As war rages across the countryside, young Afghans plug in their headphones and log into the Clubhouse audio app to chat with the Taliban and initiate counteroffensive tactics.
Launched in the United States at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the platform acts like a giant conference call and first found popularity among American tech entrepreneurs as a discussion board for start-ups and crypto. -coins.
In a conflict zone, he may have the rare power to connect ordinary citizens with activists who engage in fear and destruction.
“Some say the Taliban has changed, but I wanted to hear them, with their own voice, if they really did,” Sodaba, 22, of Kabul told AFP.
With the almost complete withdrawal of foreign forces and NATO, the Taliban carried out a large offensive, seizing territory and raising fears of a military takeover.
Sodaba was particularly worried about whether the Islamic fundamentalist group still had “its strict beliefs, especially about women.”
“It’s an interesting way that allows ordinary Afghans to speak directly with the Taliban and the government in real time,” said Fahim Kohdamani, a Kabul-based political activist and author, who regularly hosts political debates on the platform. .
# photo1 ″ People are very worried about what will follow now that international troops leave Afghanistan. ”
Afghans in urban centers across the country have enjoyed a relative increase in social freedoms since the fall of the Taliban, but those gains are under threat as militants advance in several provincial capitals.
For women, concerns are magnified – the Taliban imposed a harsh version of Islamic law during their rule in the 1990s, which saw half the population confined to their homes.
“I saw that they didn’t allow people they considered opponents to speak up, and I even ridiculed a woman who asked about women’s rights,” Sodaba said.
– Heated debates –
Clubhouse allows users to tap into “rooms”, either to listen or to virtually put their hands in the air in discussions which, according to the platform’s guidelines, cannot be recorded or cited.
Some recent topics include the Taliban’s perspective on the afterlife, how to have a happy relationship, and Persian poetry.
Many wanted to influence the reasons for the rapid fall of rural neighborhoods to the hands of militants, dozens waiting for their turn to speak.
“One of the benefits of Clubhouse is that even people with less education can come and hear or have their voices heard,” Kohdamani said.
In a country eclipsed by an insurgency, talks about politics and the Taliban attract the most listeners.
# photo2 In a Taliban-run chatroom, activists praise their humanitarian values, assuring Afghans they want unity.
With sometimes as many as 100 listeners, things heat up quickly as supporters and opponents of the group argue over war, human rights and the role of women in society.
“The Taliban called me rude and cut my microphone, after I told the truth about them,” Haanya Saheba Malik tweeted.
“They want to chain women and restrict their human rights.
She then told AFP that she wanted to denounce the Taliban at Clubhouse: “They openly declared those of us calling for human rights infidels and deserving of death.”
Another critical group chat room opened soon after, inviting the Taliban to join a conversation they weren’t moderating.
One of the group’s activists signed up and was quickly bombarded with criticism.
But some users fear Taliban-moderated conversations, saying the group violates Clubhouse policies by recording conversations that can be used for future retaliation.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied any threats were made.
– Get their message across –
For the Taliban, who have taken an increasingly professional approach to public relations and social media, virtual chat rooms are a new way to get their message out.
Nearly half of Afghanistan’s 37 million people have access to the internet, 13 million of whom use social media, according to the government’s information technology ministry.
While Facebook is by far the most popular platform, Clubhouse seems to be growing rapidly.
“It’s a good platform to talk and find an understanding with those who oppose us,” Taliban spokesman Mujahid told AFP.
The Taliban have rarely engaged in open discussions in the past.
“However, they quickly joined Clubhouse to get in touch with people they usually avoid, perhaps because they see themselves on the verge of securing a military victory,” said Abdul Mujeeb Khelwatgar, leader of the group. defense of the NAI media.
But with little success so far, he added that “they may soon see Clubhouse as another outlet that should be avoided and banned.”
© 2021 AFP