Social media, Sharia law and “friendly” foreign policy: The Taliban 2.0
Issued on: 08/17/2021 – 8:31 PM
When the takeover of Afghanistan was complete, the Taliban insisted they would not return to the brutal medieval rule that turned the hard-line Islamist group into an international pariah in the late 1990s. The revised image of the militants, known as Taliban 2.0 because of their skillful use of social media, is received with deep skepticism.
Two days after the fall of Kabul, television viewers in Afghanistan saw a scene that would have been unthinkable under the former Taliban regime (1996-2001): An Afghan presenter from the news channel Tolo interviewed a Taliban official. The host Beheshta Arghand, who sat 2.5 meters away from him, asked questions about the security situation in the Afghan capital. The private news channel also published a video by another journalist reporting from the streets of Kabul.
The broadcast came as the Taliban leaders reiterated their message that their disciplined fighters would not go on rampage against their former enemies. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid showed a conciliatory face at a press conference on August 17 and confirmed an amnesty for former members of the Afghan army and police. He also said that women are allowed to work, study and be active in society, “but within the framework of Islam”.
Despite widespread skepticism, the hardline Islamist group is working hard to spread the idea that it will not revert to its previous practices. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women were banned from most jobs and girls’ education was limited to elementary school. Television and listening to music were forbidden, and adulterers could be stoned to death.
“The core ideology of the Taliban remains the same. They still want to enforce a kind of ‘super-Sharia’, a more extreme and stricter version of Islamic law than that implemented in other countries,” said Sébastien Boussois, Afghanistan researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) said FRANCE 24.
When asked about the differences between the Taliban in the 1990s and today, Mujahid said the ideology and beliefs are the same because they are Muslims, but there is a change in experience – they are more experienced and have a different perspective . pic.twitter.com/IZBkc5gxx4
– TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 17, 2021
Image revision of the Taliban
In its first official statement during the Kabul fall, the Taliban Politburo said the real test will be “serving our nation and ensuring security and comfort.” The insurgent group signaled that it was ready to perform a range of government functions to improve the lives of the population, rather than simply imposing religiously inspired bans.
According to experts, this change of image has already facilitated the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan. There were few reports of popular resistance to the militants’ advances, and Kabul fell without the bloodshed many feared.
“The Taliban have built a narrative that is very different from that of the motley gang that stormed Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 the money that was supposed to stabilize the country.” They can portray themselves as liberators and not just as people who Lock up Afghans, “said Boussois.
“The Taliban will say that Islamic law is a means of creating a strong and strict government after years of corruption and disintegration.”
Seeking global recognition
As an insurgent movement fighting the world’s number one superpower, the Taliban have developed strong adaptive capabilities over the past two decades. Their policies were determined by military and political necessities, not religious ones, argues a research paper published in March 2021 by the CTC at West Point, the U.S. military academy. The author, Thomas Ruttig, wrote that “policy adjustments that are initially only tactical” [could] evolve into real change “.
This appears to be the case for the group’s most notable change since 2001: their efforts to improve their relations with overseas for global recognition. While the first Taliban regime was only recognized by three countries (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) at its height, it is now in good talks with most of its neighbors. Both Moscow and Beijing have bought the Taliban 2.0 narrative, the latter even calling for “friendly” relations with the new rulers of Kabul just a few hours after Islamist fighters entered the Afghan capital.
Analysis: China and Russia keep embassies in Afghanistan open
According to Boussois, this narrative could eventually lead western countries to normalize their relations with the Taliban. “If you agree that the Taliban have changed, then you could deal with them to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a new North Korea or a country in perpetual chaos. If the western countries don’t, other countries will – that’s it.” is currently happening with China and Russia. “
What the Taliban learned from their 2001 defeat
The Taliban crave international recognition because they learned the hard way that accepting terrorists as an international pariah is a surefire way to attract foreign military intervention. Movement leaders understand that the US invaded Afghanistan after refusing to extradite the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, and not because of the human rights violations that occurred several years earlier.
While the Taliban are unlikely to compromise on their ultra-conservative Islamist ideology at home, they will ensure that Afghanistan is no longer used as a base for al-Qaeda attacks on foreign countries, according to Wassim Nasr, expert on jihadists at FRANCE 24 movements.
“The Taliban are definitely stronger than they were in the 1990s. They have more military and political experience. That doesn’t make them more open-minded. Al-Qaida provocation. They will keep them under control, “said Nasr.
Fight against the Islamic State Group
The Taliban have close ties with their long-standing jihadist partner. Internal documents show that all branches of al-Qaeda have pledged allegiance to the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan and al-Qaeda fighters participated in multiple fights in August 2021, Nasr said.
But the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) group has resulted in several countries relying on the Taliban to contain this new jihadist threat. Reports of the assassination of an IS group leader after the Taliban took over the prison show that Afghanistan’s new rulers are keeping their end of the deal – for now.
“If the Taliban prevent the IS group from spreading to Central Asia, the Russians will be happy. If they prevent Uyghurs from joining the IS group, the Chinese will be happy. The Americans will be happy, ”said Nasr.
Regardless of concerns about human rights violations, the Taliban 2.0 has found its ticket back to the international community.