KABUL -- Afghans will soon be able to access Wikipedia for free on their mobile phones thanks to an initiative between the online encyclopaedia and a mobile phone company.
Around eight million Afghans have access to the internet, up from almost none during the Taliban's repressive 1996-2001 regime.
But most do so through mobile phones which use costly data, making access to information a luxury that few can afford regularly to use.
The partnership between the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, and one of Afghanistan's top mobile phone companies, Roshan, intends to change that by giving users free access to the website for up to one year starting later this month.
"The partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation expands the frontier of access to information and knowledge, especially for Afghanistan's youth who make up almost two-thirds of the population," said Altaf Ladak, deputy CEO of Roshan.
The company sees the initiative, dubbed "Wikipedia Zero" and first launched in other developing countries in 2012, as key to Afghanistan's development.
Many of the country's colleges and universities still use textbooks from the 1980s, after the Soviet invasion but before the civil war of the early 1990s that destroyed much of Afghanistan's infrastructure.
The Taliban regime that followed also banned much modern technology and restricted access to information.
Giving Afghan students a boost
"Hundreds of thousands of young students across Afghanistan still access information from decades ago and it's having an impact in terms of human development of the country," said Roshan spokesman Shafi Sharifi.
"Having free access to Wikipedia allows the youth, especially university students, to get the latest information in their field of study or interest," he said.
Najib Nangyal, spokesperson for Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, welcomed the "excellent initiative" between Wikipedia and Roshan and called on other cell phone companies to join the programme.
"Many Afghan students can not afford to have access to the internet," he told Salaam Times. "This will help Afghan youth to improve their knowledge."
"College students really need to have access to the internet, especially to the pages that provide educational information," said Arash Ashna, a student at Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education in Kabul.
"Wikipedia is like an international library and Roshan's step will definitely help Afghan students," he told Salaam Times.
"Due to financial reasons, many students cannot afford access to the internet," he said. "Therefore, we are asking Roshan not to limit this service to one year."
[Sulaiman from Kabul contributed to this report.]