Afghanistan is building a system of mass video surveillance according to the American plan using Chinese technologies

Afghanistan is building a system of mass video surveillance according to the American plan using Chinese technologies

In recent years, the forms of progress have become more and more dystopian. It is impossible to stop progress, and countries and regimes that were lagging behind yesterday are inevitably modernizing — but the choice of forms of modernization and the motivation for it will make the hair stand on the head of those who have been accustomed to the picture of progress like the Strugatskys or in “Star Trek” since childhood.

The latest example is Afghanistan, a country that has only recently ended foreign occupation and civil war. According to Reuters, the current government of Afghanistan has taken over the creation of a large-scale video surveillance network throughout the country, using a plan originally developed by the United States for the previous Afghan government before the decision to withdraw American troops in 2021. According to official Afghanistan, this is dictated by the need to protect against the terrorist threat.

The mass surveillance system, focused on “key locations” in Kabul and other cities, is part of a new security strategy that will take four years to fully implement, Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Khani told Reuters. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, for this they will need to significantly expand the network of thousands of video cameras that are already installed throughout the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Afghanistan is currently negotiating cooperation with the Chinese manufacturer Huawei.

“Work is currently underway to create a ‘security map’ of Kabul, which is being developed by security experts and is taking a long time,” he said. “We already have two maps: one was developed by the US for the previous government of Afghanistan, and the other is being developed by Turkey” (he did not specify when the Turkish plan was developed).

However, analysts have questioned the ability of the cash-strapped Afghan government to fund the program, and human rights groups have expressed concern that the real purpose of the video surveillance systems will be to suppress political protests.

The Afghan government categorically denies that the video surveillance system will violate the rights of Afghans: the design of the system is comparable to that used by other major cities around the world, and will work in accordance with Islamic Sharia law, which prohibits video recording in private spaces.

Bloomberg reported last year that Huawei had reached a “verbal agreement” with Afghanistan on a contract to install a surveillance system, citing a person familiar with the discussions, but Huawei officially denied such an agreement.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said it was not aware of the specific discussions, disclaiming, however, that “China has always supported the peace and reconstruction process in Afghanistan and supports Chinese enterprises in relevant practical cooperation.”

According to official data, more than 62 thousand cameras were installed in Kabul and other cities of Afghanistan, which are controlled from the central control room. However, the last major CCTV upgrade in Kabul was in 2008, as the former Afghan government relied more on US troops for security.

As the gradual withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan began in January 2021, then-Vice President Amrullah Saleh said his government would carry out a major upgrade of Kabul’s surveillance camera system. He told reporters that the $100 million plan was supported by the NATO coalition. However, by the end of the US troop withdrawal in September 2021, much of this infrastructure has already been destroyed.

The introduction of the new video surveillance system is also hampered by electricity problems: intermittent daily power cuts in Afghanistan mean that cameras connected to the central network are unlikely to provide uninterrupted data transmission. According to official data, only 40% of Afghans have access to electricity.

According to official data, the annual budget of Afghanistan in 2022 was more than 2 billion dollars. This is a very small budget for a country of forty million people, but defense and security expenses are the largest item of their expenses, so the mass video surveillance system has every chance of getting into the budget priorities of the Afghan state.

Currently, the Afghan government controls its cities, relying primarily on traditional surveillance options — car patrols and regular checkpoints.

Brave new world

Although modern-day Afghanistan is one of the last places on earth to be associated with technological progress, as this news shows, technological modernization is at hand when it comes to maintaining power and control over its territory and population.

China, in turn, is becoming one of the main suppliers of digital control systems for all interested countries in the world. We wrote about how the control of the digital space in the PRC is organized and how Xeovo VPN helps its customers in China to bypass it in the article “How we learned to bypass VPN blocking in China to be ready for the RKN”.

But it should not be forgotten that initially the plan for a mass video surveillance system, which the Afghan government now wants to implement, was not developed by the Chinese, but by the Americans. A digital concentration camp (or a digital Taliban* in this case) is not the property of dictatorships, totalitarian regimes, or third world countries. This is the inevitable development of the logic of the state in the world as such.

*The Taliban movement is recognized as terrorist and banned in Russia

Text: @EgorKotkin
Header image: Anton Dmitriev

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