Digital Silk Road

Digital Silk Road

Afghanistan is fast developing into a major trade and transit hub for subsea and transcontinental communication. Once completed, the 4,600 Afghan Fiber Optic Ring (also known as the Afghan National Civil Optical Fiber Cable-OFC ring network) within the broader regional “Digital Silk Road” aims to improve regional connectivity and expand the regional knowledge economy in Central, South, and Southwest Asia. A short-term goal (toward further extending the Digital Silk Road) of the Government of Afghanistan 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 OFC ring network (Kapisa, and Kunar with onward connections to Pakistan). At present, Information and Communication Technologies-ICT generate USD $167 million per annum in public revenue in Afghanistan. The continued inter-continental demand from commercial bandwidth providers is driving interest in new and diverse routes that will generate: i) lower-cost access; ii) increase revenue; and iii) expand domestic penetration.

Current Status

An MOU will be signed on the sidelines of RECCA-VII in Ashgabat by Ministers from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in support of an important new “Digital TAP” component of the Digital Silk Road. In addition, during the past twelve months, two Memorandums of Understanding have been signed by the Government of Afghanistan in support of the Digital Silk Road and expansion of the Afghan Fiber Optic Ring. The first, known as the Silk Road Optical Fiber Cable System, was entered into between China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. The second, an MOU for Strategic Cooperation between China Telecom and Afghan Telecom, lends support to the realization of the 480km and (est.) USD $50 million Optical Fiber Cable connecting Afghanistan to China. Though these recent initiatives receive the political support of the Afghan Government’s High Economic Council, a major obstacle facing the expansion of the Afghan Fiber Optic Ring is the lack of a clear Afghanistan Ministry of Public Works-led road alignment and construction plan for the next decade that is sensitive to current security problems and within the framework of a broader, Afghan Government-wide infrastructure sharing or coordination policy. With the financial capital and technical know-how of the private sector, in particular, enhancing and sustaining Afghanistan’s contribution to the Digital Silk Road will require: i) increased network capacity, ii) improved service, iii) improved reliability, and iv) lower broadband costs. Furthermore, efforts have been underway recently to further accelerate the work on Digital CASA including the financing of regional and domestic connectivity fiber optic network infrastructure as well as the purchase and pre-purchase of international bandwidth from CASA project partner countries.  In addition, in implementing the Open Access Policy, the licenses for nationwide Fiber Optic Transmission Networks (FOTNs) will be awarded by Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority (ATRA) soon. And finally, a new MOU is also expected to be signed at RECCA-VII by Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The Digital Silk Road is an integral part of the Government of Afghanistan’s National Infrastructure Plan.

Budget & Funding Status USD $50 million (over five years) to support new 480km OFC connecting Afghanistan to China
Institutional Partners Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics, Pakistan, Iran, China, the United States, the World Bank (Digital CASA project)

Recommended Actions by RECCA-VII and Beyond:

  • Complete the Afghan Fiber Optic Ring and its 480km connection with China.
  • Accelerate the work on Digital CASA and Digital TAP.
  • Ensure that the duct requirements are met when laying optical fiber cables in all new roads through sharing the ten-year strategic plan for roads, as well as the establishment of an Optical Fiber Department within Da Afghanistan Breshna Shirkat.