedented disruption in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic, political instability and continued violence, which cut remittances, trade, and revenue,” said ADB Country Director for Afghanistan Narendra Singru.
“With a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout and post-pandemic recovery, the country should be on track to achieve economic growth this year and in 2022 as business activity and market sentiment normalize,” Singru said.
According to the report, inflation more than doubled from 2.3% in 2019 to 5.6% in 2020 driven by higher food prices. Food price inflation in 2020 was estimated at 10% with the highest spike recorded in April when border closure and panic buying propelled it to 16.6%. Inflation is projected to moderate to 5.0% in 2021 and 4.0% in 2022 as food supplies improve.
However, risks remain, including implementing vaccinations in remote and insecure areas, conflict, criminality, corruption, political instability, and broader social fragility. If unaddressed, these could weigh heavily on the economy and impede recovery.
“Supporting the recovery of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) hard hit by the pandemic is pivotal to safeguarding workers’ incomes and livelihoods, according to the report. Before the pandemic, MSMEs were estimated to provide nearly 1.6 million service and industry jobs. The government approved a 2-year support package worth $295 million in October 2020 to improve business conditions and implemented countercyclical measures that include support for MSMEs,” the report read.
The ADB suggests that Afghanistan should facilitate MSME access to markets by developing infrastructure, improving security, combating corruption, simplifying regulation, strengthening property rights and contract enforcement, and promoting innovation and better labor skills in order to improve the business environment.
“Increasing access to credit and further expanding the formal bank sector is also crucial,” the organization said.
“ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region,” the report concluded.
Govt to build 38 new saffron processing centers around the country
The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) said it will build 38 new saffron processing centers in seven provinces in the country this solar year, 1400.
The ministry says the centers will be built in Herat, Ghazni, Sar-e-Pul, Kunduz, Balkh, Faryab and Daikundi provinces.
The ministry added that the construction of these centers will help increase the yield, quality and value of saffron.
Saffron is one of the most important export products of Afghanistan.
Afghan saffron has sold for up to $1,000 per kilogram in world markets due to its high quality.
However, according to a number of growers, the price of saffron globally has dropped in the past year.
A few years ago, Afghanistan government and donors started promoting saffron as a legal alternative to the cultivation of opium poppy, as a commodity that fits with a market-led approach to Afghanistan’s agricultural sector and as a crop that can enhance women’s participation in economic activities and their productive role outside the household.
According to the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) the planting of saffron provides the basis for growth and employment creation envisaged in the country.
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