In an Afghanistan torn apart by more than four decades of war, young people are fascinated by this online fighting game, very popular throughout the world but violent, which the Taliban intend to ban on the grounds that it could lead them astray.
With the video-sharing platform TikTok, also in the sights of the Islamists, it constitutes for young Afghans one of the rare spaces of freedom and one of the last gateways to the outside world.
“We live in this country, but we are not alive. We do not know what will happen to us in the next second. It is our only way to pass the time”, observes Abdul Musawir Raufi, emerging from his phone .
Since their return to power in August, the Taliban have not been as strict as under their previous regime, between 1996 and 2001, when they banned television, cinema, photography, kites and almost all forms entertainment, considered immoral.
In the capital, some games rooms and bowling alleys remain open, and it is still possible to practice certain sports.
But the fundamentalists have still banned music and series that are foreign or include women, and many Kabulis prefer not to take the risk of going out simply for entertainment.
“The entertainment we had before, the laughs with friends (…), all that is over”, continues Abdul, a 23-year-old student, most of whose friends he used to play with football fled the country in the chaotic last days of August.
– ‘The only entertainment’ –
PUBG is a game in which virtual characters equipped with firearms fight mercilessly to become the last survivor. Published by Chinese digital giant Tencent, it has become a global phenomenon and its mobile version has been downloaded over a billion times.
For Abdul, who came to this game four years ago through a comrade, PUBG is the way to keep in touch with his friends and to meet players of other nationalities virtually.
“One of the advantages of PUBG is that it allows us to know the culture of other countries, their language, and the bonds created are strong,” he underlines.
Some are curious to know more about Afghanistan, others have a very bad image of it. “Those who like us talk to us very nicely. But those who don’t like Afghans just turn their microphones off,” he said.
With the economic crisis that accompanied the rise of the Taliban to power, Abdul Mujeeb, 20, also a student, took refuge even more in PUBG.
“I play more now, because before the Taliban I was busy with studies and work,” he says. “Currently, the studies are stopped and there is no job. We occupy ourselves with leisure activities.”
“There is no security in the city, our families don’t let us go out and go to recreational places,” he adds. “The only entertainment we have at home that keeps us busy is TikTok and PUBG.”
– ‘Rather than being depressed at home’ –
The government in April ordered the banning of these two applications, accused of leading the younger generation to “go astray”. However, they are still accessible, without having to use a virtual private network (VPN).
But the issue is currently being discussed with Afghan telecommunications companies and “these two applications will be completely banned,” deputy government spokesman Inamullah Samangani told AFP.
According to figures from the specialized site DataReportal, 9.2 million Afghans have internet access in 2022, out of an estimated population of 40.2 million, and 4.15 million (82% of men) use the networks. social.
The two students assure that they will find a way around the ban. Shaheera Ghafori, a 19-year-old student, who plays PUBG like her brother and sister, also believes the Taliban “can’t afford” to ban the game.
And she says she doesn’t understand their reasoning. “It’s a bit of an irrational judgment (on their part),” she thinks. “It’s better to have a place to keep the youngsters occupied, rather than letting them roam the streets.”
PUBG, which has been compared to the apocalyptic film “Hunger Games”, has been banned by a few countries for its violence. But for Shaheera, it is above all a way to “change your mind rather than staying depressed at home”, where the Taliban are trying to confine women, whose rights they are gradually reducing.
She regrets the lost freedom of women and hopes that in contact with the modern world, the Taliban will end up opening up a little. But, she admits, this “is more than wishful thinking”.