Afghanistan an opportunity to serve with humility

Afghanistan an opportunity to serve with humility


Prabhaker Mishra
Director, GIS Institute
E-mail : [email protected]

  Post – Conflict Afghanistan will provide the greatest opportunity for reconstruction and development in terms of institutions building, human resource development and governance. The approach towards these mega -multipurpose objectives, however, has to be propelled solely by the values of service with humility and should necessarily be free from any political, religions and narrow commercial considerations. In other words the service should be free from any proverbial strings.

It is proposed here to share some contemporary thoughts on major issues pertaining to our profession of Land Information Technologies and practices at a mega level. This has been done through a brief description of some possible (emerging) scenarios. These are to be further supplemented, augmented and converted to ‘Verbs’ (activities) by the interested organisations and individuals who are motivated to provide the needed service.

Scenario One

Planning and investigation using satellite imagery
The war against terrorism continues at a low key. The Government of Afghanistan has been pledged a sum of a few billion dollars from all over the world. The major donors naturally, are those who are active members of the ‘Coalition against Terror’. The practical problem of channelising the funds begins now. How to convert this massive monetary assistance into activities/projects? It is here that detailed sectorwise planning and execution is to be undertaken. Priorities of mega tasks is to be decided by the Afghan Government A massive planning and investigative effort will be in place.

We belong to the sector of land information technologies. In fact, this sector is the first stage of any project e.g. housing, road construction and other infrastructure oriented activities. Pre-1996, Afghan Government development connected with surveying and other allied activities are to be augumented for manpower, equipment, space and ofcourse, technical planning and programmes.

A lot of physical and spatial data gathered during the war by the Coalition will prove to be of immediate and immense use at the planning stage. Metadata available at the internet and the archives has to be collated and brought at one place in the open.

Study teams for pre-investment activities
Study teams (STs) will function after due consultation with the Afghan officials and beneficiaries. The major areas of interest from the point of view of the surveying and mapping data needed for starting mega-projects for reconstruction will be identified.

The towns will immediately need base maps for planning housing projects, road construction, rebuilding of institutions/ offices e.g. hospitals, major network of communications, water supply, power and other utilities, etc. The towns will need information to plan and build.

Satellite imagery and its quick interpretation compared and supported by the old maps/information will prove to be of immense help. Many smaller but well equipped organisations can play a major role at this stage. There are many success stories of the applications of the satellite imagery in India and elsewhere. This success can be replicated in Afghanistan. Large Government Sector organisations like Survey of India, National Remote Sensing Agency and NGOs have a role at this stage.

Scenario Two

Country level spatial infrastructure
While the process of planning, investigation and evolution of projects goes on, the need for field control of geodetic accuracy by Global Positioning System (GPS) would have been thought of.

This is specially applicable to urban areas and other areas of priority e.g. roads, etc. It may not be possible to retrieve old survey-control network in Afghanistan. The solution by GPS therefore will be of immediate interest to those who plan for new projects. GPS, thus, will be able to furnish the much desired, indeed, vital, infrastructure for the first-order-control network of highest order/geodetic stations at the desired locations. The technology of Air Borne Laser Terrain Mapping (ALTM) has proved to be quick and quite useful in generating Digital Terrain Models (DTM) of areas in USA, Canada and European countries. A consortium of companies will be harnessed to do the task.

Scenario Three

Partner in execution of projects
Considering all possible geopolitical developments and practical considerations, India fits the bill well in becoming a Partner for Progress in Afghanistan. India has reasons to be satisfied in remaining the ‘most acceptable’ nation in taking up this initiative for serving Afghanistan through appropriate applications of Land Information Technologies.

The execution of the projects can be taken up by a newly formed Consortium of Indian companies who, in turn, will provide the necessary frame work for providing the services to Afghanistan. Some Indian companies have already shown interest to become partners in Progress (Times of India, 30th December 2001).

Scenario Four

Post-Conflict situation
A case has been made for the Indian organisations, Governmemt, Pubic Sector and Private to provide immediate service to our friends in Afghanistan specially pertaining to the realm of Land Information Technologies. The partnership with Afghanistan could be bilateral or through International Agencies e.g. United Nations, European or Asian Communities.

