Let's talk about love and suicide: Kabul gets its own Frasier Crane

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The Independent Online

Humayoon Daneshayar's daily radio phone-in show deals with more than just personal problems. The jovial, middle-aged sculptor sorts out matters of life and death live on Kabul's favourite radio show.

Humayoon Daneshayar's daily radio phone-in show deals with more than just personal problems. The jovial, middle-aged sculptor sorts out matters of life and death live on Kabul's favourite radio show.

The format may be Western, a mix of snappy human interest and sensible advice, but the type of dilemmas that listeners seek help with are definitely Afghan. Devoted listeners ask him to resolve squabbles between brothers armed with Kalashnikovs. Desperate lovers driven to the brink of suicide come to him as a last resort. And despairing young people who survived war and the Taliban but can't cope in an Afghanistan at peace seek his assistance in finding jobs.

Since he took to the airwaves a year ago, the artist has become the Frasier of Kabul, a good-natured, avuncular figure who tries his best to help young people in his city, not an easy place to be young in.

His show The Youth and Their Problems has become essential listening for a generation struggling out of a repressive past and faced with DVD images of a freer lifestyle they have not yet come to terms with.

Each day, Mr Daneshyar wades through his postbag to select the problems of about 25 young Afghans from among the many who write in to Arman FM. It is not surprising he is so popular: most people have nowhere to turn to for advice outside the family or mosque.

Arguments between relatives, sometimes involving automatic weapons and usually about land inheritance, figure highly among the subject matter of his letters. So does jobhunting. Stories from young women who have seen their hopes of economic freedom dashed are particularly sad. The most compelling are from those struggling, often rather blindly, with affairs of the heart.

In a conservative Islamic society in which arranged marriages are the norm, courtship has always been difficult. But attitudes are changing fast as young Afghans are exposed to different cultures through DVDs and satellite television.

"There is no guidance for our young," he says. "They have been in the dark for a long time." A conservative at heart, he admits to being concerned with the growing number of boys and girls falling for each other, often in defiance of their families.

"The problem is that so many young people see Indian movies from Bollywood about forbidden love. Then they do the same thing themselves." He also deals with more traditional problems. "Boys kill themselves here because they don't have the money to pay for their marriage," he said.

"Our young boys must pay at least £6,000 to the girl's family to marry, and some fathers are greedy and ask for more. That means you have many poor boys who will never marry, and many girls who will never marry either because of their fathers' greedy demands. First cousins fall for each other all the time because they never meet anyone else, then they elope together and cause a big scandal."

In the past few months, he has talked the desperate out of suicide ("I tell them it is against Islam and will hurt their families") and resolved tangled love affairs. He has been guest of honour at several marriages after smoothing over the path of true love.

His only real resemblance to Dr Frasier Crane - whom he had never heard of - is his balding head. Unlike the neurotic Seattle bachelor, Mr Daneshyar is a happily married 42-year-old with simple tastes, who returned to Afghanistan last year after more than a decade as a refugee in Pakistan.

He always liked radio and decided to have a go at his own show because he thought he could help people. It's rare for him to talk through a problem on air - most of his listeners are too shy to phone and prefer to write in under a pseudonym.

The station plays Kylie as well as Afghan folk tunes, and has been a big hit since it was set up by three Afghan-Australian brothers last year. But fundamentalist critics have criticised its female DJs, especially for laughing on air and for chatting with male colleagues. They are scathing about its informal, breezy style.

Some of the critics of Mr Daneshyar are in the newsroom. Masood Ghayoor, once known as the Voice of the Taliban from his newsreading days and now Arman's star presenter after a spell working for Fox News, admitted he did not approve. "This stuff about love affairs is against Afghan culture," he sniffed.

Mr Daneshyar admits he is uneasy about some of his topics. He has to deal with sexual problems, usually impotence and failure to conceive, and refers his correspondents to a doctor without explaining in detail on air.

Dealing with the sexual lives of single people is going too far. "This is Afghanistan," he said, after sending his teenage daughter from the room. "There is no sex outside marriage here. We do not broadcast anything which is forbidden by Islam."