Category Archives: Taliban Propagation

Mullah Omar’s Eid Message

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published on Sept 07, 2011

An Eid message on behalf of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar has been released by the propaganda website of the Islamic Emirate. The Al-Emara website claiming to represent the shadow Islamic Emirate of the Taliban has been very active with propaganda reports and disinformation. Though they are much updated about attacks, and post news reports mixing the content with some true information and more-than-half propaganda, I have rarely taken Al-Emara seriously.

They publish posts in five languages: Pashtu, Dari, Urdu, Arabic and English. I have always doubted those who are behind the online propaganda forums and twitter account of the Taliban are based across the border in Chaman or some other Pakistani city. NDS had told the media recently about many Zabihullah Mujahids, who talk with journalists and spread the Taliban propaganda regularly from Chaman city. Otherwise, how could one believe that the US intelligence agencies and NATO forces would have been unable to trace their calls and locations?

Starting with triumph tales of Taliban, the one-eyed Amir-ul-Momaneen’s Eid greetings was more of a policy speech, in which he is using a different language. There is no criticism of the Karzai Administration, talks have not been denied, and he also ‘assures’ the Taliban government will be a ‘pure Islamic system’ inclusive of all ethnic groups and segments of the Afghan society.

Apparently it sounds an all-optimistic message, but not really. The first reaction I read was from Ahmed Rashid. Recently he has been sounding more like a Taliban apologist than an analyst. Reading his blog post on New York Review of Books, one thought as if the Taliban had taken a 180 degree u-turn, and Ahmed Rashid is all-out optimistic about the process of talks.

He says, “Coming at a time when violence is at its worst and bloodshed in Afghanistan being committed both by US forces and the Taliban, this message seems a hopeful sign that talks and a negotiated settlement to end the war are a possibility.” But just a few days later, in a talk at the War Studies Department of Kings College London on Monday, he expressed different views in contradiction to his writings.

The statement on behalf of Mullah Omar was indeed their propaganda at its best. The long message is sub-headlined in different parts addressing all the people of Afghanistan, Afghan Diaspora, writers, students, journalists, Taliban Jihadis and those in Government administrations.

It tells us the ‘military’ success of Taliban against coalition and Afghan forces saying the Badr Operation this year has been the most successful, inflicting huge physical and material loss to ‘the enemy’. It doesn’t mention the Afghan Government in particular, but the word ‘enemy’ is used for the international troops as well as Afghan administration. The statement says, “the extermination of high level officials of the enemy both in north and south of the country, …give us a good news of an imminent victory and a bright future.”

It is clearly pointing to the serial assassinations of high-profile Afghan officials, including the brother of President Karzai. I don’t understand what is positive to Ahmed Rashid, when the US and Afghan Government lobbies at the UN to remove Taliban names from terrorist sanctions list, separates them from Al-Qaeda, but the response is a terror campaign of targeted-killing of the Afghan officials. President Karzai has ordered release of hundreds of notorious Taliban militants from prisons, but Mullah Omar ‘warns’ officials of the Karzai Administration to “join” and “support” the Taliban.

Mullah Omar announced “the Jihad will continue unabatedly” even after the withdrawal of bulk of US troops announced by President Obama. He added that “the presence of foreign invading troops…is the cause of current imbroglio in the country.” The esteemed Amirul Momaneen should tell us, why Taliban provided safe havens to foreign Arab Jihadis? They were invaders on this land for a large part of the population. One should ask him, why the US troops came to Afghanistan in the first place? Contrary to the propaganda that Mullah Omar wants the people of Afghanistan to believe, it was because of him that the US troops had to come to Afghanistan to fight international terrorists and their Taliban hosts.

When the Bush Administration asked Mullah Omar to handover Osama bin Ladin after 9/11, why did he reject? He is saying all those who take part in the process of approving US military presence either through a Jirga or parliament are traitors. What about those who not only approved the presence of foreign Jihadis in Afghanistan, but also provided them with free hand in using Afghanistan as a launching pad for terrorism around the globe.

