As Taliban forces quickly tighten their control of Afghanistan, the defunct Afghan government’s websites remain intact for now—a strange echo of a doomed U.S. occupation, a government that no longer exists, and a future that will never be.
"The strength and capability of the country's national defense and security forces is commendable," still reads the website of the Afghanistan military, whose members quickly fled their posts as the Taliban re-established control of the perpetually war-torn nation.
Numerous other websites under the .af country code top-level domain (ccTLD) still exist as digital time capsules, including the Afghanistan Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Fearing execution at the hands of the Taliban, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul during an employee lunch break on August 15 without telling his staff or allies. Yet Ghani’s Presidential website still sits completely intact, highlighting recent conversations with U.S. leaders.
“Seems like a press release from an alternate timeline,” said Reuters journalist Raphael Satter, who has been documenting the Afghan government’s doomed internet presence on Twitter.
Internet access remains a luxury across much of Afghanistan. Despite having been introduced to the country twenty years ago, only about 13.5 percent of Afghans currently have access to the internet at home, unsurprisingly at speeds far slower than the global average.
A blog post by UK-based internet security firm Netcraft notes it may not take long for the defunct government websites to fall under Taliban control. The Taliban’s own websites went mysteriously dark earlier this month in an apparently futile attempt to limit the extremist organization’s online influence.
Both PCH and Gransy “may choose to honour or ignore DNS changes that the Taliban might make,” Netcraft said. “To keep the DNS operational, the Taliban is dependent on maintaining the goodwill of PCH and Gransy, who appear to be operating an entirely pro bono DNS service for the country.”
“Politics has nothing to do with our daily work, and we are a 100 percent apolitical organization,” Gransy said in a blog post of its own, suggesting that the responsibility for what comes next lies largely with the U.S. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
But statements from ICANN indicate that barring some form of intervention, any decision on what happens next will likely come locally at the hands of those currently in control of the country itself (the Taliban).
“Currently the .af domain is managed by the Afghanistan Ministry of Communications and IT and that has not changed,” ICANN said. “A change in government in any country does not automatically trigger a change to our recognition of a government entity appointed as the manager of the domain.”
In other words, with the Taliban now technically in control of Afghanistan, any fading online remnants of a dismantled government also fall under Taliban control.
The current incarnation of the Taliban is more internet-savvy than its predecessors, who between 1996 and 2001 outlawed many electronics and banned public internet access. But it remains unclear if the organization plans to exploit the internet as a vessel for propaganda, censorship, and surveillance, or shutter the nation’s already shaky telecom systems entirely.