Digital Silk Road

The Digital Silk Road aims to improve regional connectivity and expand the regional knowledge economy through the Afghan Fiber Optic Ring (also known as the Afghan National Civil Optical Fiber Cable-OFC ring network) in Central, South, and Southwest Asia. Once completed, the entire 4,600 km national backbone / OFC ring network will extend around Afghanistan’s Ring Road and connect Kabul to Chaghcharan and Daikundi via Bamyan. It will also connect Mazar-i-Sharif in the north via Kunduz and Takhar to Fazabad in the northwest. Developed alongside existing and new roads, the Afghan Fiber Optic Ring is generating significant revenue for Afghanistan (currently Information and Communication Technologies-ICT generate USD $167 million per annum in public revenue), transforming the country into an Internet Regional Exchange Point and allowing for the provision of ICT services as a hub for neighbors and markets beyond the region.

Current Status

To date, 23 (out of 34) provincial capitals and over 70 major districts have been connected and made operational for broadband connectivity. Moreover, international connectivity has been established with Pakistan at two points: Torkham and Spin Boldak; with Tajikistan at Sherkhan Bandar; with Uzbekistan at Hairatan; with Turkmenistan at two points: Aqina and Turghundi; and with Iran at Islam Qala. While much of the fiber optic network has been established, connecting the network with China—through, for instance, the Wakhan corridor and border crossing—remains an important investment with considerable potential returns to growth and jobs creation, and meetings are ongoing in this regard between the Afghan and Chinese telecom companies, as well as in consultation with the Tajik and Pakistani telecom companies. A 480 km OFC is needed to connect Faizabad city in Badakshan province with the Chinese border. This connectivity could be established and sustained through a Public-Private-Partnership Model. An investment cost of around US $50 million is required over an investment period of five years, with the World Bank serving as the chief institutional partner of Afghanistan. In addition, the Afghan Government’s recent approval of an open access policy for data removes the Government’s monopoly in providing fiber connectivity and will allow private entities to invest in this sector, further driving down costs and increasing broadband connectivity. The Digital Silk Road is an integral part of the Afghan Government’s Infrastructure Development and Regional Connectivity National Priority Programs.

Recommended Actions by RECCA-VII and Beyond:

  • Continue to invest in Afghan Telecom’s core capabilities to resource and manage additional fiber optic lines and an expanded customer base.
  • A short-term goal (toward further extending the Digital Silk Road) of the Afghanistan Government is to connect Badakhshan and Bamyan Provinces with the national backbone/ OFC ring network.
  • A medium-Term goal is to connect another two provinces to the national backbone / OFC ring network (Kapisa, and Kunar with onward connections to Pakistan through the Ghulam Khan border crossing).
Budget & Funding Status USD $50 million (over five years) to support new 480km OFC connecting Afghanistan to China
Institutional Partners Afghanistan, Central Asia Republics, Pakistan, Iran, China, the United States, the World Bank (Digital CASA project)