Today Afghans visiting any country—including the so-called Muslim Ummah leaders who were early financiers and diplomatic supporters of the Taliban—are suspects and doubted for terrorism; we suffer all this humiliation around the world because of the deeds of Taliban and Mullah Omar.

Should we believe Mullah Omar and the Taliban, whom we have experienced for a dark era, with one statement on internet? If they are against foreign presence, Mullah Omar in his next message of Eid-ul-Azha must denounce all international terrorists in Afghanistan announcing disassociation of the Taliban with Al-Qaeda and other terror networks via a public statement, with an honest addition of apology from the nation for the atrocities we experienced under their rule. But it doesn’t exclude them from trials and accountability for the war crimes.

Today Mullah Omar is assuring us that people of all ethnicities will have share in power and the “Islamic Emirate” will have peaceful relations with regional countries and the world. How to believe this? Without the intervention and presence of foreign troops, Afghanistan would have been under an absolute and dark rule of Taliban with a graveyard peace until today, and millions of Afghan taking refuge in other countries. The American intervention in Afghanistan has been more than a blessing to get rid of a terrorist state and government, for the anti-Taliban constituency and peace loving progressive people of Afghanistan.

The people of Afghanistan never want to go through the nasty experience of a dark period under the Islamic Emirate once again. The day Mullah Omar released a statement with a logo of’ Islamic Republic’, it will be considered a change in their mindset, and we can hope for an intra-Afghan debate about a future with Taliban being part of the democratic process and system, otherwise the Eid message is nothing more than another piece of propaganda from Al-Emara websites.


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Taliban Denial of Talks

Daily Outlook op-ed published July 26

A latest Taliban video released by the Al-emara studio has been uploaded online. The 45 minutes video features attacks, RPG firings, blasts and interviews of Taliban commanders in Kunar province. It focuses on the talks about talks with Taliban, strongly denying the media reports that some Taliban officials had direct talks with the US. The overall message and theme of the video is mainly rebuttal of reports on Taliban talks, saying its war propaganda by the US. The video also asks media not to report on these false claims. It also features Taliban songs praising their Al-Badar operations started in spring this year.

The video starts with a statement saying the reports of talks with Taliban are a war tactic and propaganda. It further says the US on one hand talks about negotiations with Taliban, while on other hand there are discussions of long-term military presence in Afghanistan. It asks, how could talks be possible in such a condition? The video message requests international media not to report about the false propaganda spread by the CIA through its favorite American outlets.

It’s not the first time Taliban propaganda cell, al-emara or their so-called spokesmen have made such claims. However, it’s new that al-emara has particularly focused their video release on the talks with US, with interviews of Taliban commanders about this. The video is apparently in Kunar, and commanders interviewed are fighters from there. Al-emara does not mention Taliban or particular militant groups in their statements or messages. They use the word “Mujahideen” for themselves. Therefore, it is not clear whether the commanders are from the Al-Qaeda affiliate Haqqani Network, or Taliban’s Quetta Shura.
The reports about direct talks between the US and Taliban in Munich made headlines in local media in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In recent weeks, Taliban propaganda sources have been denying those reports. The name mentioned in these reports is of Sayed Tayeb Agha, Mullah Omar’s personal secretary. It was reported that he has been meeting American officials in Munich and Doha with the approval of Mullah Omar. It could be possible that the Taliban leadership involved in talks have kept it secret from their field commanders, or simply do not want to admit before they reach to a conclusion.

The reports of talks have already created an atmosphere of distrust among the ranks of mid-level Taliban leadership. In recent months, we have witnessed scores of Taliban fighters laying down their arms and joining the peace process in different parts of the country. One reason for Taliban propaganda cells to deny the direct talks could be to end the distrust spread among their commanders by calling the talks a CIA-propaganda.

Recently in a trip to Quetta, brother of a Taliban commander in Zabul, my home province, told me there is a “martyr” from every Noorzai and Kakar tribe of the province, “how could Amir-ul-Momineen end all our efforts in a deal”, he responded to my question about the direct talks of Tayed Agha with the US officials. “If he [Mullah Omar] had to do this, he should have handed over Osama to America in 2001”, he told angrily.

