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TV broadcast of female singer riles some Afghans
Hip or heresy? Cultural struggle emerges in post-Taliban era

Kabul, Afghanistan The video was old and the song well-known, but the sight of an Afghan woman clad in a shiny red dress and simple headscarf singing on Afghan television sparked a wave of excitement and a backlash of conservatism.

The four-minute track by pop idol Salma was broadcast Monday, the first time Afghan state television has aired a female singer in over a decade.

Only Kabulis wealthy enough to own a TV and lucky enough to have electricity at the crucial moment could see the broadcast, but it provoked the first cultural struggle since a new constitution declared Afghanistan an Islamic republic nine days ago.

Parwais Nasari, a 25-year-old cooking potato waffles at a Kabul market stall, said he was sipping green tea after dinner with his family when Salma appeared, singing a Pashto-language ode to the beauty of the Afghan mountains.

"We sprang up, gathered around the screen and turned up the volume," he said. "We were very happy. I hadn't seen anything like it since communist days."

But one of Afghanistan's deputy supreme court justices was not amused.

"This mistake should not be repeated," Fazel Ahmed Manawi told The Associated Press. "In the constitution there is an article that says things that go against Islam are not allowed."

Female singers, some in short skirts, were a common sight on Afghan television in the 1980s, a decade of Soviet occupation.

Moscow's withdrawal in 1989 and the triumph of Islamic fighters three years later put an end to that. And the Taliban who captured Kabul in 1996 went further, banning television and non-religious music.

Now, two years after the Taliban were swept from power by U.S. military might for sheltering Osama bin Laden, music again blares from Kabul's buses, taxis and stores.

Bootleg compact discs of Salma and other favorites such as Farhad Darya another singer based in Germany are available for a dollar at booths across the capital.

Indian movies, heavily romantic and dotted with songs by unveiled young women, are a must-see on state TV for many urban families. But the sight of an Afghan woman was still a shock.

Conservatives have not let the changes pass without a fight.

Until recently the national broadcaster was controlled by the Northern Alliance, the faction that defied U.S. orders by marching into Kabul after the Taliban fled.

Conservative-minded television station managers sparred repeatedly with the more liberal Information and Culture Ministry until a new state TV director was installed last month.

Abdul Rahman Panjshiri, the TV station's foreign relations director, said the channel wanted to show more female singers.

"It's normal man without woman is incomplete. How could we keep them off television?" he said.








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