The Taliban systematically took apart communications. As Nasrine Gross, director of Afghan Women and Education, notes: "The Taliban wanted to create a failed state, and the first thing they did was break down communication paths. These need to be reinstated in all areas of life, including of course media."
In the wake of the Taliban's departure, Afghanistan has begun once more to look at itself, through lenses of its antiquated TV cameras, through tentative stabs at restarting and rebuilding theatre, through cinema and through photographers wielding homemade portrait cameras on the streets of Kabul.
Regardless of a lack of access to knowledge and resources, many Afghans are incredibly motivated to receive information, to get involved in media on both a local and international level. This is clearly evident in the dozens of one-room shops constructing homemade satellite dishes, the homemade TV antennas adorning many roofs, the dozens of volunteers working in existing media and the hundreds of people fighting for cinema tickets. There is a hunger for information in Afghanistan.
Such hunger is evident as well in the support for a new openness by the Karzai administration, in its willingness to support private newspapers and journals, its stated willingness to allow private printing presses and eventually private and community broadcast outlets.
However, there remain serious limits both to the reach and the effect of Afghanistan's new media, both in Kabul and throughout the country. Lack of access to technology, knowledge and power sources all limit access to media. Hafiz Mansour, director of TV/Radio Kabul, says that his first priority for broadcasting is to reinstate national radio coverage. At present, existing radio and TV stations in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, Mazar e Sharif, Taloqan, Kunduz and elsewhere have no practical mechanism to share information, even to talk to one another. They cover local issues for a local audience. Even if Kabul does reestablish national reach, feedback loops to get information from the regions to the center will not likely exist in the near future.
Finally, while Afghanistan's new media is the sign of a revitalized society, it is just one of many communication paths that need to be restored and reinforced for dialogue to replace violence as the medium for settling disputes. As Ali Sayeed Mohammed, a third-year journalism student at Kabul University said, "educated people may think and want this, but the majority of people in Afghanistan are not educated, and heavily armed. And regardless of the words of the elite, they will resolve their conflicts with violence."
Ivan Sigal visited Afghanistan in early 2002. While he was there he took these photos, documenting the many ways that post-Taliban Afghanistan is looking at itself.