Even if the Taliban leadership of the Quetta Shura approve of talks, there will be many elements among their own commanders to oppose such a move. However, if the leadership council comes to an understanding, such elements won’t be influential to keep the entire insurgency strong.

The denials such as the latest al-emara video could also be propaganda by Al-Qaeda to disrupt the process of talks, before it makes an initial success. Most Jihadi online propaganda forums and websites are run by Al-Qaeda elements, and al-emara is part of that. It’s obvious that Al-Qaeda will fiercely resist the US and Afghan Government attempts to separate Taliban from them. Those Taliban who have been named in media reports to have talked directly with the US will be a high target of Al-Qaeda. They might have already launched the strategy to fail such attempts, and create hurdles in talks with Taliban by all means, including disinformation propaganda.

However, if the reports of direct talks are to be believed, the process is very slow. It has been almost a year now, since the first these meetings were reportedly held. If after several meetings and direct talks, there is no sign of a progress, I am skeptical of any such hope in future. Contrary to what should have happened, we witness a rise in suicide attacks, and assassinations of Afghan officials claimed by Taliban. If there is any possibility of success on talks, the process should not have been a unilateral appeasement of the insurgents through moves like the names of more than a dozen former Taliban being delisted from the UN sanctions list, but in response, Taliban increasing suicide attacks and terror campaign.

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Taliban Continue the Terror

My op-ed column on Outlook Feb 15

Heart cries for the five kids and widow of the security guard who, along with his fellow guard, was killed by suicide bomber yesterday in the attack on Kabul City Center. Heartfelt tributes to the brave souls who stopped the Taliban bombers from entering the famous shopping mall at the heart of Kabul. One of the guards was the lone breadwinner of his family, five kids and wife. Soon after the attack, there was a Breaking News statement on the website of Taliban in Pashto, giving details of the bomber who had blown up himself. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid sent cell phone text messages to reporters claiming responsibility for the attack. The statement on Al-emarah website published as Breaking News says Zabihullah from Badakhshan made the first attack on the “security post” and killed one. “Three other bombers, Alam Gul, Hamidullah and Janat Gul gunned down the security guards,” says the Taliban statement adding that “the invaders have been saying Mujahideen cannot carry such attacks.”

Yesterday’s attack comes two weeks after the suicide bombing of Finest Market in Kabul, where an entire Afghan family of six and several others were killed. Both attacks targeted the famous shopping centers of the city and the targets were innocent civilians. It’s not new that Taliban send suicide bombers to blow up among crowd of innocent civilians.

While reading the Taliban Breaking News statement, watching the horrors of yesterday’s attack on TV and listening from friends who had come from the scene, I thought of the Live debate on 1TV in Kabul recently, in which the host Sami asked “Are the Afghan forces ready to take over the security responsibilities?” with an instant reply of General Murad Ali, commander of ground forces of ANA saying “YES!”. The “Yes” is not what I want to mention here, but a question asked by a woman in audience right after the “YES” of General Murad. “You can’t even secure the capital despite the presence of thousands of foreign forces. How will you secure the country when they leave?”, asked the woman in that televised debate attended by Afghans, men and women, young and old, having their concerns heard.

The security concerns about the capabilities of Afghan forces after 2014 drawdown and withdrawal deadline is a topic that needs many more such public and experts’ debates, but what I want to further quote from the 1TV live debate is the part of discussion about “Taliban are our brothers”. One of the audience had said, “The Taliban are our bothers” referring to the general perception of some who believe the insurgents are just a bunch of common people like us, but have chosen to fight for their angers. But I am glad there were people in the audience who think otherwise. That “brother” comment by a man had quite enraged many, mostly women, in the audience. One of them, a woman named Khatera, asked “how can you call Taliban our brothers? They have no respect for anyone. They want war and not peace. What will be our future if they come back to power?” It represents the deep concerns of absolute majority of Afghan women–half of our population–who never get their voice heard through media to the policy makers in Kabul and Washington. Majority of the people in audience, men and women, talked against the Taliban.

