On 15 August 2021, the Taliban captured Kabul and became the de facto rulers of Afghanistan, barring Panjshir province. The fall of Kabul created a complete chaos, quite visible on the airport of Kabul and in the evacuation process. And, then started the chain of newsreports describing human rights violation happening in Afghanistan under the new regime.
From last few months, mostly from the end of 2020, we have been fed one particular line: “The Taliban have changed.” This line was reflected and covered by many political commentators and media, including the newspaper founded by Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei.
From last decade or so, the Taliban have developed an art of pushing propaganda—and peddling bigotry using sophistry—on various international platforms, ranging from the Doha talks to the New York Times, to gain legitimacy as a sincere stakeholder in Afghanistan. Many have ostensibly taken their words but the picture of the ‘changed’ Taliban is becoming clearer.
It starts with friendly engagement with media and ends with typical Goebbelsian lies.
For example, women’s rights! The Taliban’s spokesman (it’ll always be man) Suhail Shaheen called a Western journalist at 4 am in morning and assured ‘women should not be afraid, because the women they have started their work.’ Shaheen added, ‘In the past, they were working in an environment of insecurity, but now they are working here in security and peace.’
But what is happening in Afghanistan? Taliban have urged women to stay at home because their fighters ‘are not trained to respect women.’ Had it been the old Taliban, they would have straight away denied their right to work, but this is a ‘changed’ one so this excuse comes handy. Genius!
The Taliban have been doing this type of propaganda for a while. Even when giving an interview to NDTV, Shaheen said that they ‘respect’ women’s rights, along with usual rhetoric of how women are free and secured.
However, situation on ground is different. There have been also plenty of reports describing how the Taliban were demanding a list of girls above 15 and widows under 45.
The Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen was asked this particular question to which he responded by saying that ‘it is against the rules of Islam to force a person to give his daughter in a marriage.’ As someone pointed out on Twitter, even in this apologetic statement, authority of marriage lies with a father but not on a woman. So much for women’s rights!
Just a few days ago, a Taliban spokesperson gave a statement that women will be expected to wear Hijab but not Burqa. But, we are having news reports of women being killed for not wearing Burqa.
In 2013, one gullible Indian journalist found that Mullah Zaif, who just commented on education opportunity for women, ‘breaks d stereotype of d Taliban leader.’ Though the Taliban officially accepts education for all, but in reality, very few Taliban officials allow women to attend school after their puberty.
No matter how much the Taliban claim to have no bloodshed, the reality is different to a great extent.
Same goes for rights—or even existence—of religious minorities. Only two weeks before, a Taliban spokesman shared one-minute-long video of the Taliban leaders visiting Gurudwara; the leaders, according to media, assured the Sikhs and Hindus that they ‘need not to feel fear or anxiety.’
However, the claim was contravened by an Afghan Sikh evacuee who said that the leaders indeed came there but ‘they didn’t say much. They didn’t say anything to the Hindus and the Sardars.’
The Taliban are learning lessons from the CPC on how to manage media and create a perception. This will come in form of denials, whatabouteries, bigotry underneath sophistry, and more.
The image the Taliban want the world to portray is contradictory with the reality. From the developments of last few weeks, it is clear that the Taliban’s sincerety is a hogwash. It is the appropriate time when the world should understand to take their all statements with a sack of salt.
So, finally, the question, once again, arises: Have the Taliban really changed? Yes, they have. But in media management.