The arrest and release of pro-Taliban influencer Mobeen Khan
The social media influencer has allegedly been arrested twice, with both occasions coinciding with him making critical comments towards Afghanistan’s neighbours.
On June 25, 2023, the pro-Taliban social media influencer Mobeen Khan announced on Twitter that he had been released on bail after 20 days in jail. Khan wrote that he was grateful “for the good behaviour/treatment of Mujahideen in prison” and “to the honourable judges of the military court for their mercy.” According to the tweet, a final decision on his case is expected after the Eid celebrations. Khan’s posts did not provide an explanation for his arrest, stating only that he “cannot explain to anyone personally” and in a second tweet, that “It is enough to say that I can’t say something”.
This marked the second time the Taliban reportedly arrested the social media influencer. In both cases, the arrests coincided with Khan making critical and incendiary comments towards Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries. Despite this being his second alleged arrest, Khan emphasised that he would never stand against the Taliban regime, stating, “This is only 20 days of imprisonment, but if the regime put me in jail for 20 years, I will still not complain [and will not stand] against the regime.”
There have been various assumptions regarding the reasons for Khan's arrest. One speculation revolves around his strong anti-Iran rhetoric during recent tensions and border clashes. Khan's complaints in a Twitter space about the prevalence of "Mullahcracy" instead of meritocracy within the Taliban regime have also drawn attention. The Taliban are yet to comment on the matter or clarify the reasons for Khan’s arrest.
Various pro-Taliban Twitter accounts, including Mohammad Al-Badri, praised Khan’s release and called upon the Taliban authorities to be patient with those criticising the system. Some anti-Taliban accounts, such as Halim Fidai – who served as governor under the GoIRA – accused the Taliban of injustice, pointing out that pro-Taliban Khan was released, but girls’ education activist Matiullah Wesa, who was simply calling for educational rights, has been detained since March 2022.
Khan’s anti-Iran and Pakistan comments
Reports of Khan’s arrest surfaced on June 5 and followed remarks he made on social media in late May, when he used strong anti-Iranian rhetoric in support of the Taliban on his social media amid border clashes between Iran and Afghanistan. Tensions allegedly arose between the two countries due to a dispute over water rights on the Helmand River, with Iran accusing the Taliban of preventing water from flowing to Iran’s territory due to the building of several dams within Afghanistan.
On May 27, Khan tweeted “Our Country’s great heroes, history makers are heroes and holy martyrs. Iran’s evil goals will be thwarted by god.” Khan alleged that Iran was spreading hateful rhetoric about Afghanistan and the Taliban. In the tweet below, Khan compared Iran’s fate to that of Ukraine, stating “Iran should once study the history of Mirwais Khan's grandfather, what was he given to his son and what did his son do...!! We still say that we do not want war, but if Iran does not leave me alone, it is not far off that it will soon suffer the fate of Ukraine. (Iran is worse than Ukraine in the future).”
Figure: Mobeen Khan threatening Iran, claiming Iran will suffer the same fate as Ukraine
Khan had also posted a YouTube video on May 18 ridiculing remarks made by the Iranian president and insisting there is “no water in Helmand.” He added: “Mr President, don’t attack us. There is no water. Here, I will bring you a bucket of water.” In the video, the influencer holds a yellow bucket of water in hand and stands near a water reservoir. The video was widely disseminated on social media.
Khan was also previously arrested in January 2023. At the time, several accounts theorised that the pro-Taliban influencer was arrested due to his negative position on Pakistan, which came amid diplomatic tensions between the two countries. On that occasion, Khan had taken an overtly nationalist stance in favour of the Taliban and had increased violent rhetoric during the standoff – a potential source of embarrassment for the Taliban. He returned to social media after a week, thanking those who supported him, but giving no reason for his arrest and mentioning only that the incarceration was the result of a misunderstanding.
Khan's social profiles
Khan, who served as spokesman for Kabul Police Headquarters under the Taliban in late 2021, has amassed over 500,000 followers on Twitter and tweeted over 10,000 times since his account’s creation in September 2020. He has accumulated over 166K followers and generated over 48.5 million views on YouTube. While he does not have a formal position within the Taliban, his followers have given him the honorific title of ‘General’, which he has adopted on his social accounts.
Khan uses his social media accounts to promote Taliban activity, and, according to his Twitter biography, runs a charity called the ‘Mobin Khan Foundation’. While Khan is a prominent supporter of the Taliban, he has occasionally taken positions that are contrary to Taliban official policy. For example, he has advocated for girls’ education and called for Pakistan to be abolished in favour of a unified Afghanistan.
If Khan’s recent arrest is indeed linked to his comments on Iran, it highlights the Taliban’s desire to maintain tight control of messaging on regional relations from prominent Taliban influencers, even when they do not have any official role.
Taliban member allegedly ousted following Iran comments
Khan was not the only figure who attracted attention for comments made against Iran amid recent tensions. The Taliban’s senior officials appeared to maintain a diplomatic dialogue during talks between the two countries, however, low-ranking Taliban members reacted differently, using harsher language against Iran on various social media platforms.
On May 20, an account attributed to the Taliban’s District Chief for the Ahmad District of Paktia province, Abdul Hamid Khurasani Badri, tweeted: “It's been a long time since we fought. We're hungover. May the grace of God allow us to face Zoroaster's generation [referring to Iranians] on the battlefield. We will teach them a lesson again, God willing. The countries that did not learn from the failure of the West should be taught a lesson.”
The Taliban reportedly ousted Khurasani shortly after this comment, though, in an interview with Hasht-e-Subh Daily, Khurasani claimed he resigned due to “internal disagreements with the Taliban leadership”, without specifying what these disagreements were. Khurasani had also previously accused Molawi Yaqoub, the Taliban's Acting Minister of Defence, of ethnic prejudices.