Freedom of Speech

Note that this article was first published in the New York Times and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.

Under the Taliban regime, Afghan civilians couldn't raise their voices through the media. Only one or 2 newspapers were in the whole of Afghanistan with one radio station that belonged to the Taliban. So in this case there was not any private media - radios and TV channels. But after the fall of the Taliban regime, the media have promoted incredibly in our country. People can easily write anything they want and express their opinions. There are some good female writers and reporters that write in the two official Afghan languages - Pashto and Dari - and there are some Afghan female reporters that report in English for the local English newspapers. We have some Afghan bloggers that write in Pashtu and Dari and only a few in English.

There are many English learning centers everywhere in Kabul city. Also in other provinces people now realize how important it is to learn English and computer, especially young boys and girls - they spend half of their day in high schools and university and after school time they go to English and computer classes. Young Afghans love watching TV and they use the internet but for some people it's hard because we suffer from lack of power. In the capital, Kabul, we have power after every 2 nights and it comes on only from 6pm to 11pm - only 5 hours. The number of young Afghan singers have increased since the fall of the Taliban. There is a TV program called Afghan Star. This program started in 2005 to find new and young talented singers. The program official goes to different provinces and holds competitions between young Afghans and selects the 12 best singers out of over thousands of singers. Last year they introduced some really good singers and this year this program is in progress and 9 singers have been selected from over 1700 singers. And when they select the 12 best singers they let people SMS each singer. They have a special code so people SMS to their favorite singers and every week those singers who get lower scores have to quit the competition. So from 12 best it goes to one best singer and they call him the Afghan star.

When I was very young I wanted to be a writer or reporter, but during the war this was only like a dream because I wouldn't know if one day Afghanistan will be liberated from the Taliban and other warlords. So after the fall of the Taliban when I came back to Afghanistan I went back to school and I was working only on Fridays. I was selling Afghan handicrafts to soldiers from different countries, mostly American, Italian, Germans and French. So with this money I could support myself and my family. It was 2002 and there were only 2 net cafes in the whole capital and it was really expensive for the locals. US$5 per hour. I could only afford to use it once a week. Most users at these 2 cafes were foreigners and you had to wait 1 to 2 hour for your turn because there was a huge crowd. One time I remember I saw over 12 foreigners were waiting for their turn. I was going for a brief time to check my email. In 2003 a few more internet clubs were opened in Kabul city. They were still expensive like US$3 per hour. In 2004 the number of internet clubs increased and the prices went down and now there are dozens of internet clubs in different parts of Kabul city. There are still a few places in Kabul that don't have any net club and I hope the prices go lower than this because many Afghans can not afford it. If you get a satellite connection for your house it costs over US$1500 for the connection, then you have to pay from US$200 to $300 a month depending on speed. There is only one phone company called Afghan Telecom, which is cheaper. I also got my internet connection from this company but it's not cheap for normal Afghans because if you use it over 3 to 4 hours a day it will cost over US$100 a month. I hear from soldiers that its costs US$20 a month in America.

I wouldn't have become a blogger if there wasn't such a thing like the internet. It was the beginning of 2005 when one day I went to a net club to check my email and I had extra time so I went to an IRC chat room and I met this Australian guy named Paul Edwards. He was very excited to talk to me and he persuaded me to start blogging. So I was the first Afghan who started blogging in English. First I wouldn't think if people will like my blogs but after posting my first blog I got over 150 comments and over 80 emails in a week and every one congratulated me and asked me to keep up the good work. In the first few weeks I had problems with blogging because I didn't have my own computer. With the help of Tom Villars I set up a paypal account. Some readers contributed in donations so the total donation money was US$1600. With this money I bought a laptop computer because it was easy for me to carry from work to home. On my holidays some readers sent me packages like Sheila Kimmel offered to send winter clothes for poor Afghan kids and I was really happy, so I gave her my commander's mail address and she sent me 3 boxes of clothes in 2005 and 2 more boxes of winter clothes last month. Paul Edwards from Australia made a great donation for the poor Afghan kids. My main problem was transportation. It was hard for me to go to work from home or from home to work. Taxis cost me so much I was paying half of my salary on taxi fares and I couldn't save any money. Paul Edwards offered to loan me US$4000 for the car, but he said do not pay it back to me, instead buy school supplies for the poor Afghan children. So now every month I save over US$100 from taxis and buy school supplies for the poor Afghan kids. I am so happy with my blogging because from blogging I got donations of clothes and school supplies for the poor kids and I also feel so good when I see smiles on their faces. I hope more readers contribute to sending winter clothes for poor refugee kids who live under tents in very cold weather. There are some refugee camps in Kabul. It will be a great help to save kids from the cold winter.

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