Propaganda has existed in countless forms throughout history, as those in positions of power have tended to try to sway the public opinion one way or another in order to achieve certain goals. This facet of human nature has not changed much in the last few thousand years, only their methods.
People tend to argue over what is and isn’t quite propaganda. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person” or “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect.” Many would argue that such things are alive and well in American society, and many would also argue that a message need not be malicious in order to be classified under “propaganda.”
However, there is still a distinct difference between what propaganda efforts exist in the United States, and the propaganda in countries where a singular group composed of only a few people control just about everything. For example, the way propaganda works in Russia is very different from how it works in the U.S. We may have serious propaganda efforts within our media, but to compare them with a completely state-sponsored media structure like the Myanmar government is a stretch from the truth.
And it’s the same with the Taliban. Writing articles about their various operations has consistently led me to countless statements and articles addressing all sorts of facets of the war. They phrase things very differently than news from other areas, and their choices in diction are quite telling.
First of all, they do not refer to themselves as the Taliban. They officially call themselves the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” This means that they are separate in many ways from the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). There are undoubtedly useful logistical reasons for this — the goals of the two groups overlap in many areas, but they both have very separate overall objectives. One seeks a certain future in Pakistan, the other in Afghanistan. Logistically, this separation may provide clarity in regards to operations internal to the groups. However, it also serves to separate themselves from negative headlines pushed out by Western media — yet another step away from headlines that read: “Taliban attack women’s mosque in Pakistan, 22 killed and 70 wounded.”
Another instance: they do not refer to their own fighters as soldiers or some such military designation; instead, they call them “Mujahideen.” Mujahideen refers to those who are engaging in a holy war, and so this term paints them as heroes fighting in a battle of religiously large proportions. It also steers away from the “underdog” perception that could be gleaned from words like “guerrilla fighter.”