A Taliban fighter in Afghanistan in 2013. Image by Newsonline available at Flickr.com under CC license.
In recent days, the Taliban’s seizure of control in Afghanistan and its capital, Kabul, amid the rapid withdrawal of US military forces has topped the international news headlines, prompting concerns about possible reprisals on the local population from the Islamic militant group. In remarks yesterday, UN Secretary General António Guterres said he had received “chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights” across the country.
For its part, China, which in recent weeks has closely engaged with the Taliban, even hosting a delegation in the city of Tianjin in late July, seemed to embrace developments in Afghanistan. Asked at a press conference yesterday how China viewed events in the country, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (华春莹) responded by saying, as though change had not been brought about by armed Taliban fighters: “We respect the will and choice of the Afghan people.”
But one of the oddest responses came yesterday in a post by the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party to its official Weibo account. At 3PM Beijing time, the People’s Daily issued a post titled, “What Kind of Organization is the Taliban” (塔利班是什么组织) in which it briefly described the origins and development of the organization. The post suggested the Taliban had arisen as a group comprising “students in refugee camps” (难民营的学生). The Taliban had begun, it said, as a group of around 800 people, but then had grown owing to popular support. “Because it received the support of the poor,” the People’s Daily Weibo post said, “the strength of the Taliban grew dramatically.”
The post quickly rose to the top of the trending posts roster, becoming the fifth-ranked post on Weibo by late afternoon yesterday. It also quickly drew the ire of many internet users in China, who viewed it as a whitewash of an organization with a violent past.
“Why no mention of terrorism?” one user asked in a Weibo comment on the post. “So it’s a good thing to behead people?” Another asked, referring to frequent reports of such conduct from the group in the past. A third user wrote: “You endorse such an anti-human regime. How true to form!”
Referring to the destruction by the Taliban in 2001 of the famed Bamiyan Buddhas, dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries AD, and to the group’s treatment of women, one user raged: “I really don’t understand this. Who deprives women of their legitimate rights as human beings? Who arrests people and beheads them in the streets? Who is the most recognized terrorist organization in the world? Who destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas?”
The outpouring of critical comments on the post prompted the People’s Daily to delete the post about four hours after it appeared.
The online controversy was summarized in a WeChat article today called “People’s Daily Post on Taliban Flops in Face of User Comments” (人民日报发博塔利班 网民评论大翻车). The post, however, was deleted with 5-6 hours, leaving only the following warning: