It was a glossy media operation that, in the amount of several years, morphed the Taliban’s accessible angel from a movement accepted for barbarous executions in football stadiums into a bandage of adolescent abandon fighters arena candid in the snow. Yet, the actuating rebranding attack which appropriate a added reasonable, added businesslike “Taliban 2.0,” may be alive aback to “Taliban 1.0,” a new, darker appearance akin its pre-9/11 heritage. While some may advance that the contempo images of beef crackdowns, beheadings of soldiers and bearded, bean faced hardliners appointed to government positions are misunderstandings, excesses committed during a accelerated takeover, or mistakes anon to be rectified, a afterpiece assay suggests this is purposeful. Pre-takeover, the Taliban 2.0 advice objectives were to actuate centralized and alien audiences that the alignment was reformed, liberal, affectionate and inclusive. Now they aim to intimidate, repress and control. Hardly a atypical approach, this has been the playbook for absolute regimes throughout history.
As I argued in the Washington Post in 2019, the Taliban were able to characterize themselves as patriots, accepted negotiators, leaders committed to animal rights and accessible to administer with a broad-based across-the-board government. They decried the bribery of the adopted government and corrective the aggressive as traitors and accoutrement of the occupiers. The “2.0” communications action had four capital objectives: first, to abrade the people’s acceptance in the government to aphorism candidly and accommodate security; second, to abrade the assurance of the Afghan armament by blame a anecdotal that presented the Taliban as militarily undefeatable; third, to acknowledge that a Taliban takeover was assured in the deathwatch of the Doha agreement; and last, to rebrand themselves as a added abstinent and adapted movement which would administer clearly and inclusively as able-bodied as account animal rights. This all accepted catnip to the Afghan bodies and an all-embracing association atrocious to withdraw, and alarming to the Afghan aegis forces. The collapse of the Afghan military, bound followed by a anesthetic takeover of the government, were in no baby allotment due to this able strategy.
On Aug. 17, Zabiullah Mujahid, the heretofore faceless Taliban agent with added than 300,000 Twitter followers, gave his aboriginal in-person columnist conference. Sitting abaft a belvedere and adverse dozens of microphones, Zabiullah promised the apple that the Taliban would account women’s rights and extend a absolution to “all those who fought adjoin us.”
Scarcely a ages later, the Taliban arise to be reneging on about every agreement to Afghans and the all-embracing community. Despite again assurances by brainy spokesmen such as Zabiullah and the Doha-based Suhail Shaheen, the anew formed Taliban administering is annihilation but broad-based and inclusive, nor acquire they apparent any absorption in advancement alike the best basal noncombatant liberties. With letters of women actuality whipped, and noncombatant executions, the anxiously crafted angel of Taliban 2.0 is more assuming cracks. The all-embracing community, still addled from the agonizing aborticide scenes and grappling with the access of refugees, helplessly watches from distant and choir “concerns,” proclaiming “conditions” and announcement that “they will be abstinent by actions, not words.”
But the all-embracing association needs to be careful. Interpreting the contempo bumbling, clumsy accessible angel as a assurance that the Taliban no best is anxious about its image, or that hard-liners acquire pushed abreast the aggregation who created the eyes of Taliban 2.0, is done at its peril.
As the Taliban circumscribed ascendancy over the country, either by force or through negotiation, the charge for affable alignment has been replaced by a charge for absolute chains to Taliban authority. The new attack sees no charge for actuating images or reasonable amusing media letters as the cold is no best to access or convince. The bulletin of liberation and amplitude during the attempt is extraneous and the axiological charge to consolidate ability is the new objective.
In this case, the post-takeover communications action targets the aforementioned centralized and adopted audiences, but the letters and objectives are badly different—and not antithetical to pre-9/11 Taliban objectives.
This new communications action has bristles above objectives: first, to appoint control; second, to authenticate the ability to annihilate any armed attrition from above aggressive or action movements; third, to accent new amusing norms throughout Afghan society; fourth, to absolute accent and demonstrations except that which amplifies the new cachet quo; and fifth, to beset the all-embracing association to acquire the new realities. So far, the Taliban assume to be succeeding.
It would be perilous for the all-embracing association to beguile itself into assertive that the Taliban are adaptable to access or affected to persuasion. Secretary Antony Blinken may accept that the Taliban seek alien angary and support, but there are no signs to date that the accumulation is modifying their behavior to acquire that legitimacy. Others may accept that the post-takeover images of killings and beatings, and the backbreaking behavior that band abroad hard-earned rights of the accomplished 20 years, are alone “mistakes” or “excesses of the alteration period.” But one can booty little alleviation from the actual annal of absolute victories. Whether the 1917 Russian Revolution, the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the 1996 takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, or array of added takeovers, coups and revolutions, it is the attenuate one that produces a moderate, across-the-board government that respects chargeless speech, animal rights, and aegis of minorities. That may acquire been the PR attack of Taliban 2.0, but the accepted communications attack suggests absolutely the opposite.
Tanya Goudsouzian is a Canadian announcer who has covered Iraq and Afghanistan for over fifteen years, and is above assessment editor of Al Jazeera English Online. Follow her on Twitter @tgoudsouzian.
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