The first time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan they chose to ban the internet . In July 2001, a few months before the military coalition led by the United States overthrew the Islamic regime in retaliation for the attacks of 11-S , Kabul announced the blockade of even residual tool in a rural country to avoid import of ideas “vulgar, immoral and anti-Islamic”.
Two decades later, Shiite fundamentalists have taken advantage of Washington’s withdrawal to retake control of a war- torn country . This time, however, they have adapted to the times . Over 70% of Afghans have mobile phones and 40% have internet access.
Aware of this, they have used social networks as megaphones for the propagation of their doctrines, to frighten their rivals and to sell the medieval regression they promote as makeup. What years ago was seen as a threatening Western tool has now been used as a marketing and political communication opportunity .
The spokesman for the insurgent military organization, Zabihullah Mujahid , illustrates that strategy. With more than 357,000 followers, he now uses his Twitter account to maintain a conciliatory tone, but in recent months he shared videos in which Taliban forces executed and riddled Afghan soldiers. The bluebird platform is the most attractive channel for the group, as it is one of the few that has not prohibited its presence.
The Taliban have controlled large parts of the territory for years, but now the networks “have helped accelerate this process of conquest, ” according to Gabriel Reyes , an associate researcher at CIDOB. “Since the negotiations with the US began, they have generated a victory narrative that has been decisive in demoralizing the armed forces and the local political class.”
After capitalizing on the use of the networks to frighten their rivals first and impose that logic of ” inevitable victory ” later, the Taliban have turned towards a strategy of moderation . The objective is to legitimize the new jihadist emirate internationally. “They have launched many messages in English because they are aware that they must look for allies or countries that tolerate them, ” says Reyes.
“They no longer need to explain that they are capable of killing, the great challenge they have is to convince, inside and outside the country, that they are capable of governing” .To this end, they have promised that they will respect the rights of women and religious minorities and that there will be no revenge against Afghans. Mujahid, for example, has gone from being in hiding for years to holding press conferences and taking questions from journalists .