Aspen panel: 20 years after 9/11, Taliban’s grip has Afghanistan media on alert | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen panel: 20 years after 9/11, Taliban’s grip has Afghanistan media on alert

Panel at Aspen Security Forum discusses concerns after U.S. withdrawal

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, center, shake hand with journalist after his first news conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. Mujahid vowed Tuesday that the Taliban would respect women's rights, forgive those who resisted them and ensure a secure Afghanistan as part of a publicity blitz aimed at convincing world powers and a fearful population that they have changed. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
ASPEN EVENTS

Two annual events are scheduled for Saturday in Aspen and Snowmass:

ASPEN

What: 9/11 Memorial Service

Where: Aspen Fire Station downtown

When: Noon

What: Speakers and events will mark the 20th anniversary

More info: aspenfire.com

SNOWMASS

What: Axes and Arms

Where: Snowmass Town Center to Snowmass Mall

When: 6 p.m.

What: First responders and others will walk up Brush Creek Road to the mall gaining 956 feet, the highest number of feet that the first responders walked inside the first tower of The World Trade Center.

More info: axesandarms.org

The widespread consequences of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, coming nearly 20 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, will likely put the Middle East country’s free press in peril.

That was according to Saad Mohseni, who is chairman of and co-founder of MOBY Group, Afghanistan’s largest media company that was founded in 2002. Mohseni was part of a panel of speakers who gathered virtually Thursday to reflect on the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 as part of the ongoing Aspen Security Forum put on by the Aspen Institute.

“My concern is that (the Taliban) will snap, because the default mode of the Taliban is to be dictatorial, to not tolerate any sort of dissent or criticism,” Mohseni told moderator Niamh King, who is deputy director of Aspen Strategy Group, a policy program of the institute. “So while we’re covering events on day-to-day basis, we’re also trying to engage the Taliban. We’re trying to make them understand that this is in their interest to allow people to express themselves, to allow them to protest, to allow them to come on television and talk about these issues.



“Some understand this, but my concern is the vast majority of the Taliban leadership will be intolerant and will actually not stand for this sort of environment.”

Over the past two decades, the country’s populace had grown accustomed to more modern-day, free-society trappings that were nonexistent during the Taliban’s reign over nearly three-quarters of the country from 1996 to 2001.




“If we do see a regime that’s got its back against the wall, it’s cornered, with the country facing a major economic and humanitarian crises,” Mohseni said. “I think that they will snap and I think that we could see a sort of North Korea or Khmer Rouge rather than the sort of the Taliban 2.0, which they have been pushing very hard internationally, that they’re much more progressive and much more open. I think that’s our concern that you will see them default into sort of the Taliban 1.0 mode very quickly.”

Televisions were banned during the Taliban’s previous reign, women could not attend schools, and free exchange of thought was suppressed. Women currently can attend school, but separate from men.

Afghan women gather during a protest march for their rights under the Taliban rule in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)

“We’ve seen segregation, but it’s better than nothing,” he said. “Television was banned during the Taliban era. There are dozens of TV stations and (the Taliban) are tolerating people like us discussing the daily protests … we have critics live on Skype from Copenhagen or Dubai or whatever. They seem to be more tolerant of these sorts of things. They’re allowing female doctors. They’re allowing clinics to remain open. These are positive changes. The question is will they leave things alone, and my concern is they will not. They will become more restrictive.”

On Tuesday the Taliban appointed its new and all-male cabinet, resulting in more protests in the streets by women and others. The economy also is on the brink of a crisis “due to hit us very soon,” Mohseni said.

“We have major drought and half a million or 600,000 of internally displace people,” he said, noting that the $8.5 billion in foreign aid the country received accounted for 45% of its gross domestic product. That money can’t be made up under Taliban rule, with countries now distancing themselves. China might lend the country some money and Russia won’t, Mohseni said.

How much leeway the media gets from the Taliban is another great unknown.

“We don’t know,” Mohseni said. “We have to wait for the government, we have to wait for the new media laws, we have to wait for the directives that will come our way. We don’t have an understanding of how the judiciary will work and how the prosecution will work out and how tolerant will they be of the state being criticized.

“They do represent God and it may be difficult for us to challenge them. But what’s important for us is that we have to be prepared to continue our work outside of Afghanistan if we need to.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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