ACCEPTANCE. People cuddle a man with a smiling smiley glasses wearing a terrain-patterned jacket and a black turban.
A Taliban social media star that goes by name General Mobin, has established itself among its supporters.
Almost all Taliban want to take selfies with Mobin, even a couple of ordinary Kabulians. Mobin likes to take pictures and bask in popularity.
He is protected by the heavily armed elite forces of the Taliban, the American assault rifles in a grapple.
Although in the 1990s under the Taliban regime, photography was strictly banned and TV could only be watched in secret, now the Taliban has embraced social media as its propaganda tool.
Mobin has more than 40,000 followers on Twitter.
– I’m an influencer on social media. I have no place in the Taliban government, he claims.
But according to AFP news agency, among others, Mobin is still responsible for Kabul’s security. That explains the elite.
His easily recognizable broad face is visible on Twitter and Facebook in most Taliban propaganda materials: In one image, General Mobin poses in the courtyard of the Presidential Palace with Taliban flags fluttering in the background.
In another video, he looks at bottles of vodka found in delegations. In one video, General Mobin, on the other hand, gives a virtual tour of the torture of a warlord who was on the side of the former regime.
Over the years, the Taliban have understood the importance of social media in shaping opinions. Although the Taliban began using the Internet as soon as the movement intensified in 2006, social media has become more widespread within the movement quite recently, in the mid-decade after the birth of Isis in Iraq and Syria.
When the Taliban regime collapsed after the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the country could not even make calls.
In two decades, a lot has changed: now four out of five Afghans have a phone. However, access to the network is still quite rare outside the largest cities and about 22 percent of the population uses the Internet.
Yet social media quickly became popular in the country. So it was only a matter of time before the Taliban found their way to these platforms.
War on social media
Before the fall of Kabul, social media served as one of the scenes of the war in Afghanistan.
The Taliban went to war using hashtags on Twitter, sharing their own figures of those killed in the attacks, and spreading their propaganda images.
During the war, Mobin focused on social media criticizing corrupt warlords on the government side and opposing Americans, but also sharing images of Taliban fighters.
While the Taliban certainly learned a lot about social media from international extremists like Isis, it also mimicked the old government in Afghanistan.
Former president who fled the country after the fall of Kabul Ashraf Ghanin namely, the team focused heavily on social media campaigns.
They ran an end of a frantic campaign on Twitter against neighboring Pakistan. Pakistan supported the Taliban movement in the 1990s, and the old Afghan government constantly accused the country of continuing its old policy. Pakistan has denied the allegations.
Eventually, the Western-trained Afghan army decided to lay down its arms and accept the Taliban as victorious. The Taliban managed to create an image of itself stronger and more united than the Afghan army.
Why fight when the winner was already known?
False news about the war was spread on social media
The war flared up again after the Taliban took power in Kabul, this time in the Panjshir Valley, where the former Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoudin son Ahmad Massoud tried to continue resistance to the Taliban, as his father did in the 1990s.
Proponents of the movement launched a social media campaign that shared a lot of false information and false news, the most famous example being a picture taken from a video game that allegedly testified to Pakistan bombing Panjshir.
The Taliban responded to the same extent: supporters of the movement on many occasions shared false and premature information about the conquest of Panjshir.
Although the resistance in the valley eventually broke, the truth about the events is still largely obscured in part by the lack of journalists, but also by the confusion caused by social media campaigns.
War of Perceptions
Now that the war is over, at least at this stage, the Taliban is focusing on reshaping perceptions of themselves. And the best tool for this is social media.
The Taliban know very well how it is seen in the West. We want to get the media on its side – especially at the international level.
– For 20 years they bombed us, killed us and destroyed our homes. In the name of democracy, we were made refugees and now we are talking about sanctions. If sanctions are imposed, it is [lännen] mistake and it will have an impact on Americans, Europeans and their allies, Mobin says defiantly in an interview with Yle.
