Jalaluddin Haqqani, 'great reformer and conqueror' of Afghanistan. The elegiac documentary dedicated to the founder of the eponymous network, accused of the worst atrocities, highlights how much the Taliban's propaganda has progressed and evolved: they now portray themselves as competent administrators as they negotiate the country's future in Doha.
Archive images spanning several decades, special effects, staging ... the 1:10 film released in September on the occasion of the second anniversary of the death of the "pioneer of holy jihad", may seem laudatory to seduce a western audience.
But he emphasizes how the Taliban have "extended their audiovisual skills", observes Andrew Watkins, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.
Driven from power by an international coalition led by the United States in 2001, before smartphones became the norm, the insurgents first used mosques to preach their cause. Pashtun poetry, an ethnic group from which many of them originate, was also used.
Very quickly, however, the Taliban used the visual weapon to galvanize their troops: videos of future suicide bombers smiling just before blowing themselves up, enemy vehicles exploding on mines, fighting ...
Shot like small "action films", these contents "contributed to the construction of the image of a strong movement, capable of leading real military offensives against the Americans", notes Gilles Dorronsoro, a French specialist in 'Afghanistan.
Then more and more polished images appeared, sometimes filmed by drones. However, the Taliban have "never been as good as the Islamic State", whose propaganda has seduced thousands of jihadists around the world, he adds.
- Record -
A new step was taken when the rebels, by force of guerrillas, wrested in February an agreement to withdraw foreign troops from Washington against vague counterparts, according to several analysts.
As the two sides negotiated this text, Al-Emara, their main propaganda organ, released a record 319 videos in 2019, nearly 60% more than the previous year, and nearly three times their total. of 2016, according to a study by Intecenter, a US counterterrorism intelligence firm.
The documentary on Jalaluddin Haqqani came out just as the Taliban began hypothetical peace negotiations in Qatar in September with the Afghan authorities. A "coincidence", according to Zabihullah Mudjahid, a spokesman for the rebels, the film having according to him required "four months" of editing.
Jalaluddin Haqqani, long beard and turban, is going through four decades of war there, which his speeches never cease to legitimize in the name of a fight for Islam. Wounded during the Soviet invasion, he harangued his troops against Western "occupation".
But above all, the documentary presents him as a good administrator of his stronghold of Khost (East), where he would have opened "dozens of madrasas" and would have "focused on charitable works", fighting for public services and against Corruption.
A startling message, when the Haqqani network he created is held responsible for the bloodiest attacks in the past two decades, including a truck bomb attack in Kabul in May 2017 that left more than 150 dead.
- 'Protect the population' -
The fact that the Taliban insist on their good governance is "very new" and "really related to the state of progress of the peace talks", affirms Andrew Watkins.
In recent weeks, in addition to very choreographed staging of the training of their fighters, the Taliban have communicated on their construction of infrastructure, road and other irrigation canal.
On Twitter, they give the impression of controlling Afghanistan: a convoy of their 4x4 parade, their white and black flag at the windows, "at the gates of the capital", where they promise to "protect the population" and " increase patrols "against" thieves and the corrupt ".
It remains to be understood whether the propaganda hits its target, while many Afghans, especially in cities, fear a return to power by the insurgents at the end of these negotiations, when their short reign has been tarnished by multiple abuses. In recent months, they have also increased assaults on government forces.
Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, underlines the "obvious contradiction between their stories and their actions", which a "young and illiterate population" embraces yet. "On the one hand, they speak of brotherhood, of mercy, (...) and on the other hand, they kill and injure innocent civilians".
“People really underestimate the intelligence of the Afghans,” sighs analyst Omar Sharifi, who remembers “hanging bodies, beheaded people” in Kabul under their rule.
"The Taliban were as corrupt as the government," whose prevarication is widely criticized by the population, continues Mr. Sharifi. And the intellectual to reject "the sanctification of the Taliban as being pure and religious", "a fabricated image".