Actually the phrase “our brother Taliban” has been used many times by President Karzai while asking the insurgents to join the negotiations process, but each time his request has been responded by a suicide attack either in Kandahar or Kabul. What is weird is that President Karzai has even used the phrase “our brothers Taliban” while addressing ceremonies of Defense Ministry or Afghan National Army. Our soldiers are trained against the “enemy”—Taliban whom the Afghan security forces are trained and supposed to fight—yet their Commander-in-Chief calls them “our brothers”, which creates an absolute confusion in the minds of our soldiers about whom are their enemy and whom “brothers” leaving them with confusion about the very basic ideology and understanding of enemy.

The civil society, Afghan human rights organizations and activists should engage public about denouncing Taliban atrocities. After each suicide attack killing innocent civilians, leaving kids orphaned and women widowed, it strongly calls for conscience of those calling Taliban “our brothers”. Brothers never blow up among their own brothers. It’s obvious that the silent majority of Afghans not only strongly denounce the merciless bloody suicide attacks of Taliban, but also most hate the medieval Taliban views about education, women rights, and other social liberties. We, the Afghan opinion makers, human rights activists and members of civil society should engage and encourage people to express their concerns and condemnation, which they mostly prefer not to utter because of the fear of Taliban intimidation. But how long will we fear them keeping silence against their atrocities?

Hours before the suicide attack on Kabul City Center, Taliban released a statement calling the people to revolt against the Government as the Egyptians did against Hosni Mubarak. The statement said Taliban prays to Allah to grant further success to Egyptians to succeed in establishing an independent “Islamic” government. It seems that the Taliban did not follow the Al-Jazeera Arabic coverage of the uprising in Cairo; otherwise they would have seen the Christian and Muslims hand-in-hand on Tahrir Square for democracy in their country, not a Taliban-like Sharia State. Seems like they have missed the Arabic live interviews of men and women Egyptians from Cairo denouncing the myth expressed by some Western pundits that Muslim Brotherhood will come to power after the uprising, or that Islamist organization has any role in the uprisings.

The Taliban statement also predicted of “a popular uprising, if god willing” in Afghanistan. It doesn’t suit Taliban talking of “popular uprising” or public reaction, because they believe in violence, suicide bombing of civilian places to spread terror, not a peaceful democratic struggle. They shy away from the fact that the uprising in Egypt is a slap on the face of Islamic fundamentalists by the silent majority of Muslims choosing to stage a peaceful protest for weeks, despite the state-violence, to express their anger and demand for change which ensures civil liberties and freedom of expression, that Taliban doesn’t believe on. Seems like Taliban didn’t watch or read about the young male and female Egyptians demanding democracy, not a Totalitarian Sharia State which the people of Afghanistan experienced under Taliban for a dark period of our history, or they are distorting facts about the Egypt events for their propaganda.

At the conclusion of the statement, Taliban call the people to stand for a popular Islamic revolution. If it was the public desire, why millions of people escaped the country under their dark period? Why thousands of Afghans fought against the totalitarian Taliban regime for their rights? Or else, the Taliban mean to say that their takeover was not an Islamic revolution, which they have been claiming previously, it was.

The last sentence of the Taliban “appeal” says, “The Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are at your service and side.” Then people would ask, what is your agenda with the years of suicide attacks killing thousands of innocent Afghan civilians, mostly children and women? The latest of which at Kabul City Center comes at the same time with your appeal to masses. The answer is Taliban stands for Terrorism, and they must be defeated!

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Protest Civilian Casualties by Taliban!

An Afghan offering tea to a US soldier. Online Photo

The UN report says 2009 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2001 and Taliban are responsible for majority of civilian casualties. The report by UNAMA says 2,412 civilians were killed in 2009 and 3,566 wounded, showing an increase of 14 per cent compared to last year. The report finds that Taliban IED and suicide attacks killed three times more civilians than the victims of the US, NATO and Afghan National Security Forces operations.

It has been the course during the last eight years of conflict in Afghanistan that most of the civilian casualties are caused by insurgents, but their media propaganda is so effective that almost all blame goes to foreign and Afghan troops. During this year there were most brutal incidents including the beheadings of over 20 labors by Taliban on the way between Qandhar to Herat.

