Fear changes patterns and drives the end of Western symbols, less internet activity and the rise of religious programs
Half of the Afghan population did not know the first Taliban Emirate, a short period of government, but long in prohibitions, in force between 1996 and 2001 for the entire country. Then, among other proscriptions, it was a crime to watch television, watch movies or use the Internet, and women were confined at home, unable to study or work. On Tuesday, host Beheshta Arghand interviewed Mawlawi Aldulhaq, one of the spokesmen for the extremists, on the private television network Tolo.
Perhaps something has changed over the past two decades; perhaps the radicals are aware that society has changed and are facing other times. Now, not necessarily better. There is a suspicion that the new authorities are tracking the houses with lists of names taken from social networks. The seven million native cyber surfers, a fifth of the population, are struggling to erase their tracks, although, possibly, it is too late.
The Asian country may seem anchored in a diffuse Middle Ages, but modernity has also reached the foothills of the Himalayas. Globalization, the 4G network, Turkish series and Netflix have been introduced among large sectors of the population, young and urban. The Tolo channel was created in 2004 by Saad Mohseni, an Australian of Afghan origin, and a year later it began to broadcast Ariana Television Network, an initiative of the Englishman Ehsan Bayat, also the son of exiles. In addition to a public broadcasting station, there are hundreds of local radio and television stations, and 53% of Kabuli households have a screen. During their first stage of government, the fundamentalists requisitioned the monitors and, after destroying them, piled them up in unique cathode towers. Instead, five years ago, the Taliban themselves launched Alemarah, an app that Google quickly withdrew.
The introduction of a regime pivoted in faith and oblivious to worldly temptations would require a general blackout of all telecommunications. Following the radical triumph, current programming in Afghanistan opts for religious themes and in some areas mobile phone supplies have been cut, but it is not yet a widespread practice. Could Afghanistan isolate itself further from the rest of the planet? Colonel Pedro Baños, an expert in Intelligence and jihadist terrorism, assures that the information blockade would be feasible and has already been carried out successfully in countries such as North Korea. But there are drawbacks. “The new Taliban are intelligent, they know languages and have been trained abroad and they try to wash their image with open winks because they need foreign economic aid,” he argues while not ruling out the emergence of cyber resistance.
The woman has not yet completely abandoned the public space, but her representation is in retreat. The shops make female portraits disappear for fear of that iconoclastic fury that was carried away by the giants of Bamiyan. The new authorities aspire to impose a social homogenization in a multi-ethnic country. “Closing it physically is very difficult and has been achieved by force and temporarily,” says the Spanish military. “Only the Pashtuns, the ethnic group to which the radicals belong, has 60 tribes and 300 sub-tribes whose members only obey their respective mullah.”
The imposition of a code of conduct ‘manu militari’ has not been immediate, but there is the conviction that it will be instituted by that Shura of Quetta, the Taliban leadership in exile in Pakistan. Measures such as the veto of university women or public employees will be generalized and there are voices in the field of cooperation that suggest that, in the near future, women will only have access to some areas of education and Health, as has happened. in areas where extremists maintained their authority.
Some exterior signs show what is to come. The dapper Abdullah Abdullah, formerly head of the Executive and now head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, a transitional body, has changed his suits for the ‘shalwar kameez’, the traditional dress consisting of a camisole and baggy pants. The measure, also assumed by the majority of the population, reflects the preventive conduct in these times of distress in which the patrols monitor and arbitrarily arrest. For this reason, the streets are no longer protesting against closed bank branches, the more westernized stores have eliminated all signs of modernity, there is hardly any female presence and they even conduct themselves more discreetly. Hair salons seem doomed to closure because men must cover their heads and not shave.
Modernity, in retreat
Modernity is in retreat in Afghanistan, by all indications. “But, before analyzing the process, we should point out that this condition, understood as plurality and consumption of cultural goods, was not as established there as in the West. In many cases, their fall implies a return to a previous situation. Values are relieved by force of arms. “We can go back to the past if a tyrannical power decides to impede progress,” warns sociologist Mariano Urraco, a professor at Udima in Madrid. The barbaric example of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia highlights this possibility. “Another question is whether this statism would be eternal in the face of the subterranean dynamics of change, the demands of the new generations and geopolitical circumstances,” he adds.
A place on a plane to flee and keep a low profile or hide are the options of those who believed in a democracy that has already been blown up as a political system. And although there have been demonstrations in numerous capitals, Urraco believes that international public opinion has not mobilized with the dimension that this disturbing panorama seems to require. «It is contradictory. We have taken to the streets for less important issues. In some cases it has to do with the fear that these individuals inspire.