Afghanistan’s universities accelerate on the virtual Silk Road
Cambridge, Kabul and Seoul | 10 August 2013
High-speed Internet links for research and education announced
Image courtesy of NATO
Despite the media spotlight on the progress and challenges of the peace process and reconstruction in Afghanistan, a series of Internet network initiatives are quietly underway that are transforming education and research within the country.
Jointly funded by NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Programme and the U.S. Department of State, the SILK-Afghanistan project currently connects 18 Afghan universities which will benefit further from a national fibre optic network programme currently under construction. A new organisation, AfgREN, is being set up to manage a dedicated national research and education network (NREN) for the country, a model successfully proven around the world.
Today, further initiatives are announced which will increase Afghanistan’s links with the global research and education community. Capacity has been immediately doubled on the SILK-Afghanistan project’s link to the pan-European GÉANT network. Looking to the future, Afghanistan has also joined the pan-Asian TEIN research and education networking project, and a new high-speed network connection to the TEIN network backbone is planned for 2015.
The new initiatives mean that Afghan scholars will be able to gain qualifications through multimedia-based distance learning while researchers can work on international projects, all without needing to leave their home country to pursue their studies and research.
Minimising the brain drain of qualified citizens will be central to efforts to rebuild the country, benefiting all Afghans. Collaborative global projects in areas such as crop research and disaster relief can improve living standards by bringing together expertise from around the world with local specialists on the ground.
Following a planning stage, provision for Internet access for Kabul University by NATO commenced in 2006 and was subsequently expanded to include 14 provincial universities with the launch of the SILK-Afghanistan project in 2010. In spring 2013, it was extended to June 2015 with continuing funding from both donors.
Connection capacity to GÉANT has been increased from 75Mbps to 155Mbps, with Internet traffic between Kabul and the GÉANT Vienna hub now running solely on terrestrial fibre optic networks, connecting an estimated 70,000 Afghan students, teachers and researchers with GÉANT’s 50 million users at 10,000 institutions across Europe.
By also joining the TEIN project, Afghanistan will gain access to the expertise, support, technical knowledge, training and opportunities for collaboration provided by the world’s largest regional research and education network. Planning is now underway for a direct connection to the TEIN network backbone which currently serves over 50 million users in 16 connected Asia-Pacific countries.
DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe) is a non-profit organisation established in 1993 that plans, builds and operates large scale, advanced networks for research and education (R&E). On behalf of Europe’s National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), DANTE has built and operates GÉANT, a flagship e-Infrastructure key to achieving the European Research Area.
Working in cooperation with the European Commission and in close partnership with Europe’s NRENs and international networking partners, DANTE remains fundamental to the success of global research collaboration.
DANTE established and coordinated the regional R&E network for Asia-Pacific, TEIN, from 2004 to 2012, when project management was transferred to Korea-based TEIN*CC. In addition to continuing to support the TEIN project, DANTE currently manages R&E networking projects serving the Mediterranean (EUMEDCONNECT), Sub-Saharan Africa (AfricaConnect) and Central Asia (CAREN) regions and coordinates the Europe-China collaboration (ORIENTplus). DANTE also supports R&E networking organisations in Latin America (RedCLARA) and the Caribbean (CKLN).
TEIN*CC (Trans-Eurasia Information Network-star Cooperation Center) was established in August 2011 by the Korean Government and with TEIN partner support as a non-profit Foundation Corporation to take responsibility for the 4th phase of the TEIN programme which started in April 2012. It is located in Seoul with funding provided by the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. TEIN*CC will continue to develop the network up to 2016 with DANTE support. TEIN continues to receive funding support from the European Commission which is contributing €8 million for TEIN4.
TEIN*CC and the continuation of the TEIN programme were endorsed at the ASEM9 Summit in 2012 in Lao PDR where leaders recognised the important role played by the TEIN project in increasing direct internet connectivity among research and education in Asia and between Asia and Europe. For more information, visit
The Afghanistan Research and Educational Network (AfgREN) is responsible for providing a high-speed Internet backbone and other IT services for universities, Higher Education institutions, colleges, teaching hospitals, libraries, research and scientific centres across Afghanistan. AfgREN is one of the major projects of the Ministry of Higher Education’s (MoHE) Strategic Plan and has been identified as key enabler of the Higher Education system. AfgREN is supported by the SILK-Afghanistan Programme and is managed by the MoHE.
For more information, visit
SILK-Afghanistan is the successor project of NATO’s Virtual Silk Highway (SILK project) in Afghanistan. Named after the ancient trade route between Asia and Europe, the SILK project was set up to provide free high-speed internet access via satellite to the academic communities of the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 2004, the SILK project was extended to Kabul University, Afghanistan, and subsequently to three additional Kabul-based universities by 2008. The successor project SILK-Afghanistan extended connectivity to 14 provincial universities between the end of 2009 and early 2011.
Whereas the original Virtual Silk Highway project with beneficiaries in Central Asia and the Caucasus was handed over to the co-sponsorship of the European Union in 2009/2010, the NATO and United States Department of State-sponsored SILK-Afghanistan project is currently expected to continue until summer of 2015. In addition to free Internet access, Afghan universities also have the option to apply for NATO networking infrastructure grants and training assistance of their IT staff. NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme provides the funding for NATO’s share in this jointly funded project.
The SPS Programme is a policy tool for enhancing cooperation and dialogue with all partners, based on civil science and innovation, to contribute to the Alliance’s core goals and to address the priority areas for dialogue and cooperation identified in the partnership policy. Originally founded as the NATO Science Programme in the 1950s, the SPS Programme now offers grants for collaboration projects, workshops and training involving scientists from NATO member states and partner countries. For more information, visit