Of late, the world has been shaken by what is happening in Afghanistan, a situation that we monitor not only with political and humanitarian eyes, but also from the standpoint of communication. What is the difference between the Taliban back in 2001 and today? Herman partner Dr. Dejan Verčič explains.
Terrorism is the deliberate use of violence to achieve communicative effect. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York and Washington was planned and carried out primarily as a television event. Six weeks later, US diplomat Richard Holbrooke publicly asked, “How can a man in a cave out-communicate the world’s leading communications society?” The Internet was still in its infancy at the time, but the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh) trained very quickly and set up a high-tech media operation, which was led by communicators who had been educated in the West (Great Britain and the USA).
Websites, blogs, vlogs, podcasts and more have upgraded social media. On Monday, August 16, 2021, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted to his account, which boasts 300,000 followers, “The situation in Kabul is under control.”
The Taliban won the information war, if not the kinetic war. NATO armies can physically wipe Afghanistan off the face of the earth, but spiritually they have never conquered it. The efficacy and efficiency of Taliban strategic communications is so good, particularly on social media that, on August 18, 2021, The Washington Post published an article in which Craig Timberg and Christiano Lima questioned whether it was possible for the Taliban to reach such high levels on social media without the participation of an international communications agency. The article sparked disquiet among American and British professional communications, though it is of course more likely that we are simply witnessing the globalisation of communication skills, with terrorist communication experts no longer needing to be educated in the West, but learning at wealthy universities in the Middle East, India, Pakistan or even China and Russia. The Internet has changed everything, including warfare. The Taliban that marched into Kabul in 2021 are the Taliban 2.0.
The Taliban won the information war, if not the kinetic war.