But the “public” attitude was totally different towards the incidents of civilian casualties caused by foreign or Afghan troops’ operations and those hundreds butchered by Taliban attacks. It’s obvious that most of civilian casualties by troops are suspicious due to no free media reporting from the place of incident. Taliban killed in any insurgent stronghold are people of the same village, thus considered local and labeled civilian. There have been many such cases. Most of the time, its Taliban that use civilians as shelter in combats with foreign and Afghan troops. They do so intentionally to cause civilian deaths thus create hatred among local populations against foreign troops. Militants have been quite successful in their “civilian casualty” strategy with a successful media war. The firsthand reports that get published on national and international print and electronic media about any incident in Afghanistan are based on statements of militants with huge exaggerations and mostly fake. While troops have a proper process of investigations, by then media commentaries make it easy for militants to win the psychological battle among public.

Most of the times people are even afraid to raise fingers against militants. There have been several protest demonstrations on controversial cases of civilian deaths, but not a single rally against Taliban asking them to stop butchering people! Our national media is not playing its due role in highlighting the atrocities of Taliban. In order to win hearts and minds, awareness has to be created about the atrocities that Taliban is committing, including for the countless civilians that have died in their suicide-attacks.

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Terrorists Are Winning the Media War

Also published on

The Taliban and al-Qaeda are achieving their goal of asserting a false sense of their strength, and are increasingly finding wider-outlets to disseminate their message. Furthermore, the US intelligence apparatus is failing to handle the situation. A strong local media campaign to counter that of the terrorists is urgently needed.

The attack on the CIA Station in the Khost Province of Afghanistan last week, in which seven agents were killed, is the worst in the agency’s history since the Beirut Attacks. American intelligence officials have confirmed that the suicide bomber was a double agent. The 36-year old Jordanian doctor, Humam Balawi was recruited as an informant who claimed to provide information about top Al-Qaeda leadership. Soon after the incident, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. In a media statement, they claimed the bomber was a “loyal” officer of the Afghan Army.

The bloody attack, besides proving the presence of Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, also shows how militants use strategic communication as part of their psychological war-tactic. Identifying the bomber as an Afghan Army soldier was a strategic move. Before it was confirmed the bomber was a Jordanian, media outlets quickly leaped to the conclusion that henceforth the Afghan Army and foreign troops would become more hesitant to cooperate, particularly in the field of intelligence sharing. This was exactly what the Taliban was hoping for: by identifying the bomber as an Afghan soldier the terrorists wanted to create an atmosphere of doubt between the Afghan Forces and the foreign troops. The Taliban’s false claim was also aimed at terrifying the locals by showing how strong they are.

Terrorists have been effectively using the media as part of their strategic communication. In addition, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have also been using other means of communication to propagate their message among their target-audience, categorized as Muslims and the western world. Following the 9/11 attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorist groups have increasingly used online publication, with video footage of attacks now being common place. Top Al-Qaeda leaders have been emphasizing that the media war is no less important than the military war against the “infidels.” In a letter to former Iraqi Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, second in command after Bin Ladin, wrote: “We are in a battle and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media…we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our people.”

A couple of months ago, the Taliban released their first video message in Urdu, with English subtitles, which indicates they are now trying to reach an even wider audience. The same is happening in Afghanistan where militants release their statements in different national languages. They also often present their messages in the pretext of Qura’ani verses and jurisprudence, to capture the hearts and minds of the illiterate mass population by portraying their terrorist activities as legitimate.

Initially, Al-Jazeera was the only channel that aired militant messages and footages of terrorist attacks; but the competitive nature of the media spectrum, both print and electronic, has made it easy for terrorists to find outlets for their messages. Media organizations are now even competing to get hold of such videos or messages that are guaranteed to attract a large viewership. But terrorists are also perfectly able to release their videos and online magazines themselves, and often possess knowledge of the latest technologies.

Sometimes terrorists intentionally claim responsibility for an attack they have not carried out. A couple of months ago, Baitullah Mehsood — the Pakistani Taliban leader who was killed in a US drone attack — claimed his men were behind the attack in an immigration center in New York. Security officials rejected the claim saying a Vietnamese man had carried out the attack. Such fake claims aim to, and are often successful at terrorizing the local people.

