Afghan youth debate Taliban over poetry and human rights on Clubhouse

Even as a series of fresh conflicts lay wreck to the discordant land of Afghanistan, a few young citizens have taken up a novel approach in confronting the Taliban threat in the country — social media. Young Afghans are reportedly engaging with the Islamist military organisation on the audio-based app Clubhouse to argue with its members and pitch counter-offensive tactics.

“Some say the Taliban have changed, but I wanted to hear from them, in their own voice, if they really have,” said Sodaba, a 22-year-old man from Kabul. Women’s rights are one of the several things he is concerned about in the evolving landscape of his country, and Sodaba wants to hear the Taliban’s views on it, straight from its members. He told the news agency AFP that he wanted to know if the Islamic fundamentalist group still held its “strict beliefs, especially on women”.

The Clubhouse audio app allows users to dip into “rooms”, either to listen or virtually put their hand up to speak in discussions, which according to the platform’s guidelines cannot be recorded nor comments quoted. Scores of youngsters in Afghanistan are now populating the platform with an intent to engage the Taliban in discussions.

Some of the popular topics include the Taliban’s view of the afterlife, how to have a happy relationship, and Persian poetry. Many have wanted to weigh in on the reasons behind the quick fall of rural districts to the militants, with dozens waiting for their turn to speak.

In a country riddled by insurgency, a platform for engaging with the Taliban in political discussions attracts the most listeners. The members of the Taliban sometimes moderate the chatrooms, and things may get heated up very fast as the proponents and critics clash on ideas, including war, human rights, and the role of women in society.

A few users are fearful that the Taliban is violating Clubhouse policies by recording conversations that can be used for future retribution. “The Taliban called me rude and cut my mic after I spoke the truth about them,” a user by the name of Haanya Saheba Malik tweeted. She later told AFP that the Taliban openly declared “those of us calling for human rights infidels and deserving of death.”

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid denied that threats were being made. The group, which has adopted an increasingly professional approach to public relations and social media, calls Clubhouse a “good platform to talk to and find understanding with those who oppose”.

The approach is a marked shift from the past when the Taliban rarely engaged in open discussion. However, such changes are only gradual in an ever-shifting technological landscape, with nearly half of Afghanistan’s 37 million residents now having access to the internet and 13 million using social media.