How The Emirate Wants to be Perceived: A closer look at the Accountability Programme

Martine van Bijlert 

Afghanistan Analysts Network

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As the third anniversary of its return to power approaches, the Islamic Emirate is presumably readying itself for another round of its Accountability Programme, as it has done in the past two summers. These televised sessions, held by ministers and other senior officials in front of journalists, provide a fairly detailed overview of the Emirate’s policies and preoccupations, in terms of what it wants the media, the nation and the world to know. Ahead of the next round, AAN’s Martine van Bijlert (with input from the AAN team) lays out what can be learned from last year’s programme, by drawing out the key themes and messages in the officials’ own words. In doing so, the report provides a basis for a clearer understanding of what the Emirate might choose to showcase in this year’s sessions, providing an indication of its evolving focus as it prepares to enter its fourth year in power.
You can preview the report online and download it by clicking here or the download button below.

The Emirate’s second round of accountability sessions since its return to power took place in the summer of 2023. Like all press conferences, the sessions were first and foremost an exercise in ‘impression management’. That is also, precisely, where their value lies. The depth and scope of the sessions, on their own and combined, provide important insights into what the Emirate cares about, how it wants to be perceived and by whom. To this end, the AAN team has watched, transcribed and analysed the televised presentations, identifying key themes and quotes to present a comprehensive perspective in the report.

Over the course of five weeks, from 23 July to 22 August, 42 government ministries and departments discussed their missions and aims, their place within the Emirate, the achievements of the previous year and their plans for the next. The Prime Minister’s Office chaired the introductory session but did not provide a report of its own. Conspicuously absent from the presentations were the Ministry of Finance, the General Directorate of Intelligence and the Office of the Supreme Leader – three key bodies when it comes to the economic, security and ideological shape of the Emirate.

Key themes in the sessions, and thus in this report, include the IEA’s consolidation of what it believes to be an Islamic system, the dual push towards self-sufficiency and connectedness, the expansion of a digitalised administration and the rooting out of what it sees as the ill effects of the last twenty years. The more technical and infrastructural departments often provided fairly extensive descriptions of their activities, but beyond that, actual overall figures on budgets, spending and revenues were scarce. A presentation by the Ministry of Finance was greatly missed. The pressing issue of women’s rights, including access to education featured heavily – not in the presentations, but very much so in the Q&A sessions with journalists afterwards, illustrating both how high on the agenda it remains and how seriously the media took its role.

In its discussion of the presentations, the report provides an in-depth and layered picture of how the Emirate spoke about itself and how it wanted to be perceived by the Afghan nation at the end of its second year in power. It notes how, during the last twelve months, as AAN continued to follow the Emirate’s media messaging, the themes that emerged in summer 2023 continued to be at the heart of Emirate communications in officials’ statements, speeches and interviews. In that respect, this report is both a snapshot of the state of play as it stood in the summer of 2023 and an illustration of the Emirate’s consistency in its messaging, across institutions and over time.

The IEA’s key speaking points – the ‘temporary nature’ of some of the restrictions on women and girls, the primacy of the Islamic system, the ongoing need to reform both the apparatus of state and the population, especially through the work of the Virtue and Vice Ministry, the insistence on wanting good relations with the outside world and the claims of remarkable progress with almost no outside funding –are likely to feature again in the forthcoming round of accountability sessions. If the previous schedule is maintained, they should take place this month and next.

Comparing how it presented itself in 2023 with what it chooses to showcase this year will be a good indicator of how the Emirate’s focus has evolved over the last twelve months. It will be particularly interesting to see how Emirate messaging uses the recent thaw in its relations with the outside world to its advantage, as illustrated by its participation in the United Nations-convened Special Envoys’ meeting in Doha on 30 June – 1 July. We look forward to seeing how the IEA frames its third year of rule and what may have changed or shifted.

Edited by Roxanna Shapour and Kate Clark 

You can preview the report online and download it by clicking here or the download button below.


How The Emirate Wants to be Perceived: A closer look at the Accountability Programme