|Founders||Ehsan Bayat, Stuart Bentham, Lord Michael Cecil|
The Afghan Wireless Communication Company, commonly referred to as Afghan Wireless, is Afghanistan's first wireless communications company. Founded in 2002, it is based in Kabul, Afghanistan with various regional offices. Afghan Wireless launched the first 4G LTE service in Afghanistan in 2017, at which point it was the largest private employer in the country.
Founding and early years
In 1998, Afghan-American telecommunications entrepreneur Ehsan Bayat won an exclusive license from Afghanistan's Taliban government to create Afghan Wireless as a joint venture with the country's Ministry of Communications, which owns 20% of the company. Bayat received financial backing from British entrepreneurs Stuart Bentham and Lord Michael Cecil. Within a year, Afghan Wireless had re-enabled Afghanistan's international country calling code and set up computerized telephone exchanges in the cities of Kabul and Kandahar, replacing the outdated manual telephone switchboards that the country's telecommunications had long relied upon.
In June 1999 the Taliban granted Afghan Wireless a 15-year monopoly on cell phone traffic in Afghanistan, but the Taliban were overthrown by an American invasion in 2001. Afghan Wireless was nevertheless the first company licensed to provide GSM wireless service in Afghanistan. Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai publicly made the first phone call on April 6, 2002, calling and speaking with the Afghan ambassador to the United Nations in New York City. After this, competing companies such as Roshan started to appear.
In a 2011 report by Vanity Fair contributing editor David Rose, it was alleged that Afghan Wireless was linked to an American intelligence project called Operation Foxden, a Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency endeavor to wiretap Afghan Wireless' infrastructure for intelligence gathering on the Taliban regime. Although allegedly authorized to proceed on September 8, 2001, Operation Foxden was rendered moot by the September 11 attacks and invasion of Afghanistan. Rose claimed that in the operation's planning stages, the FBI and NSA helped transfer ownership of Afghan Wireless to a shell company, Netmobile, in Liechtenstein, to circumnavigate the 1999 Executive Order 13129 ban on American citizens doing business with the Taliban. In response to the article, Bayat denied that American intelligence agencies were behind the change in ownership, and that "to the contrary, my application for an exemption from U.S. sanctions was denied by the U.S. government." Bayat also denied that he or his companies had acted unlawfully, installed wiretaps, or acted as "an agent, informant or spy."
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Cecil and Bentham's lawsuit
In 2002 Bayat allegedly attempted to buy out Cecil and Bentham, but the offers were disregarded as "derisory." Bayat and Afghan Wireless subsequently sued Cecil and Bentham for allegedly misappropriating money from the company. Cecil, Bentham, and two other founding investors counter-sued, claiming they had not received over £250 million in due shares and alleging "fraud, deceit, breach of contract and conspiracy." The case was dismissed from American courts per the State Secrets Privilege, and ultimately hidden from public records and dismissed in Bayat's favor in British courts in August 2011.
Recent growth in the company
By 2009, the company had around 5 million users, and Afghan Wireless launched a mobile-money feature in 2012. In 2017, the Afghanistan Ministry of Finance gave Afghan Wireless a 'Best Large Taxpayer' award. In May 2017, Afghan Wireless announced it had launched the first 4G LTE service in Afghanistan. At the time, Afghan Wireless also claimed to be the largest private employer in Afghanistan, with 8,000 employees. It also as of 2017 partnered with 425 wireless networks spread throughout 125 countries, with five million clients in Afghanistan.
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- "Afghan Wireless Launches Afghanistan's First 4G/LTE Communications Network". AfghanWireless. 2017. Retrieved March 20, 2018.