Do these photos prove that the Taliban spokesman led a double life?

Social media users inside and outside Afghanistan have been sharing photomontages claiming to show that Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid lived a “double life” that disagreed with his status as mullah in the fiercely pious Islamist movement.

The posts show photographs of the spokesperson in the black turban preferred by many Taliban leaders, along with photos of three similar-looking men with their heads uncovered, in one case accompanied by a woman whose head is also uncovered.

The posts have captions saying that Mujahid lived a double life, including a stay in the UK. But the photos of the other men are not from Mujahid and there is no evidence that he ever lived outside the region.

The war on the ground has mostly ended in Afghanistan, but it continues on social media. While critics of the Taliban have been posting videos of their mujahideen harassing and arresting people that appear to be authentic, they have also been posting bogus posts apparently designed to poke fun at Afghanistan’s new rulers.

Among them are posts directed at Mujahid, the group’s longtime spokesperson, who has appeared prominently in public since August 17, after years in which his face was never seen. The posts circulate widely on Telegram and other messaging apps in Afghanistan.

One publication features the Pakistani actor at a birthday party.

One of the most shared posts features an authentic photo of Mujahid in his black turban along with photographs of two other men, one posing with a woman whose head is also uncovered, a serious crime according to the austere interpretation of Islam by the Taliban. The post, which is shared on Facebook and other platforms, includes a caption that reads: “Zabihullah is a pseudonym. His real name is Abdulghaffar. I used to live in London, and then in the house of [former Afghan President Hamid] Karzai “.

But a reverse image search shows that the man in the western-style black suit posing with the woman is not Mujahid. He is a Pakistani film and television actor named Yasir Nawaz, who poses with fellow actor Javeria Saud at a birthday party in January 2021.

In this photomontage circulating on social media in Afghanistan, the man in the black turban, bottom right, is Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. The man on the left is Pakistani actor Yasir Nawaz posing with a fellow actor at his wife’s birthday party. The third man has not been identified, but facial recognition software shows that he is not Mujahid either. © Observers These photos on a Pakistani celebrity website show Pakistani actor Yasir Nawaz with actress Javeria Saud (top) at a birthday party for Nawaz’s wife, Nida Yasir (bottom) in January 2021. © Observers

Another post shows an Indian TikToker

Another version of the photomontage shows Mujahid with a photo of a man holding a blue towel. The man in the towel is, in fact, Amir Jutt, an Indian TikTok star, who has posted a humorous reaction on his account.

This photomontage suggests that Taliban spokesman Zabihulllah Mujahid (left) is living a double life. But the man pictured on the right is in fact an Indian TikTok star. © Observers The Mysterious Third Man

The posts also contain photos of a third man, with short hair and a hooded jacket, sitting in a coffee shop. The JowharObservers team could not identify this man. However, comparing his face with an authentic photograph of Mujahid using two different facial recognition tools, Microsoft’s Betaface and Azure, gave the same result: he is not Mujahid.

Comparing an authentic photograph of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (right) with a photograph of an unidentified man in a social media post (left) shows that the two men are different, according to the Betaface facial recognition tool. Tools like Microsoft’s Betaface and Azure use biometric measurements to compare and differentiate faces. © Observers

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