In an April 21 tweet, Inamullah Samangani, a deputy spokesman in the Taliban government, announced a cabinet decision to instruct the Ministry of Communications to block a South Korean videogame and TikTok, which he said “misleads the younger generation.”
TikTok, an extremely popular video-driven social network, is the brainchild of Chinese technology company ByteDance. The service has run into a fair share of bans, most significantly by India in 2020. Pakistan has waffled between blocking and unblocking the app over the past two years, like the Taliban concerned with “immoral and unlawful” content. An effort by then-U.S. President Donald Trump to ban the app in 2020 — in which he labeled it a national security threat due to its Chinese parent company — ultimately failed.
As Ali Latifi chronicled for Insider last year, TikTok, Instagram, and other social media platforms provided an avenue for Gen Z Afghans to flourish as creators and influencers, while promoting a modern perspective on the full diversity of what it meant to be Afghan. Published in March 2021, the article now reads as a bittersweet glimpse of an Afghanistan that doesn’t exist anymore.
The Taliban’s decision to bother with banning TikTok serves to underscore their asinine emphasis on matters of morality (morality as the Taliban perceive it, at least) when many Afghans are concerned with simply staying alive.
Samangani’s tweet came on the same day as a series of explosions in Afghanistan killed at least 10 in a Mazar-i-Sharif mosque and injured a truckload of mechanics in Kunduz. A car bomb in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood injured two children just two days after multiple explosions in the neighborhood targeted schools and educational institutions. And last week, cross-border air strikes by Pakistan in Khost killed at least 47, including women and children. The recent bombings have not been claimed; Pakistan said its strikes targeted “terrorists” who are “using Afghan soil with impunity to carry out activities inside Pakistan.”
While poverty and hunger continue to deepen in the country, the Taliban recently banned the growing of poppies. William Byrd, a senior Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told VOA: “This is a crazy policy at the worst possible time.” Without a plan for replacement crops (none of which capture as high a price as poppy), thousands of Afghan farmers could be put out of business.
And last month the Taliban walked back a promise to allow girls to attend school past the sixth grade on account of “a technical issue of deciding on form of school uniform for girls.” Once again, a morality issue trumped a political savvy decision: Allowing girls to attend school is a major demand of the international community, including development institutions struggling to find ways to work with the Taliban government.
Blocking girls from school and youth from watching TikToks isn’t going to help feed people, and it’s not going to convince the international community to recognize the Taliban government or unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets, either.
The 2019 Survey of the Afghan People conducted by the Asia Foundation found that only 14.4 percent of Afghans used the internet as a source of news and information. But among the 29.7 percent of survey respondents who had access to the internet, “the most common activities include Facebook and other social media (70.6%) and keeping up with the news (41.1%).”