KABUL, Apr 9 (AFP): In its two years of existence, mobile telephone operator Roshan has been a runaway success, becoming the leading private enterprise in Afghanistan's emerging market.
But the company wants more: it aims to be a model of lasting development in the needy central Asian country, where infrastructure is still in ruins after 25 years of war and foreign private investment only trickles in.
Launched in July 2003, Roshan-which means "light" in Persian-today has more than 750,000 subscribers, almost double that of its only rival AWCC.
Its network covers 27 of the 34 provinces, 40 per cent of the population and 150 of the country's biggest cities. Its billboards have spread the slogan "Nazdiq Shodan" ("Connecting People") across the nation.
It is one of two beacons of economic success in post-Taliban Afghanistan, the other being Tolo TV and its myriad of media projects.
Roshan is 51 per cent owned by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) with 36.75 per cent held by Monaco Telecom and 12.25 per cent by Afghan-US group MCT.
The company is today the largest taxpayer in Afghanistan, handing the government 25 million dollars in 2005 -- an amount that equals five per cent of the national budget.
It has invested close to 180 million dollars in infrastructure and expects to invest 80 million more to maintain its lead over AWCC and two new mobile networks expected to enter the market this year.
In line with the policy of its majority shareholder, AKDN, Roshan is clear about its readiness to be involved in the "real development" of Afghanistan.
This includes providing jobs, with the company one of the biggest employers in the country. "With 700 employees, 1,500 dealers, 5,000 distributors, 5,000 contractors and 2,500 suppliers, we provide work to 15,000 people," he says.
Several thousand more Afghans, men and boys, meanwhile make a living from selling top-up cards for Roshan and AWCC.
Roshan has also opened a clinic for its employees in the capital Kabul and sponsors several development programmes.
"We want to show what a good company can do for social development in Afghanistan and that it can make money by doing real and sustainable development," Ladak says.
The business meanwhile has started diversifying, offering new services such as Internet access and hooking up with Tolo TV to allow SMS voting for "Afghan Star"-the local version of US talent show "American Idol".