Afghan Biographies

Bayat, Ihsanullah

Name Bayat, Ihsanullah
Ethnic backgr. Tajik
Date of birth 1963
Function/Grade Ex Meshrano Jirga Member 2011 MP MNA Kabul appointed
History and Biodata

Ihsanullah Bayat

3. Biodata
Bayat_EhsanEng. Ehsan Bayat Ehsanulla Bayat Ihsanullah Bayatwas son of Khan Aqa was born 1963 in Ghazni, Afghanistan. His family belongs to the Shia Qizilbash community of Afghanistan but it is said he  is an ethnic Tajik but Schia and grew up later in Kabul. There he went to a High School to become a medical Doctor. He gave up and emigrated to USA 1981 and obtained a bachelor degree in engineering. Later- after 2001 - made a fortune in the new emerging business opportunities of Afghanistan. He is a US-Afghan Business Tycoon. Today, he is the name behind three of the largest organizations in Afghanistan: Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC), Ariana Radio and Television Network (ATN), and the Bayat Foundation.

Telephone Systems International and Ehsanollah Bayat defeated a US$400 Million claim brought by Lord Michael Cecil, Stuart Bentham and Alexander Grinling Bringing 9 Years of Litigation to a Close (20110812).

He is a member of the International Affairs Commission.

Engineer Ihsanullah Bayat is married.

Background Story:
How a frozen-food salesman from New Jersey — a former refugee from war-torn Afghanistan — built his country’s largest wireless network ERIC ELLIS (20041008) AT YAKA BADEM, HIGH IN THE RUGGED mountains of northern Afghanistan, a platoon of warlord Mohamed Daoud Khan’s militiamen are roasting lambs and drinking whiskey. On what was once a killing ground—the Taliban fought its last battle against these same fighters on a nearby tank-strewn peak three years ago — Afghan Wireless Communications Co. has broken ground for a microwave link that will bring cellphone service for the first time to the 100,000 people living in Daoud’s fiefdom. But as his men celebrate by firing their Kalashnikovs and draining their whiskey, Daoud sits in his carpeted lair with Amin Ramin, the New Jersey-based company’s 36-year-old point man in Afghanistan, debating the merits of a reporter’s Sony-Ericsson handset over his own Motorola clam. “You can get e-mail on that?” Daoud asks. Daoud’s region around Kunduz is the missing link in AWCC’s nationwide network, which after three years and a $200 million investment claims to have 150,000 subscribers.

AWCC’s engineers reckon that Yaka Badem, nine miles outside town, is the best place to site the link to Mazar-e-Sharif, 31 miles to the west, which in turn connects to the capital Kabul and the rest of the world. “We must modernize and build our country together,” says Daoud, one of the few regional commanders who supports President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to unite Afghanistan. Fine words. But the logistics of bringing modern technologies to Afghanistan are staggering. AWCC has to truck its equipment in from Dubai—a five-day trek across Iran—or through Pakistan via the Khyber Pass.

Afghanistan doesn’t have a national electricity grid, so AWCC has to build its own power stations, fashioned from shipping containers, for each cell site. And its tanker fleet has to crisscross the country on appalling roads to deliver diesel fuel to the generators, which are guarded by AWCC’s own armed militia. That makes Afghan Wireless not only Afghanistan’s biggest telephone company but also its biggest power generator, its biggest transport company, and the commander of one of its biggest armed militias. Afghanistan’s 25 million people have never had mass-market telecommunications before. A system installed in the 1950s had fewer than 5,000 phones and only six international lines.

Before AWCC resurrected it, the country’s international dialing code (93) hadn’t functioned since the 1980s. The few external calls were routed through Pakistan via an ancient switching facility at Lataband, a snowbound peak that was one of the first places hit when American cruise missiles started raining on Afghanistan in October 2001. On top of the rubble, AWCC has built a state-of-the-art transmission facility. “Some days I’ve thrown my hands in the air and said, ‘That’s it, I’m going crazy, I can’t do it,’” says AWCC’s 41-year-old chairman, Ehsan Bayat, as he wanders through Kabul’s war-trashed neighborhoods. “And then an old woman comes and kisses me on the cheek and thanks me for connecting her with her relatives in the U.S., and it makes my day.”

BAYAT, THE SON OF A KABUL DOCTOR who emigrated to the U.S. in 1981, was running a frozen-food distribution company in New Jersey when he got the idea to start a wireless network in Afghanistan. A 1995 meeting with Hidayat Amin Arsala, the country’s then foreign minister, whose family owned a chain of fast-food restaurants in the U.S. that was a customer of Bayat’s, got him thinking about rebuilding his war-torn nation. Within a year, despite a lack of telecommunications experience, he had partnered with Ramin, another Afghan refugee running a chain of fried-chicken restaurants in Brooklyn called Luther’s, to form Telephone Systems International.

That was the easy part. Cutting a deal with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, who swept into power in 1996, proved painfully slow. “The wheels were in motion,” Bayat says, “but nothing was happening.” Finally, in 1998, TSI signed a joint-venture agreement with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communications and promised to invest $150 million in AWCC in exchange for 80% ownership of the company. It was money Bayat and Ramin didn’t have. So they pulled together an eclectic group of partners, among them Lord Michael Cecil, an English aristocrat-businessman and principal in one of Africa’s leading mobile phone companies, Kenya-based Wilken Telecommunications, Olaf Guerrand-Hermès, an heir to the Hermès fashion empire, and Gary Breshinsky, a 48-year-old New Jersey satellite phone salesman who claimed to have been a CIA asset.