The Taliban knows it needs support and because of that, it can also take the position of a victim.
– [Amerikkalaiset] destroyed the Koranic schools and bombed homes, and they did not give the Afghans what they promised, he claims.
The Taliban’s version of events is sinking, especially in the southern parts of the country, which are its traditional support area. There, the victims of the war suffered – many ended up joining the Taliban as their family members died in the bombing, or the innocent were taken to a prison where they were tortured.
At the same time, the extremist culture of the region is not fundamentally different from the strict Taliban rules.
In Kabul and the northern parts of the country, things are often different.
In one of Mobin’s videos released in June, the topic of discussion is women’s rights.
Mobin and other talkers are updating the lifestyle of women in Kabul and talking about how they say women in the West support their families and in Islam this in turn is a man’s responsibility.
Mobin criticizes women’s willingness to work with men, as he believes this automatically leads to sexual harassment. The Taliban justifies its strict rules by protecting women.
Women in Kabul will certainly find it difficult to swallow Taliban rules, no matter how the movement spreads its propaganda.
At the same time, the Taliban is also focusing on appearing on social media as an advocate for the poor and the common people, even though it was the Taliban’s rise to power that caused the current economic crisis in the country.
Therefore, the escape horror at Kabul Airport was embarrassing to move. We want to emphasize the current peaceful situation.
– Foreigners wanted to get people to leave Afghanistan. You can see that the security situation in the country is now really good. If that weren’t the case, we would see large numbers of people leaving, but now they don’t want to leave, Mobin claims.
However, calm does not mean that the situation is safe for everyone.
Mobin ignores that people have little choice but to go on with life once the evacuations have largely ended and the borders of neighboring countries have remained closed to refugees.
Dialogue with the people
Mobin is especially known for his live broadcasts, where he discusses various topics with the guests he invites. Sometimes listeners are also allowed to ask questions.
Although the Taliban oppose Western democracy, when it joins social media, it has been forced to start listening to criticism as well.
In a video shared in July, a man calls from southern Helmand province and asks why the Taliban are attacking civilians. Mobiin listens to the question but claims the Taliban has done nothing to ordinary citizens.
The man continues to put pressure on Mobin on the issue, but this one refuses to admit the Taliban as guilty of the crimes.
So the Taliban also want to be presented more fairly than the former government and the West.
Like the entire Taliban movement, Mobink is now convincing that people who have worked for the former regime and foreigners trying to flee the country have been pardoned.
– I myself saw on the streets these people who destroyed my home, put my brother in prison and made my friends martyrs. The pardon has been announced, so I cannot say anything to them. If I retaliate against them, the Taliban will punish me. If I kill them, the Taliban will arrest and kill me, he claims.
However, the Taliban have been accused of search operations and, in some cases, murders. However, the allegations have not yet been verified.
At the same time, protesters and Afghan journalists have also been subjected to violence by the Taliban. However, Western media has not yet been targeted.
The Taliban want to spread its propaganda to Western journalists in the first place.
– [Amerikkalaiset] destroyed our home […] So far, no media representative has visited [siellä], he updates.
It is true that the experiences of people in war-torn areas were not focused enough in the West and in the pro-Western media of Afghanistan. Partly because it was extremely dangerous to go to the areas when the war was raging.
But the West also perhaps wanted to believe in its own narrative of a good, legitimate war, which was the truth for only part of the people. Especially in the southern countryside, civilians were killed in bombings by Western forces and the Afghan army.
This also led in part to a Taliban propaganda victory.
If the Taliban are going to continue the effort to raise their image, it cannot ignore the fact that, unlike in the 1990s, now almost every Afghan has a phone in hand and a chance to share their experiences – if only they dare to do so for fear of Taliban punishment.
Mobin makes a departure. Selfies are taken and an interview is given. He jumps into an armored car and drives away while elite troops secure his route.
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