Technology

Afghan officials ban Iranian SIM cards, currency to limit Tehran's influence

By Emran

Afghan authorities in Nimruz province launched a campaign in April 2022, to collect and deactivate Iranian-made SIM cards and internet devices in what they say is part of an effort to counter Iranian surveillance. [Abdullah Azizi]

HERAT -- Afghan officials in Nimroz have launched a campaign to collect and deactivate Iranian-made SIM cards and internet devices in a move they say is aimed at countering Iranian surveillance.

Since the start of the campaign on April 15, authorities have collected and deactivated hundreds of SIM cards and Wi-Fi devices and thousands of prepaid top-up cards distributed by Iranian telecommunication networks.

The purpose of the campaign is to prevent surveillance by Iranian intelligence agencies and the infiltration of the local population, according to Abdul Rahim Fayyaz, the director of the Nimroz Provincial Telecommunication and IT Directorate.

"These SIM cards are totally outside the control of the Afghanistan Telecommunications Authority, and have threatened the security of Nimroz residents," said Fayyaz.

Iranian-made SIM and mobile prepaid top-up cards are seen April 15 at Nimruz Telecommunication and Information Technology Directorate after they were confiscated by authorities aimed at cracking down on Iranian surveillance efforts in Afghanistan. [Abdullah Azizi]

Iranian-made SIM and mobile prepaid top-up cards are seen April 15 at Nimruz Telecommunication and Information Technology Directorate after they were confiscated by authorities aimed at cracking down on Iranian surveillance efforts in Afghanistan. [Abdullah Azizi]

"Iranian SIM cards have disrupted local telecom operators' services," he said, adding, "We will not allow them to operate in Nimroz."

"The Iranian regime has been intercepting people's conversations through their telecom networks to influence and control the situation in Nimroz," said Abdul Karim Mohammadi, a resident of Zaranj city, the provincial capital, adding that the move will eliminate Iran's spying efforts in the province.

The Iranian SIM cards and Wi-Fi devices were being offered at cheaper prices than Afghan competitors', he added.

"The Iranian regime has been making huge profits from prepaid mobile top-up cards... over the past several years, and this must be stopped immediately," said Esmatullah Mobasher, another resident of Zaranj.

Banning the toman

Meanwhile, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), Afghanistan's central bank, has banned the use of the Iranian toman across the country.

DAB spokesman Saber Momand told Salaam Times on April 18 that from now on the use of Iranian currency is forbidden and will carry a penalty.

"The use of Iranian toman in trade has devalued the afghani in Nimroz, and the people of Nimroz have been unfamiliar with the use of their country's own currency," he said.

The use of the toman in commercial transactions has benefitted Iran and, in most cases, it has entered Afghanistan in exchange for US dollars, he added.

Ghulam Sakhi Niazi, a resident of Zaranj city, welcomed the ban on the use of the toman.

"The afghani is our identity and the use of the toman in daily transactions is damaging the Afghan economy. If the afghani is not used in Iran, why should the Iranian currency be used in Afghanistan?"

"In some provinces -- for instance, Herat and Kandahar where the afghani is mostly used -- businesses are not running at a loss; however, in Nimroz and parts of Farah where transactions are made in the toman, businesses tend to suffer a lot," he said.

The afghani does not have any value in Iran, therefore, the toman should be treated the same way in Afghanistan, he added.

Mohammad Hassan Mukhtar, an economic expert based in Zaranj city, said that prohibiting the use of the toman will promote the circulation and value of the afghani in Nimroz.

"When the use of the toman is prohibited in daily transactions, Afghan currency will replace it and make its way into circulation in the market. The more the afghani is in circulation, the higher the value of our national currency," he said.

"The Iranian toman is one of the most worthless currencies in the world and should completely be excluded from the Afghan markets," he added.

Preventing Iranian influence

Both bans will reduce Iran's influence in Nimroz, analysts predict.

The Iranian regime has managed to expand its influence in some bordering provinces, especially Nimroz, where the country's intelligence has maintained many active agents, according to political analyst Khalid Sikandar.

The Iranian regime has exported its SIM cards at a lower price in Nimroz "in a bid to maintain its influence in the province and weaken domestic telecom operators", he said.

With the ongoing crackdown, however, the influence of Iranian intelligence will diminish in Nimroz, he added.

"The import of Iranian SIM cards is a scheme by the Iranian government. When they are deactivated, Iran's undercover activities will also decrease in Afghanistan," Sikandar said.

"The Iranian regime has turned Nimroz bazaar into a black market," said Mohammad Akbar Haqdost, a civil society activist in Zaranj city. "It has injected its worthless currency into the market to gain benefit by importing US dollars or other valuable commodities from Afghanistan."

"Iranian intelligence operatives have been very instrumental in promoting the use of the toman and Iranian SIM cards in Nimroz province, but now the efforts of these circles have failed," he said.

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