How the OLPC can help beat Taliban in Afghanistan

Technology is playing a growing part in rebuilding Afghanistan, says the Minister of Communications and Information Technology.

In one of the final scenes of the movie, "Charlie Wilson's War," the story of America's part in Afghanistan's victory over the Soviet Union, Congressman Wilson is shown asking for more funding to rebuild Afghanistan, a request that is denied.

The message was clear: extremists gained a foothold in Afghanistan after the war because nobody else was willing to step in and rebuild the government, schools and other institutions. Instead, civil war broke out, and fighting continues today despite rebuilding efforts.

Still, technology is playing a growing part in rebuilding Afghanistan, said Amirzai Sangin, [CQ] Minister of Communications and Information Technology of Afghanistan.

Mobile phones, for one, have become popular in the nation. Now, people can call for help in medical emergencies or to report suspicious activity. Mobile phone base stations have been targeted by the Taliban over such calls.

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) association also wants to help reshape Afghanistan. The group is working with the Afghan government, US Department of Defense and others, including Afghan mobile phone operator Roshan, to start distributing its green low-cost XO laptops to school kids in the country.

Such measures are small today and difficult to carry out for a variety of reasons, but kids in Afghanistan are excited about the Internet and want to know more, says Sangin. The laptops, and other technologies, could be instrumental in keeping kids in school, and away from extremist groups.

The following is an edited transcript of an interview with Sangin at the ITU Telecom Asia show in Thailand.

What role can technology play in Afghanistan?

If we can invest in our youth, with ICT (information and communications technology) and with a quality education, it will make a huge difference in the future of Afghanistan.

I think it will help us to stop them from joining groups like the Taliban.

How can it be that hundreds of people are so easily brainwashed to blow themselves up? It's because of a lack of education.

A lot of our problems in Afghanistan today, why this war is going on, why so many youngsters are joining the Taliban, is because of a lack of education. These people have never gone to school, they do not have any education and they are without work. Can you imagine young people just going around with nothing useful to do?

The good thing is, the young generation has a tremendous interest in ICT, for computers, for going on the Internet.

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