Ed note. I’m happy to welcome to the site Ahmad Shuja. Ahmad is a writer, blogger and analyst. He writes primarily about development, security, nation-building, policy, democratization and issues pertaining to the Af-Pak region–Mark

After maintaining twitter accounts in Arabic and Pashto for some time, the Afghan Taliban broke new ground in their online social networking strategy yesterday by starting to tweet in English. The Afghan Taliban’s online presence on social networking websites and elsewhere is rivaling and often surpassing that of the Afghan government’s. The Taliban’s technological savvy is a different dimension to the common image of an insurgency known for violence and brutality and one that, when in power, suppressed most forms of mass media.

Online presence

Before Afghanistan’s Government Media and Information Center (GMIC) website was even “under construction,” the Taliban maintained websites in five languages – Dari, Pashto, Udru, Arabic and English. These websites contain videos, breaking news about Taliban operations, analysis and audio content. Their podcasts include morning and evening news, “commentary” and “announcements.”

The GMIC maintains websites in Pashto, Dari and English and includes reports, press releases and videos from the Afghan government.

Facebook

The Taliban’s presence on Facebook also predates that of the Afghan government’s by at least two years. Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a former Taliban spokesperson, maintained a personal account where he posted propaganda and connected with supporters. By the time his account was blocked, he had accumulated several hundred “friends.” On the other hand, the GMIC has been actively posting content on its Facebook fanpage only since April 4, 2011. It has 59 fans as of this writing.

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi now regularly posts content on Taliban websites. Ahmadi and another leading Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid are working with what appears to be a public relations team of contributors that produce content in five languages across the Taliban’s online platforms.

Twitter

The Taliban’s first English-language tweet yesterday contained a link to a report apparently posted by Ahmadi describing an alleged Taliban attack in Afghanistan’s Farah province.

This first tweet came from the Taliban’s Pashto twitter account. Since then, they appear to have started a separate account that tweets primarily in English.

GMIC’s only Twitter account remained dormant for several months after its first tweet early last October. Then came this apparently confused tweet, complete with grammar errors and addressed to GMIC itself:

Reaction from Afghans

Afghan journalists are taking notice of the performance differential between the GMIC and Taliban.

BBC producer and reporter in Kabul Bilal Sarwary sounded off about GMIC’s lackluster performance, saying GMIC is “late by hours” compared to the Taliban in reporting “on news and events.”

Taliban spokespersons are generally easily available through their cell phones and even online. Kabul-based freelance journalist Erin Cunningham disclosed, for example, that her fixer interviewed a Taliban commander on Google Chat.

Freelance Afghan journalist Mujib Mashal urged GMIC to “step up your game,” or risk losing “this game too.”

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