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Pro-Taliban Media Campaign Highlights Regional Threats to Afghanistan’s Neighbours

Pro-Taliban Media Campaign Highlights Regional Threats to Afghanistan’s Neighbours
22nd December 2023 Adam Rousselle
In Insights


One online media campaign frequently expresses views that are consistent with those held among top policymakers in the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Although the exact nature of its relationship with the Taliban regime is unknown, the ongoing media campaign being waged by al-Mersaad – Arabic for ‘the watchtower’ – produces stories that often resemble press releases and are told from a uniquely Taliban perspective. Media savvy and innovative, the organisation has a large following on its multi-lingual media accounts on Twitter and YouTube and has produced multiple documentaries promoting the efficacy of Taliban forces using footage most likely sourced from Taliban operatives. This Insight examines the origins of al-Mersaad, its core messaging, the context in which it operates, and the potential threat it poses to Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries. 

Understanding al-Mersaad’s Operations

Al-Mersaad was launched in February 2022 and stated its goal to “eliminate seditionists and their suspicions on the basis of religious and ideological reasons” in a 27 August 2023 post on its English language X account. The organisation’s choice to use the word ‘sedition’ – the act of inciting rebellion against the state – implies some level of Taliban government involvement with the Kabul-based organisation. Moreover, the rise of al-Mersaad comes amid the Taliban’s own struggle against seditionist forces, particularly the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). 

The organisation offers regularly updated content in English, Urdu, Pashto, and Uzbek on its website and Twitter pages. It has also adopted the aesthetic of a traditional media organisation, complete with graphically designed imagery for its logo and backdrop (Fig. 1). In an 18 October EurasiaNet article, Lucas Webber and Riccardo Valle suggest that the group may operate as a sort of joint venture between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This is very plausible, given the latter’s history of targeted messaging and leveraging advanced media technologies to promote its messaging. Indeed, al-Mersaad’s coverage of al-Qaeda has been favourable, with one tweet on 8 October offering a historically revisionist version of the 9/11 attacks.  

Fig. 1: Complete with a graphically designed logo and banner, Al-Mersaad’s English language X page mimics the pages of mainstream broadcasters

Al-Mersaad Messaging and Themes Highlight Likely Role as Taliban Mouthpiece

Al-Mersaad’s English-language slogan of “stronghold for ideological struggle” indicates the campaign’s role in countering competing narratives. Indeed, much of its messaging is focused on the Taliban’s apparent enemies, including the ISKP and the governments of Tajikistan and Pakistan. Specifically, the group’s heavy focus on the ISKP comes at a time of increased conflict between it and the Taliban, as well as the ISKP’s own growing media influence, which particularly targets potential recruits among Afghanistan’s ethnic Tajik community – the country’s second-largest ethnic group – via its Tajik-language Telegram channels. This is likely why al-Mersaad regularly criticises the ISKP on a plethora of matters, ranging from the ideological manner in which it approaches jihad to the group’s apparent silence on the ongoing conflict in Gaza. 

Al-Mersaad’s messaging on Pakistan reflects the worsening relations between the Taliban regime and Islamabad. A 2 October post on the group’s English-language Twitter account claims that “the Pakistan regime is also responsible for facilitating” recent ISKP attacks in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and that the Taliban government had warned Pakistani officials of impending attacks. Once a key ally of the Taliban and one of only three countries to officially recognise its sovereignty over Afghanistan, Pakistan is now accusing the Taliban regime of not doing enough to control the movement of armed groups into its territory. Al-Mersaad’s messaging so closely reflects the interests of the Taliban regime that a lengthy tweet on 1 November came in response to apparently “insulting language” used by an unnamed Pakistani consul regarding the Taliban. The group has also criticised Pakistan’s apparent lack of support for insurgent groups operating in Indian-controlled Kashmir. 

