By: The kabul Times
On Monday evening, June 31, after few Taliban fighters posed for some pictures at one of the entrance gates of Mazar-e-Sharif and posted them on social media, a commotion was prompted that the militants had reached the gates of the provincial center, one of the country’s largest and strategically important cities.
But in fact, the Taliban had no other intention than intensifying a propaganda and waging psychological war as the militants have not come to Mazar-e-Sharif to clash with security forces, because they know well that they are currently unable to fight and resist against government troops, but by posting a few photos on social media, they wanted to show themselves victorious.
The militants, as later observed, fled the area, after a quick response and strong supply troops from the country’s security and defense forces arriving at the scene.
The incident was a clear example of dozens of the groups’ psychological and propaganda warfare happened for few hours in their favor, especially on social media, with many users unwittingly and unknowingly being involved in republishing and re-sharing the pictures as much as they could. But a wave of support from the Afghan security forces and news of a mass mobilization against the insurgents changed the situation.
Motivation in war is considered as important as war, and psychological warfare has played long played role throughout the history of human wars, as in his book, “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu writes that the army is like a tool that fires a shot into the enemy’s brain that has already been vulnerable. Thomas Johnson at the beginning of the book, “Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict,” writes that the history of war shows that armed groups have created and published narratives to demoralize the other side’s fighters and build self-confidence for their own soldiers.
The warring parties have tried to prove by narration that they are in a higher morale position over their enemies and this morale justification helps a military force gain popular support to recruit easily.
Mr. Johnson, in the introduction to his book writes that NATO, the United States, and the Afghan government have lost this “battle of the story” to the Taliban in the last two decades. Now experts say that the Taliban have been successful in the propaganda war, and that the Afghan government has no strategic plan to win this battle, implement an effective counter-propaganda mechanism, and manage public opinion.
Ferdaws Kavush, a journalist and translator of The Taliban Narratives, told the Etilaat Ruz newspaper that according to security studies, 30 percent of Afghanistan-like wars are confrontational and military, and 70 percent are information, media and propaganda wars and added that all researchers agree that the propaganda aspect of all military operations in these wars is more important than its military effectiveness. Therefore, the propaganda and psychological aspects of the war are very important, and the Taliban are concentrating all their efforts on the propaganda and media aspects of the recent clashes. In recent weeks, security forces’ tactical withdrawal from some districts, the fall and surrender of the security forces under the title of ‘the targeted collapse of districts’ was widely published and propagated and the Taliban have intensified the group’s propaganda and information war in the media, especially on social media, using a variety of methods to spread the news.
The Taliban members, using fake accounts waged the group’s propaganda war on social media, mostly by immediately covering the news through text, images and videos and had for days controlled the virtual space.
The videos showed soldiers surrendering in groups to motorcyclists with advanced combat equipment and facilities and they released the videos with the message that the Taliban were in complete victory.
Same time, the group took a different approach, releasing surrendered soldiers and the fall of many of these districts did not remain unaffected by the Taliban’s propaganda war.
In return, the Afghan government information bodies did not share war related information and claims of districts collapses but kept silence in most cases that according to experts, this could itself change the atmosphere of propaganda war in the favor of the militants. According to Ahamd Zia Rafaat, lecturers at Faculty of Journalism, Kabul University, the government increased dissatisfaction of public districts with not shoring of information on its achievements and ultimately all pleasure due to unawareness of people from the gains of the government and ANSF created a fearful vacuum between people and government resulted in the benefit of Taliban. Ferdaws Kavush went on to say that was a reality in the collapse of districts that all should know that some of these district were besieged for many years and the security forces had dominated only a building. Following the NATO troops withdrawal, the government forces have to leave these building and collapse of districts was not unexpected but collapse of a building, collapse of a districts and serial collapse of districts were propagated and this shows that in psychological war the media atmosphere is in Taliban hand.
Why the government is weak in propaganda war?
At the conclusion of his book, Thomas Johnson wrote that success of Taliban propaganda campaign is to a large extend the effect of lack of an effective propaganda campaign by the Afghan government but reciprocally, the propaganda is part of Taliban strategy for reoccupation of Afghanistan.
A report of Administration Affairs of presidential office on action of the government information disseminating bodies and press section of department show that in total about 1000 people are working in press offices of 53 ministries or the central department and at least Afs. 300m are spent in press offices of central and provincial departments. This report confirms that despite of investment of multimillion Afghanis, the effectiveness and reputation of government information dissemination to people is in a very bad condition.
Ahmad Zia Rafaat said that due to lack of sufficient experts in press offices propaganda and liaison sections of government ministries and departments, the Afghan government yet lacks an effective strategic program on propaganda and liaisons. One of the government serious weaknesses in the field of military and other spheres is not sharing of information to people on its achievements that has increased the pressure of dissatisfaction of public opinion on the government.
Following the collapse of several districts by Taliban, the in-charges of security sector information dissemination branches particularly and the government in general were not ready in certain occasions to share information on the situation of the collapsed districts and even tried not to reflect the news of collapse.
For that purpose they forbidden members of provincial councils who were the only accessible sources of media and reporters to talk on security issues with media and press. Some certain senior government authorities not only didn’t provide information to people on security situation of the collapsed districts but also reacted inexpertly.
Rafaat said that considering the inclusiveness of media and social networks, the government can’t canceal realities like before. Therefore in such circumstances disclosing of realities is effective. It is the government task to say what has happened, what was the reason behind collapse of districts, what is the solution of their recapturing? Unfortunately in the last two weeks, senior government authorities have kept silent and this silence culminated in the benefit of Taliban.
What to do to weaken the Taliban propaganda war?
Ex-MoD spokesman Gen Zhir Azimi (RTd) explains that mobilization of public opinion in support of security forces, creation of spirit and incentive, legitimation and justification of war is of important objective of propaganda war. Counter propaganda is an efforts to fail enemies propaganda, weaken the spirit of enemy, and disclosing of the enemy’s nature, objective and dependency particularly clarification of the enemy efforts of subversive activities on today and future life of people.
Azimi adds that adopting of a scientific, effective inclusive, sufficient propaganda strategy has unquestionable relation with victory in war and could pave the way of national, regional and international support.
Experts say that weakening and defeat of Taliban propaganda war requires can strategic solution. In conclusion of his book. Thomas Johnson suggests, that now that NATO troops are leaving Afghanistan, it is a suitable opportunity that the Afghan government must adopt an attractive and acceptable narration to all and organize a propaganda campaign based on firm, strong and all attractive narrations to the people of Afghanistan so to succeed on Taliban.
Rafaat added that in recent days with sensitive security situation, security bodies were sufficient with releasing of short news and utterances of their spokesmen, but the situation required that senior authorities, the president vice president speak to people and inform society on security situation, advances, problems, solution and their potential measures. Spokesman of a department lack, essential reputation when he talks and addresses the public in such a sensitive situation to attract public opinion. In such occasion people are awaiting the leaders to say something. Unfortunately silence has dominated all those senior authorities.
People are such a capacity that should be skillfully exploited. People can play positive and negative role in propaganda war. The government as a leading organization should take initiative and mobilize people in the direction of national interests of Afghanistan.