The UC Berkeley Library began a project Aug. 15 to archive websites at risk of erasure under Taliban rule.
Librarian for East European Central Asian studies collections Liladhar Pendse initiated the project when the Taliban first breached the presidential palace in Kabul, according to Pendse and campus South Asia curator and cataloger Adnan Malik.
“The arrival of the Taliban in Kabul suggested that these websites might get taken down, and the artists, journalists and social activists that were based in Afghanistan and their tweets might disappear from public view or even get sanctioned,” Pendse said in an email. “Our goal was not to prevent the impossible, but to selectively crawl and preserve the websites that could be potentially taken down.”
Pendse enlisted the help of campus colleagues, including South and Southeast Asian Studies professor Munis Faruqui and Shahwali Ahmadi, campus professor of Near Eastern Studies. Professors from other universities, such as Stanford University and James Madison University, also helped initiate the project.
According to Pendse and Malik, the project leaders set out to preserve certain parts of the Afghan internet using established web-archiving techniques. They were concerned that important pieces of cultural information and social documentation would be permanently lost if deleted by the Taliban.
To cover the costs of archiving websites, Malik and Tang Center for Silk Road Studies Director Sanjyot Mehendale offered their financial support if needed to continue the project in the future.
Pendse and Malik noted the Taliban may disprove of websites for a variety of complex reasons, and that members of the project team are focused on identifying websites in danger of erasure.
Campus doctoral fellow in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures Ahmad Rashid Salim added that the Taliban aims to delete sources tied to criticism of their ideology.
“They are an ideological religious movement that wishes to remake both traditional and modern Afghan society in their own image,” Malik said in an email. “We have already seen that certain websites have changed, and there have been replacements of chancellors at several educational institutions.”
Pendse and Malik added that some of the archived websites have been made private to protect identities from Taliban retaliation. As of press time, the library has archived 83 websites.
Salim noted that prior to Taliban control, Afghanistan enjoyed a free press. He said in an email that now many media outlets are shut down and individuals have been deleting their social media accounts due to reports of the Taliban locating users who criticized their rule.
“These sources and manuscripts, many of them among the rarest in the world, offer insight into various fields,” Salim said in an email. “Their preservation is of utmost importance not only for the preservation of Afghan national heritage but intellectual production that benefits scholars, researchers, and others throughout the world and for years to come.”