A tricky 24 hours, PR wise, for the Taliban, what with the reports of door to door executions and those pictures of people so desperate to get away from it that they’d sooner take their zero per cent chances and cling to the landing gear of evacuation flights out of Kabul airport.
Time for a press conference, then. That’ll sort things out. Wheel out the lecterns, welcome in the cameras and put a few concerns to rest.
There they sat, beneath black and white flags, in their black and white pashtun robes, looking not wholly unlike an Isis hostage video, with the slight tweak to the format being that the hostage was not an unlucky IT contractor from Wisconsin but an entire country.
This Taliban, it turns out, is the nice, new friendly Taliban. Even if you’ve spent the last 20 years working for the American military, it’s not going to be a problem.
“Everybody has been pardoned,” they were here to explain. “Nobody is going to be treated with revenge. The youths who have talents, who have grown up here – we do not want them to leave. These are our assets, we would like them to stay.” So there you go then. The Taliban believe that children are the future. They’ll treat them well and let them lead the way.
Women don’t need to worry either, it turns out. “The Islamic Emirate is committed to the rights of women within the framework of sharia. Our sisters will have the same rights, will be able to benefit from their rights.”
It’s already been pointed out that the Ayatollah Khomeini said much the same on his takeover of Iran in 1979, and it would turn out that “the rights of women within the framework of sharia” are much the same as the rights of turkeys within the framework of one of Bernard Matthews’ superfarms.
But come on. Let’s give them a chance. Those stories from a few weeks ago, when these guys (and on this occasion, we really *do* mean guys) were marching down to Kabul, and peasant women who didn’t have the means to cook for them were beaten to death with the butts of Kalashnikovs; well, maybe there are a few rogue elements within the Taliban, but they’re working to get on top of those.
And more to the point, it could have been worse. It’s not like they’ve spent £2.9m of taxpayers money on a room in which to hold press conferences then decided not to hold them after all. It’s not like anyone from the Taliban sat there and honestly tried to claim he’d only driven a tank into Kabul to test his eyesight.
Still, given America and the rest have run away it seems like the new, media-savvy Taliban is here to stay. It’s smarter than last time around, apparently. It’s learnt that it pays to just say it’s doing one thing while actually doing the complete opposite.
As long as you say women are going to be fine, it doesn’t matter if it turns out there’s a man with an AK-47 standing at the entrance to their lecture halls, stopping them from going in. As long as you say everyone’s been pardoned, and no one’s in danger, then the world will just think the people falling off the wheels of the aeroplanes have gone absolutely mad.
They are a few years late to this particular party of course. We, in the west, are used to being told, for example, we’ve got a world-beating test and trace system, a plan for social care, an oven-ready Brexit deal and we’re going to send coronavirus packing within 12 weeks, which may or may not turn out to be two years or more accurately never.
For a little while, probably, we’ll all be very bothered about the enormous gap between what the Taliban says and what the Taliban does.
But given it took barely a year for us to stop bothering to care about how much our own leaders are systematically and repeatedly telling gargantuan lies to us, it’s probably fair to conclude the Taliban has already worked out that it’s absolutely, definitely going to get away with it.