Every morning, a man in a sharply tailored suit shows up at the house that ABCNEWS and CBS News share here in Kabul. With a smile and an apology, he sits down at one of our computers for a few minutes to check his e-mail at Onebox.com.
Our visitor is not one of the translators or aid workers who occasionally ask to check the Internet. Fawad is the technology adviser for the Afghan Foreign Ministry.
Internet access and international phone lines have yet to come to Afghanistan. The country's five-digit telephone numbers work only inside the country, often only inside the capital.
Most Afghans don't have telephones at all. Outside of Kabul, you still see windup phones, with phone calls routed by old-fashioned plug-in operators. So-called digital phones came during the rule of the Taliban — they don't need an operator to connect calls and can receive calls from mobile phones — but that's about it.
Those who can afford it — foreign journalists, U.N. workers, some government officials — have two or three different ways of staying in touch — satellite phones, cell phones or an international phone number routed through a home office back in Europe or the United States. ABCNEWS' office is officially an extension in our London bureau. We get our Internet access via a wireless ethernet connection.
From Backward to State-of-the-Art
Still, as Afghanistan struggles with bigger problems than modernizing its communications — joblessness, a housing shortage, a food shortage, factional fighting — some people are moving from backward to state-of-the-art very quickly. Like many developing countries, the latest technology is leapfrogging over the outdated.
On Tuesday, a team from India installed a satellite dish that will give the Foreign Ministry wireless Internet access that they say is cheaper and faster than what's available in the United States now.
And recently, a British entrepreneur set up a cell-phone network in Afghanistan's main cities in a matter of weeks. Now, any GSM cellular phone can work with a local SIM card that costs about $140.
The latest technology is available only to a very privileged few. However, know-how is less scarce. Many people in Kabul who speak English have e-mail accounts on Yahoo! or Hotmail or Onebox. And before he left this morning, the technology adviser, who was not impressed with my slow laptop, told me a few ways to speed it up.
So this journal will get to you faster than anything else I've written so far. Thanks, Fawad.