WhatsApp shuts down Taliban helpline in Kabul

Experts in the region said shutting down the WhatsApp numbers was "absurd" and "unhelpful."

Enlarge / Experts in the region said shutting down the WhatsApp numbers was “absurd” and “unhelpful.”
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WhatsApp has shut down a complaints helpline set up by the Taliban when it took control of Kabul, after the messaging app came under pressure to block the group from using its services.

The complaints number was supposed to act as an emergency hotline for civilians to report violence, looting or other problems. The Taliban advertised the helpline on Sunday when it captured the city, and has used similar WhatsApp hotlines in the past, for example when it took over the city of Kunduz in 2016.

After taking Kabul, the Taliban pledged to create a stable government and not to harm the “life, property and honor” of citizens.

Facebook, the owner of WhatsApp, said it had blocked the number on Tuesday, along with other “official Taliban channels,” and added that it was actively scanning group names, descriptions and profile pictures on the messaging app to try to prevent the Taliban from using it. It added that its team of native Dari and Pashto speakers were “helping to identify and alert us to emerging issues on the platform.”

Critics in the US have attacked WhatsApp, along with other social media platforms, for not taking more action to shut down Taliban communications.

But experts in the region said that shutting down the WhatsApp numbers was “absurd” and “unhelpful” at a time when the military group was in effect governing the country, and citizens in Kabul were facing looting, panic, and chaos.

“Preventing communication between people and the Taliban doesn’t help Afghans, it is just grandstanding,” said Ashley Jackson, a former Red Cross and Oxfam aid worker in Afghanistan, and author of a book on the Taliban and its relationship to Afghan civilians.

“If the Taliban all of a sudden can’t use WhatsApp, you’re just isolating Afghans, making it harder for them to communicate in an already panicky situation. [WhatsApp’s actions] are really misguided.”

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