Today Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership are almost continuously on the run. The Al-Qaeda leadership is now devoting more of its time to escape attacks, than to releasing new video message on the internet or Al-Jazeera. In fact, the so called success of the insurgency in Afghanistan is often exaggerated largely due to the militants’ flourishing media war.

To counter the strategic communication of militants, a mass media campaign among a common audience in Afghanistan and Pakistan is needed. In order to win hearts and minds, awareness has to be created about the atrocities the Taliban is committing, including the countless civilians that have died in their suicide-attacks.

The attack on the CIA station shows the lack of intelligence proficiency of the US and NATO in Afghanistan and the success of terrorists’ psychological warfare. How could a former Al-Qaeda agent, who was even jailed in Jordan, go without screening before becoming an informant for the CIA? In a recent report, Major General Michael Flynn, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence in Afghanistan for the US forces, said “The US intelligence community [in Afghanistan] is ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers.”

The lack of active intelligence gathering on the ground has been one of the major reasons behind the failure to capture Al-Qaeda kingpins who are still roaming around the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. How could the CIA and MI6, with their extensive involvement in Afghanistan during the “Jihad Era” against the Soviet Union, be so inefficient in Afghanistan in the post-9/11 era?

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Atrocities of Militants Should be Highlighted

Strategic communication has been one of the significant priorities for the international Jihadi terrorists. Al-Qaeda and Taliban have been using media and other means of communication to propagate among the mass of their aimed audience categorized as Muslims and the western world. Following the 9/11 attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorists have been increasingly dependent on strategic communication and propagation in mass media. Al-Qaeda even established its broadcasting unit under the brand name of Al-Hasab, which aired regular statements of top Al-Qaeda leaders, attacks on foreign forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Suicide bombers used to tape their “message” before leaving to the “divine mission”. Top Al-Qaeda leaders have been emphasizing that media war is not less important than the military war against the “infidels”.

With the passage of time, experience and knowledge of the latest technology, terrorists started releasing video tapes including statements and footages of attacks on their “missions”. Initially they used to communicate their videos and messages through media, print and electronic broadcasting. But with the pace of time, they used to more depend upon online resources. Internet once became on the most significant mean of propagation and “expression” for Jihadi terrorists. For the first time in around 2005 an online Jihadi terrorist magazine was published. Following this, many Jihadi groups other than Al-Qaeda and Taliban, started using media as part of their strategic mean for an effective propaganda.

Whenever there is a civilian causality, terrorists use such incidents as a tool for their propagation among masses to legitimize their activities and recruit human resource.  There are five Jihadi websites. Taliban have their own website operating in five languages. Al-Qaeda has its own. They release messages and videos. In a recent move, Taliban terrorists have published large copies of a booklet “Code of Ethics for Mujahideen” which includes guidlines for Taliban fighters.

The recent video of the kidnapped US soldier, in which he was asking his fellow Americans to pressurize the Government for withdrawal of forces was an example of terrorists’ propagation to influence their western targeted audience.

In response, there is not much efforts from the Afghan Government, or other forces fighting in Afghanistan. They should have run a media campaign to show masses the brutality of Taliban. It can influence the mindset of people and win hearts and minds.

A recent poll shows a sharp increase in the public opinion against Taliban in Pakistan. The polling project by the University of Maryland says 81 percent of common Pakistanis view militants as a serious threat to their country. In response to questions regarding Afghanistan and Taliban, 87 percent thought Taliban fighting against the Afghan Government should not be allowed to establish camps and bases.

The NATO and Afghan Government should highlight the propagation of Taliban and there should be a stronger counter media attack.  People should know the fact that Taliban have killed larger number of civilians. The U-turn  in Pakistani public opinion is due to the extensive media support of the military offensive. TV channels’ anchor persons and programmers repeatedly talked about the atrocities of Taliban, thus the vast perception of the mass population about the war was totally changed against Taliban. A similar effort is needed for Afghan media outlets, TV channels and newspapers. Such sources should educate Afghans about the brutality of Taliban and their devilish aims.

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