Tensions between the Taliban and Islamabad are also rising due to Islamabad’s ongoing expulsion of undocumented Afghan nationals from Pakistan, and al-Mersaad’s messaging reflects this. Islamabad claims that its effort to expel some of the estimated 1.7 million individuals, mostly refugees that entered via its porous northern border, is rooted in security concerns. 14 of the 24 suicide bombings that have occurred in Pakistan to date in 2023 were reportedly perpetrated by Afghan nationals. The Taliban regime, also concerned about the impact the sudden return of these refugees will have on its own security, has rebuked Islamabad for the expulsions, with Taliban Defence Minister Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob warning, “As you sow, so shall you reap” in a 3 November statement. Al-Mersaad has since delivered coverage of recent attacks on Pakistani armed forces in posts on 4 November tweets on its English, Urdu, and Pashtu language Twitter pages. These attacks were perpetrated by Tahreek-e-Taliban (a.k.a.: the Pakistani Taliban), publicising the ominous warning made by the Taliban defense minister just one day prior. 

Al-Mersaad is also highly critical of the Rahmon government of neighbouring Tajikistan, with which the Taliban has especially poor relations amid Dushanbe’s regular complaints over border threats and narcotics trafficking. A 21 September tweet targeting the Tajikistan government refers to President Emomali Rahmon by his Soviet-era name ‘Rahmanov’, labelling him a “communist” responsible for the rise of the ISKP through his restrictions on freedom of religion in Tajikistan.      A documentary alleges that footage of seven ISKP operatives and Tajikistan nationals that were reportedly captured by the Taliban and al-Mersaad’s coverage of the capture coincided with posts by other pro-Taliban social media accounts. Peter Mills of Critical Threats claims that this suggests a “coordinated information campaign”. Al-Mersaad has also published images of the bodies of gunned-down reported rebels from Afghanistan’s Balkh province, which borders Tajikistan. The graphic nature of these images suggests they were provided by a primary source, most likely the Taliban. 

In addition to its coverage of the Taliban’s regional perspective, much of al-Mersaad’s coverage on X and YouTube is devoted to global and current affairs issues that touch upon causes that are broadly accepted in the Islamist community, such as support for Palestine and blaming the United States for issues such as the rise of ISIS. In this way, al-Mersaad is proving capable of innovation in the realm of mass media while promoting its pro-Taliban message by rallying around key global causes and reaching a broad international audience via its social media channels. 

Analysis: Pro-Taliban Messaging Highlights Regional Threats

Since coming to power in August 2021, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has struggled to govern the country effectively. This is largely due to the growing threat posed by militant groups operating there, including nominally from within its own ranks, with the Taliban’s Tajik and Pakistani factions continually threatening Afghanistan’s northern and southern neighbours, despite Taliban assurances that it will not do so. As such, it remains unclear whether the Taliban government is guiding the actions of these groups or simply lacks the means to control them. By reporting on militant attacks by both Taliban-affiliated groups and the ISKP, al-Mersaad is highlighting the threat that Afghanistan under the Taliban poses to its neighbours while maintaining the visual aesthetic and potential credibility of a news media outlet. 

Al-Mersaad also serves a potentially more insidious role for the Taliban regime by speaking directly to the people of its neighbouring countries through its multi-lingual coverage. In this way, al-Mersaad may be used to positively portray the Taliban regime to a global audience or as a weapon to undermine the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s neighbours while giving the Taliban plausible deniability in its role in doing so. The Taliban’s ongoing lack of international recognition has crippled the Afghan economy and thus left it with fewer tools to exert control over the country. This has made Afghanistan highly dependent on neighbours such as Uzbekistan to receive basic essential goods. By broadcasting Taliban government propaganda to Afghanistan’s neighbours via its linguistically targeted channels, al-Mersaad is providing the Taliban with a voice to express its ideological narrative and could potentially be used as a means of inciting threats against neighbouring countries.


The legal basis for eliminating al-Mersaad media accounts is not entirely clear. The group does not engage in activities that would constitute a user agreement violation, such as inciting violence. Moreover, the Afghan Taliban, which al-Mersaad explicitly promotes, has not been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States government; however, al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s Pakistani offshoot, Tahreek-e-Taliban, have been designated as such. In this way, further research may provide demonstrable ties between al-Mersaad and these legally designated terror organisations. Such research could include proving that specific images or videos were sourced directly from a designated terror organisation or by demonstrating the involvement of known al-Qaeda figures. This could give social media companies the legal framework to remove these accounts. For this reason, social media companies should work closely with intelligence organisations and law enforcement to monitor al-Mersaad closely moving forward.