Afghan TV airs first woman singer in 10 years

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The Independent Online

For the first time in more than a decade a woman has been shown singing on Afghan television. The video was old and the song well-known, but the sight of the pop star Salma - clad in a red dress and sporting a headscarf - has sparked a wave of excitement and a backlash of conservatism.

The four-minute track was broadcast on Monday. The video could delight only those in the capital, Kabul, who were wealthy enough to own a television set and lucky enough to have electricity at the crucial moment. But the broadcast provoked the first cultural struggle between modernisers and conservatives since a new constitution declared Afghanistan an Islamic republic nine days ago.

Parwais Nasari, a 25-year-old man 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 gathered around the screen and turned up the volume," he said, drawing gasps from a customer and the owner of the stall next door. "I hadn't seen anything like it since Communist days."

But one of Afghanistan's deputy Supreme Court justices was less amused. "This mistake should not be repeated," Fazel Ahmed Manawi said. "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, when Soviet occupiers tried to drag tribal Afghanistan into the industrial age.

Moscow's withdrawal in 1989 and the triumph of the Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin three years later put an end to that. The Taliban, who captured Kabul in 1996, then banned television and non-religious music outright.