Can Afghanistan’s underground “sneaker core” survive the Taliban?

When the Taliban captured the city of Herat on August 12, Yasin and his colleagues speculated that it would not be long before the invading forces of the Taliban took over their own city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

“Things were also more tense in Mazar, so me and other computers kars of Mazar working together held a secret meeting to decide what to do to protect all our content, ”he says. Among them, the informal association of computer kars had hundreds of terabytes of data collected over several years, and much of it would be considered controversial – even criminal – by the Taliban.

“We all agreed not to delete, but rather to hide the more malicious content,” he says. “We reasoned that in Afghanistan, these regimes come and go often, but our business should not be disrupted.”

He’s not so worried about being discovered.

“People store weapons, money, jewelry and more, so I’m not afraid to hide my hard drives. They’ll never be able to find [them]”I am a 21st century boy and most of the Taliban live in the past,” he says.

Less than 20 years after former President Hamid Karzai made Afghanistan’s first mobile phone calls, there are nearly 23 million mobile phone users in a country with fewer than 39 million people. But Internet access is another matter: at the beginning of 2021, there were fewer than 9 million Internet users, a delay that has been largely attributed to widespread physical security problems, high costs and a lack of infrastructural development across the country’s mountainous terrain.

That’s why it’s the computer kars just as Yasin can now be found all over Afghanistan. Although they sometimes download their information from the Internet when they are able to get a connection, they physically transport much of it on hard drives from neighboring countries – what is known as the “sneaker core”.

“I use Wi-Fi at home to download some of the music and applications; I also have five SIM cards for the internet, ”says Mohibullah, another kar who asked not to be identified by his real name. “But the connection here is not reliable, so every month I send a 4 terabyte hard drive to Jalalabad and they fill it with content and return it in a week’s time with the latest Indian movies or Turkish TV dramas, music and applications,” as he says he pays between 800 and 1,000 afghanis ($ 8.75 to $ 11).

“People store weapons, money, jewelry and more, so I’m not afraid to hide my hard drives. I’m a 21st century boy, and most Taliban live in the past.”

Mohammad Yasin, computer scientist

Mohibullah says he can install more than 5 gigabytes of data on a phone – including movies, songs, music videos and even course lessons – for just 100 Afghans or $ 1.09. “I have the latest Hollywood and Bollywood movies dubbed on dari and pashto [Afghan national languages], music from around the globe, games, applications, ”he told me in early August, days before the Taliban took over.

For just a little more, Mohibullah helps customers set up social media accounts, set up their phones and laptops, and even write emails to them. “I sell everything – A to Z of content. Everything except” 100% movies, “he said, referring to pornography. (He later admitted that he had some” free videos “, another nickname for porn, but that he only sell them to trusted customers.)

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