In the last post I discussed Afghanistan’s access to generic domain names. In this post, I will talk about how the Taliban takeover can affect access to .AF, Afghanistan’s Country Code Top Level Domain Name.
Country code TLDs (or ccTLDs) were originally assigned on the basis of an International Standards Organization (ISO) standard, ISO 3166. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority made this decision before ICANN came into existence. The idea was that there was already an existing process in the world that decided what a country was and how it should be identified, so the Internet community did not have to solve that problem. A few years ago ICANN extended the meaning of ccTLD to include internationalized versions of country names (that is, labels that are written in characters other than the ASCII that ISO 3166 uses). Those assignments still rely on the existence of an entry in the ISO 3166 standard, however. The country code TLD for Afghanistan is AF.
One interpretation of ICANN policies is that sanctions will not affect the ccTLDs, therefore they might not affect the redelegation of .AF. In delegation and redelegation of ccTLDs, ICANN has traditionally maintained a neutral role, and it normally does not adjudicate directly. It prefers to rely on decisions made by local actors. IANA resolutions that declare the delegation or redelegation of a ccTLD are generally rubber-stamping local decisions. IANA has a standard process for this, documented at this link. It does have certain requirements that might not be purely technical (for example, it requires multi-stakeholder support for the redelegation), but it does not proactively negotiate with the parties or facilitate the redelegation. Sometimes if it cannot evaluate the multistakeholder local support, it still goes ahead with the approval of the delegation. Over the years, the operators of ccTLDs ensured this neutrality and hands-off approach so that ICANN and its Government Advisory Committee would not get too involved in delegation and redelegation decisions. Given that the Afghan Ministry of Communications runs the .AF registry, if the Taliban takes over the ministry of communications, there is a possibility that they will thereby receive control of .AF.
It is also possible that, even if there is a legal dispute against Afghanistan in the US, .AF won’t be affected. There is jurisprudence about the delegation of ccTLDs. Once, in the US, terrorist victims wanted to attach .IR to the victims as an Islamic Republic asset, but the court ruled against the attachement (see Weinstein v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al., No. 14-7193 (D.C. Cir. 2016). Also see Mueller and Badiei paper about the attachment of .IR.
There are, however, other scenarios to think about:
Issue 1: If the operator of .AF is in the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, the legal arguments that worked to protect the .IR operator might not work in this case. At the time of the court ruling, the Iranian registry operator was not in the SDNl list. It is unclear whether the .AF operator will be on the SDN list. But if the Taliban operator is on the SDN list, claimants can use it as a legal argument in court to remove the delegation of .AF. However, it is unclear whether the court admits such an argument.
Issue 2: If there are technical issues or a redelegation request does not provide ICANN with the correct documentation, it is possible that .AF goes dormant, i.e. no one will operate it. In fact .AF went dormant between 2000 and 2003. ICANN in several cases has not delegated or redelegated the ccTLDs due to incomplete requests or simply due to the fact that there was no local person that responded to ICANN and provided documentations. For example, it was not until 2007 that ICANN assigned North Korea’s ccTLD. Their application in 2004 was not complete. In 2007, a German affiliate of the Korea Computer Center submitted a request for delegation which the Board decided to approve.
All in all even when it comes to ccTLD redelegation, which is supposed to be a more or less straightforward process, the situation is complicated and .AF’s fate is unknown.
In the next and last part of the trilogy, we will discuss Afghanistan’s access to Internet Protocol addresses.