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Afghan Minister of Communication Honored with Visionary Award

In New York, Afghanistan's communications minister, Amirzai Sangin, has received the International Visionary of the Year award for his achievements in bringing telecommunication technology to his struggling nation.

Sangin's leadership in bringing information technology to Afghanistan was recognized by the Intelligent Community Forum, a non-profit research institute that focuses on supporting the use of technology in developing countries.

Afghanistan is developing a government communications network with help from international companies. Sangin says the system was essential to organizing the country's national elections in 2004. Telecommunication in Afghanistan, he says, has been a boon to its new democracy.

"The only way democracy works is when people are informed and can give informed opinion," said Amirzai Sangin. "They know who are the candidates, what they want. Telecommunication actually opened the peoples' eyes. They become informed they get to know what's happening in the rest of the country. They are not in isolated groups as it was before. And when they are informed, they become more involved in the development of the country and what's happening in the country. They become more interested in the process of democracy."

Sangin says Afghanistan has come a long way in the five years since the end of Taleban rule. He says during the Taleban years, the Internet and television were banned. Now he says Afghanistan is a leader in the region for telecommunications progress.

"The maximum development has taken place in three sectors," he said. "It is banking, it is media and it is telecommunication. I am very happy to say that 70 percent of the population of Afghanistan is covered by telecommunication and Internet services."

In the next five years, Sangin hopes to see that percentage go even higher - to over 90 percent of the population having access to those services.

Sangin says Afghanistan is recovering from 25 years of war and oppressive regimes. Now, he says the spread of information is repairing the country and connecting people to each other and the world.

"We are always talking about creating a national unity because Afghanistan is a very mountainous country. noted Sangin. "The people are all separated from each other geographically by these mountains, so this telecommunication development, the Internet and the media development actually provides a very effective way of bringing the people together."

The New York-based Intelligent Community Forum presents seven awards annually to recognize significant strides made by both people and places to expand telecommunications.