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Who is smarter? Has the Taliban embraced use of the distinctly western Internet?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 17th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

It appears that the Taliban no longer outright bans such evil western devices as iPhones and the Internet, but is rather just slow to adapt them for their own causes. A problem now exists as it does for those making a blind date on the Internet as it does for conversations between Taliban officials online - is the person who says who they are really who they say they are?

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - On October 5, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan invited the Taliban to discuss the coalition's commitment to free speech in Afghanistan. The problem? No one could say with certainty the man summoned via Twitter was in fact a member of the Taliban.

An offer was made to Abdulqahar Balkhi, who describes himself as a "servant to the Islamic Emirate" behind the @ABalkhi account on the micro-blogging service. The account has engaged with this person in a series of back-and-forth online spats with Balkhi's account for over a year.

Balkhi sees it as his duty to "recover from the spiritual and material losses caused by three decades of war and invasion [in Afghanistan]" - 140 characters at a time.
  
The chief irony here is a short 10 years ago, under Taliban control, the internet, like many other forms of media, was banned in Afghanistan. The Taliban, and those said to be associated with them have since embraced digital media.

From iPhones, to Twitter, and even an online appeal for donations, "the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," as the group refers to itself, made a concerted effort to use online outlets to counter the actions of what it calls the "invaders" and " puppets" of the Afghan occupation.

Balkhi says the change in policy is indicative of a generational shift in the group.

"Our elders banned the internet since they did not fully understand the power of conveying the Prophet's message . There is recognition within the organization that all skills and experiences need to be utilized to support the Afghan people."

If the group does come back to power, Balkhi says they will not ban the internet, but will "filter out the filth of the West."

Balkhi's account was largely ignored outside the small, but active Afghan Twittersphere. But it gained international notoriety after a series of Taliban-orchestrated attacks rocked the Afghan capital in September 2011.

Skeptics point out that most people in the impoverished country of Afghanistan do not have internet access. Western intelligence analysts say appeals from Balkhi and his fellow Taliban "neti-zens" are probably falling on deaf ears.

The Taliban's conservative, rural base is mostly made up of individuals "who have little or no interest in things like social media," experts argue.

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