Afghans embrace social media as NATO pullout nears

Ten years after the fall of the Taliban, who banned modern technology as un-Islamic, the use of social media in Afghanistan is booming as politicians, warlords and even militants rush to get their message across.

The hardline Islamists who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and forbade the use of the Internet, deeming it a Western propaganda tool, now regularly use Twitter to promote their ideas and boast about attacks on NATO forces.

The militants are reluctant to discuss the thinking behind their Internet U-turn, but last year's Arab Spring was a wake-up call to the Muslim world about the ability of social media to organise mass movements and communicate a message outside traditional channels.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they would still ban the Internet or any other media outlet if they were used for "un-Islamic" purposes, but for now they are happy to use it as a public relations tool.

They have set up an official website featuring propaganda videos depicting their campaigns against US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, including scenes of attacks and bombings.

"The leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan regards social media, in particular Facebook, as a useful way to communicate and pass messages of the Islamic Emirate to Afghans as well as foreigners," Mujahid told AFP.

"In fact the commission for cultural affairs of the Islamic Emirate encourages our people inside and outside Afghanistan to use social media to pass our messages to the Afghan nation as well as to the Westerners.

"We know that Twitter is very popular among Westerners and we are using it to pass our message and philosophy to a different audience, including Westerners," he said.

Some two million people, less than 10 percent of the population, have computer access to the Internet, officials say, but the figure is rising and many more have access through the increasing use of smart phones.

The role of social media in the Arab Spring convinced one seasoned Afghan figure, Abdul Rashid Dostum -- a former warlord who now has an official Facebook and Twitter account -- said his aide, Homayoon Haqbeen.

Dostum, who is considered by many as the leader of Afghanistan's Uzbek minority based largely in the north, is also part of the National Front, a major political alliance planning a push for the presidency in 2014 elections.

The incumbent, President Hamid Karzai, is constitutionally not allowed to seek another term, but is expected to present and back a successor.

Homayoon said Dostum wants to get his message out to young, energetic and educated Afghan youths as well as to a Western audience.

"Nowadays you see that almost all the active politicians and many Afghans interested in politics are on Facebook or Twitter," he said.

Like the Taliban, Dostum knows that he can use the traditional channels of local elders and mullahs to address and mobilise poor and illiterate Afghans who make up most of the population in rural areas.

"We launch gatherings and rallies in some provinces, mainly rural areas to communicate and address those people who have no access to the Internet.

"But we see social media as an effective way to communicate our messages with the educated Afghans inside and outside the country, as well as with the European and Americans who are engaged or interested in Afghanistan's affairs."

With a presidential election due in 2014 -- the same year that NATO's 130,000 troops are due to withdraw -- a number of young Afghan MPs have already set up Facebook pages.

"As a member of Parliament I find Facebook a wonderful tool to communicate with people, I really like it, this is a great tool for politicians to promote their work and personality," said Afghan MP Houmaira Ayoubi.

"I am excited to see thousands of young and educated Afghan men and women inside and outside Afghanistan are using Facebook and Twitter to discuss the political situation in the country."

Ayoubi says watching the Arab Spring unfolding in the region gave her the idea to use social media to organise people in her constituency.

Afghans are also using Twitter and Facebook to bring about social change, particularly women, who are largely marginalised in what is a deeply conservative, male-dominated society.

A group called "Young Women For Change" recently opened Afghanistan's first women-only net cafe in Kabul, named after Sahar Gul, a 15-year-old child bride who was tortured and jailed by her husband.

While there are many Internet cafes in the Afghan capital, the group says women do not use them because they face male harassment.

"In addition to providing Internet access to women, we regularly hold training sessions for girls to teach them the importance of social media and how to use it in order to raise awareness about their rights," said Sahar Gul's Netcafe manager Tooba Ahmadyar.

She says though the move is largely symbolic, the opening of café may boost the morale of Afghan women.

"If the Arabs managed to use Internet to mobilize against dictators, we can use it to form a strong front of educated Afghan men and women to stand against the oppression and defend our rights", she said.


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Phl, Japan sign P9.6-B ODA projects
    Phl, Japan sign P9.6-B ODA projects

    The Philippines and Japan have signed agreements for six official development assistance (ODA) projects amounting to 22.289 billion yen or around P9.6 billion. …

  • Commission to launch glossary of Pinoy meteorological terms
    Commission to launch glossary of Pinoy meteorological terms

    The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) will release a glossary of meteorological terms in Filipino to help the Filipino people better understand weather forecasts and instill disaster awareness among them. National Artist for Literature and KWF president Virgilio Almario said yesterday the KWF produced the glossary titled Patnubay sa Weder Forkast to simplify scientific terms used in the weather bulletins of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration …

  • Divorce bill good scapegoat for couples – CBCP
    Divorce bill good scapegoat for couples – CBCP

    Contrary to what romance novel writers would want their readers to believe, there are no perfect marriages in the real world. This was according to Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas. In a statement titled “CBCP Position Against the Divorce Bill and Against the Decriminalization of Adultery and Concubinage,” Villegas said that while it is not easy to make relationships last, learning how to work out differences – and …

  • DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa
    DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa

    The defense department is holding off repairs and other planned infrastructure projects on Pag-Asa Island, one of seven islets and two reefs occupied by Filipino troops in the disputed Spratly Islands. Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario pointed out that the maintenance and repair of facilities in Pag-Asa Island are not covered by the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of parties involved in the West Philippine Sea territorial disputes. “Repair and maintenance is okay but before …

  • Blackout to hit 5 Aurora towns
    Blackout to hit 5 Aurora towns

    An 11-hour power outage will hit five towns in Aurora on Tuesday, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) announced yesterday. The NGCP said Baler, Dingalan, San Luis, Ma. Aurora and Dipaculao would be affected by the blackout. The NGCP said parts of Nueva Ecija and Aurora were hit by a power interruption yesterday due to the tripping of the Cabanatuan-Baler 69kV line. …

  • Rules set for climate change programs
    Rules set for climate change programs

    The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Climate Change Commission (CCC) have released the revised guidelines to track and monitor climate change adaptation programs of the government. “The government of the Philippines has demonstrated leadership and strong commitment in implementing a comprehensive reform agenda to respond to climate change,” read the joint memorandum circular published in The STAR yesterday. “With the goal of using the budget process to plan, prioritize and …

  • It’s time to move on– Speaker
    It’s time to move on– Speaker

    The nation can now move on as President Aquino has satisfactorily explained his side on the Mamasapano incident for which he even begged for understanding, lawmakers led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said yesterday. “It’s time to move on,” Belmonte said in reaction to Aquino’s pronouncements made before new police graduates at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) last Thursday. The President has spoken far too much about what he knows and about his limited involvement in the …

  • ToyotaPH continues it’s strong sales in February
    ToyotaPH continues it’s strong sales in February

    Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) sustains its strong sales in its February performance. Toyota’s strong performance last month was due to the  high demand of the Vios, with sales of 2,012 units and of course the rest of Toyota’s line up such as the Fortuner, Innova, Wigo, Hilux, Avanza and Corolla Altis. Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, recorded 60 units last month. …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options