They all came together at a meeting with Taliban officials in Kandahar in November 1998. As an American citizen, Bayat’s dealings with the Taliban were a game of cat-and-mouse over the extent of his business links with what became, after the August 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, an outlaw regime. The joint venture agreement creating AWCC was signed in September 1998, shortly after retaliatory U.S. airstrikes on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Bayat claims that TSI divested its AWCC interest in July 1999 and only bought it back after U.S., UN, and British sanctions were lifted in 2002. But he says he can’t remember much about this period—one former associate says a Liechtenstein company may have owned AWCC for a while—and couldn’t provide any evidence that a divestment took place.

Meanwhile, AWCC pressed ahead with building its network during this time and currying favor with the Taliban regime. In 2000, a British supplier of reconditioned telecommunications hardware installed rudimentary switching equipment for AWCC in Kabul and Kandahar. On one of their visits to the country, Cecil and his British business partner, Stuart Bentham, who also owned a piece of TSI, donated cricket equipment to the government. The two also set up a mining company called Afghan Development. Bayat’s memory improves after 9/11 and the war that ousted the Taliban. Driving toward Manhattan that Tuesday, he could see the smoke from the World Trade Center. He recalls: “A little voice in the back of my head says, ‘You know what, I think this is an opportunity.’ I just knew this was my time to return to Afghanistan. I thought that the Taliban were screwed. I knew the sanctions were going to be lifted.” By December of that year, Kabul was overflowing with military, UN, and foreign advisors. All were desperate for communications.

The new interim administration honored the Taliban contract with TSI, and by April 2002 AWCC had launched a phone and Internet service in the capital. At last, one of the planet’s few telecommunications holdouts had been breached. WITH SANCTIONS-BUSTING NO LONGER an issue, AWCC turned its attention to bringing phone service to the entire nation. The company applies the same thinking to its cell towers as Afghans have long brought to the siting of fortresses: Both require strategic height and line of sight. It took Mohaymen Sahebzadah, AWCC’s signals chief, two months to find Yaka Badem. Seven times he walked through a minefield overgrown with wild poppies, cacti, and tulips to case the site. A gentle man who previously worked for Verizon Wireless in New York (he was fixing a cell site on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on 9/11), Sahebzadah still shudders at the thought of the mines. “We counted six anti-tank mines,” he says, “and we stopped counting the antipersonnel mines after 30.”

With AWCC’s wireless grid almost complete, expectations are rising. The company operates ten Internet cafés in Afghanistan, and mobile customers who have never used proper communications are complaining about service problems. The company won’t disclose how much money it’s making, or what its revenue is, but business appears to be brisk, despite calls costing an average of 20 cents a minute. Many Afghans are paying between $75 and $100 in cash for prepaid SIM cards. There’s also competition. Roshan Communications, backed by the Aga Khan Foundation and partly owned by Alcatel and Monaco Telecom, boasts 150,000 subscribers after only a year of operations. “I like that,” says Bayat of the competition. “It shows the country is progressing.”

Bayat is less tolerant of some of his former business partners, with whom he has had a falling out. Cecil and Bentham are suing Bayat in federal court in New York over the 30.2% of TSI they claim they own. Bayat insists he is the sole owner of the company, but the documents which he says prove his case are under seal. A May 2002 filing by TSI with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that is part of the case file acknowledges that Bentham and Cecil each own 15.1% of the company. Bayat is listed as having a 51% stake, and the ownership of the remaining 18.8% is not specified. Cecil and Bentham say they are legally constrained from commenting on the dispute, but their New York attorney, Robert Friedman of Kelley Drye, says, “We are looking forward with enthusiasm to our day in court.” As for Breshinsky, he was pushed out of the company by Bayat in 2001 and died in 2003. Telephone Systems International and Ehsanollah Bayat defeated a  US$400 Million Claim Brought by Lord Michael Cecil, Stuart Bentham and Alexander Grinling Bringing 9 Years of Litigation to a Close (20110812).

Business conditions in Afghanistan remain less than ideal. In July, Ramin, who hails from a Tajik family of warrior-patriots, was called to Mazar to negotiate the release of two AWCC employees. They had been detained by a local warlord for refusing to eavesdrop on the calls of a rival clan leader who was suspected of drug dealing. Ramin eventually won his colleagues’ freedom, but he refuses to describe how. Still, Bayat says he is confident that Afghanistan’s violent past is behind it. There’s even talk that AWCC could anchor a future capital market in Kabul. “The government knows this thing is going to be a gold mine,” Bayat says. “Five years down the road this company is going to be worth God knows how much.” It’s not clear how much AWCC is worth today, as revenue and profit figures are unavailable. At 20 cents a minute, calls are expensive by developing-country standards. AWCC’s original business plan was based on calls at half that price, or less. “If we assume an average subscriber base of 40,000 from 2002 to 2004, a sign-up fee of $50, and $5 per month in charges, that’s $8 million in revenue over those two years,” says a former AWCC employee who had a falling out with Bayat in 2000 but saw the original business plan. “Move your subscriber base to 60,000, the sign-up fee to $100, and the monthly charge to $15, and you get a total revenue of $27 million. But it could be much higher. They were bragging about a 50% profit margin.” Emerging-markets telecom analyst Rena Bhattacharyya of International Data Corp. in Massachusetts says that if AWCC wants mass-market penetration “those prices are going to have to come down.” But the smooth-talking Bayat, who has been at this for nearly a decade, is clearly a persuasive salesman. “I tell all my Afghan staff here,” he says from his office in Kabul, “If it doesn’t work, I can always change color. I’m an Afghan today — I’ll be an American tomorrow. But what the hell are you going to do? If we don’t succeed, where are you going to go?"

Last Modified 2022-02-02
Established 2010-01-30