KABUL — The Facebook profile photo shows the rear of a yellow Toyota taxi, as if the vehicle is flashing, well, its behind.
In a way, it is — turning a laser-like spotlight on Afghanistan’s bickering politicians and ambitious warlords, corrupt officials and bureaucratic aides.
And if the creator’s dark mood weren’t already apparent, the phrase scrawled in white on the rear windscreen announces it baldly: “Life is bitter and the future ambiguous.”
Step inside the Kabul Taxi, the Facebook page of the Afghan capital’s latest political satirist. No one knows the identity of its creator, but in the past three months more than 13,000 people have “liked” the page — making it something of a sounding board for Afghans’ collective frustration.
The government is dysfunctional. Corruption is rife. The economy is floundering. Prices are rising, as is unemployment. And Kabul Taxi is tapping into the angst in a unique way.
On his page, he — we know it’s a man — writes in the local Dari language about picking up prominent Afghan officials in an imaginary taxi. In his back seat, they discuss politics, the economy, culture — and their rivalries. They are portrayed as insincere, power-hungry and more concerned about protecting their particular ethnic group than serving the people of Afghanistan.
No one is spared. Kabul Taxi picks equally on officials linked to President Ashraf Ghani and those aligned with Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s former electoral rival and current partner in the power-sharing government brokered by the United States.
In one scenario, he writes about a group of Ghani loyalists, all Pashtuns, making disparaging remarks about the Tajiks, the ethnicity of Abdullah. They then go on to belittle Abdullah, exposing rifts between the leader’s camps.
“Now Tajiks can’t do anything, because their hands are tied behind their backs,” says Hanif Atmar, Ghani’s national security adviser, from the back seat.
“Abdullah had convincing evidence of the fraud we committed in the election, but he couldn’t do anything,” Atmar continues. “We were lucky he was our rival. Despite his diplomatic appearance, Abdullah just can’t negotiate.”
In another post, Kabul Taxi criticizes former president Hamid Karzai — who is also riding in the back seat — for ignoring the plight of the ethnic Hazara minority. Then he uses Karzai to skewer both Ghani and Abdullah.
“While we were talking, I heard breaking news on my taxi’s radio,” he writes. “Karzai asked me: ‘What’s wrong?’ I replied that there had been an attack in Mazar-e Sharif and a number of people had been killed or wounded. He asked me, ‘Where are Abdullah and Ghani?’ I told him, ‘Mr. President, that’s what the people are asking.’ ”
So who is Kabul Taxi?
Reached through his Facebook page, Kabul Taxi agreed to answer a few questions. On the personal front, he was reticent. “I am around 31,” he wrote, “young, but my mind is old like Abdullah and Ghani.” It also seems he’s an ethnic Hazara, judging from his posts supporting the community and his legions of Facebook followers, most of whom seem to have Hazara backgrounds.
Kabul Taxi said he launched his Facebook page because of the “tumultuous situation” embroiling both government and society, citing problems such as “unemployment, poverty and violence.” In the absence of action by the authorities, he suggested, somebody had to do something.
“The government that is responsible for fixing the problems has not done so,” he said. “The anarchy and chaos are . . . why I created this Facebook page.”
Facebook is a growing phenomenon in Afghanistan, he noted, adding that he was inspired by the role the networking service and other social media played in bringing about social and political change during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
“The goal of this page is to follow, review and criticize the situation,” he wrote. “We consciously want to point out important issues.”
But why use a taxi?
Inside a taxi, he wrote, “you face different people, and diverse conversations take place about politics, economy, art, culture and philosophy. Sometimes there are passengers who talk about politics from pickup point to destination point. Taxi drivers are connected with the daily lives of the people.”
His fans agree. On his page, they give him suggestions on whom to pick up next. “When is the turn of President Ghani’s legal adviser?” wrote one person.
And they want his mini-essays to keep coming.
“I pray for your fuel tank to be always full,” wrote another fan.
Many of his admirers have asked to work with him, even support him financially, he said, but he has refused all offers and requests.
“Kabul Taxi has one driver,” he explained.