$100 million Afghan Assistance has already been announced by the Government of India. What is needed now is the right conduct, right technology and right attitude of service to Afghanistan. Till 21st January 2002 4 billion dollers have been pledged at the Tokyo meeting.

Human Resource Development
The service/project does not end with the project. As a matter of reality the end of the project is the beginning of human resource development phase. This is an opportunity to educate, train, to equip and transfer the technology to the relevant organisation. The training institutes there are several of them in India will be too willing to train Afghan students on priority.

Bars and Buyouts
Pentagon buys all satellite war images
The Pentagon has spent millions of dollars to prevent western media from seeing highly accurate civilian satellite pictures of the effects of bombing in Afghanistan. The US military does not need the pictures for its own purposes because it already has six imaging satellites in orbit, augmented by a seventh launched recently. Four of the satellites, called Keyholes, take photographic images estimated to be six to ten times better than the 1 metre resolution available from IKONOS. Since images of the bombed Afghan bases would not have shown the position of US forces or compromised US military security, the ban could have been challenged by news media as being a breach of the First Amendment, which guarantees press freedom.
French Defence Ministry bars sales of satellite pictures of Afghanistan
The French company SPOT Image, had stopped selling pictures of Afghanistan under instructions from the ministry of defence. There only customer for the pictures of Afghanistan was the French Defence Ministry.

Tora Bora DEM Features in New Yark Times

Arguably the world’s best map of Tora Bora, the epicentre of the current U.S. and allied effort to find and destroy forces loyal to Osama bin Laden, was published on the front page of New York Times. The map data was sourced and produced by East View Cartographic, which gave the NYT the hands-down “visual scoop” on the Tora Bora story. The Tora Bora graphic represents a 3-D digital terrain model has been published as a front-page graphic in the US premier newspaper of record, The New York Times, according to William McNulty, who runs the Times’ GIS section. The Tora Bora map DEM was produced by East View Cartographic for the New York Times; the final graphic also contained information provided by NYT field reporters. EVC, based in Minneapolis, MN, has been the leader in supplying the mass media high-resolution of GIS and other map and imagery data throughout the Afghanistan operation. Other major customers include the Washington Post, Time magazine, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, and US News and World Report. According to Kent D. Lee, President/CEO of East View Cartographic, “This map data was produced from a Russian-language 1:50,000-scale topographic map and other sources, including Russian 2-metre imagery.” The topo map was originally produced by Soviet military authorities during their war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Even so, the meticulous detail and precision work of Soviet cartographers makes this map, almost 20 years later, still the best such map of this area. In fact the best mapping of Afghanistan is generally acknowledged to be that produced under Soviet rule.“ Even experts often do not realise what a gold mine Russian/Soviet topographic maps and imagery represent,” said Lee. “But the stunning Tora Bora graphic speaks for itself”. Source:

Maps for Redevelopment
The National Geographic Society now provides up-to-date maps of Afghanistan for all who are eager to follow development work in the area. The two-sided map is titled “Land in Crisis.” One side is a political map, showing Afghan cities and towns, rivers, mountains, passes and airports, as well as other details. The other side shows a satellite image of Afghanistan and includes a timeline of the country’s history from the first Anglo-Afghan war in 1838-1842 to the present conflict, as well as mini-maps of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups, droughts and earthquakes, Taliban and Northern Alliance strongholds, and refugee camps in the country. In addition to the maps distributed with the magazine, more than 50,000 copies of the map will be provided free to teachers around the United States. There is also an online version of the map, which the magazine will update to reflect developments in the region.

Political Map of Afghanistan

Satalite image of Afghanisatn

Drought Map of Afghanistan

Source :

Red in Afghanistan
The Indian narcotics control officials say that contrary to claims by the UN and some western countries that the Taliban ensured “zero cultivation” of opium this year, it is business as usual in Afghanistan as far as this drug trade is concerned. In fact, analysis based on processing commercially available satellite imagery has shown that the Taliban had done little to block cultivation and the decline that occurred in the Helmand province was a consequence of a drought this summer.