KABUL-Afghans will soon be able to access Wikipedia for free on their cellphones thanks to an initiative between the online encyclopaedia and a mobile phone company, bringing up-to-date information to millions of war-weary people.

Around eight million people, largely in Afghanistan’s major cities, 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 on web giants such as Wikipedia a luxury that few Afghans can afford regularly to use.

The tie-up 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 which followed also saw the banning of much modern technology and restricted access to information — though in recent years the Islamist group has embraced social media to spread its jihadist propaganda and claim responsibility for attacks.

“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.”