A recent failed attempt to ban Telegram and Whatsapp by the Afghani government has shed the light on the recently gained power of the mobile internet users in Afghanistan, as well as the concerns of the Afghani government towards the internet influence on the national security of Afghanistan.
On the 1st of this November all of the Afghani Internet Service Providers (ISPs) received and official letter from the Ministry of Information and Technology ordering them to block Telegram and Whatsapp, both of the mentioned apps have gained a strong and steady foothold in the country with the increasingly rising of mobile internet connectivity. Immediately, on November 2nd, a major telecoms company that is also state-owned did block both Telegram and Whatsapp. No surprise here, but what is worth noting is what happened next; a large wave of objections on the decision and its execution swept over the Afghani social media channels, mostly on Facebook where users rose in a crescendo of criticism. It only took the Afghani people two days of virtual protesting to get the top two government officials, the Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and the President Ashraf Ghani, to have a meeting and revoke the ban of the two messaging apps, Telegram and Whatsapp.
Although the official letter of the Ministry of Information and Technology ordered a 20 days test ban on the messaging apps and did not clarify a reason behind this order, the BBC revealed that the deputy director of telecoms regulatory authorities of the Afghani Ministry of Information and Technology has stated that this decision was for “security reasons”.
Reportedly, the Taliban militant insurgency group prefers to use both Telegram and Whatsapp for communications because both apps have end-to-end encryption feature, but so does millions of people in Afghanistan and all around the world.
There are no specific numbers of the Afghani users of the two apps, but both of them are known to be quite popular in cities with reliable mobile internet connectivity like the capital Kabul, Heart, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, and Kandahar. All of these five cities are known to have a constant Taliban presence, while groups with announced loyalty to ISIS are closer to Jalalabad.
The internet and social media users in the country, who were roughly estimated for about over six million users, saw this attempted ban as an act of censorship, not a security precaution, and also the order was seen as an implicit threat to the much more treasured resource Facebook.