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Afghan TV lifts ban on local women singers

The ban had been in place since 1992.
The ban had been in place since 1992.

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KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- More than two years after the fall of the hardline Islamic Taliban regime, state television has broadcast for the first time footage of an Afghan woman singing.

The broadcast late on Monday will be seen as another small victory for moderate democrats led by President Hamid Karzai over religious conservatives opposed to many of the changes that have swept Kabul since the Taliban's collapse.

Kabul Television used old footage of Parasto, a well-known singer who now lives in the West, performing without a headscarf.

"We are endeavouring to perform our artistic works regardless of the issue of sex," Information and Culture Minister Sayed Makdoom Raheen told Reuters on Tuesday, when asked about the lifting of a ban on the broadcasting of women singing.

The ban has been in place since 1992, when the "mujahideen," or holy warriors, came to power and fought factional battles that reduced much of Kabul to rubble and claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The Taliban swept aside the mujahideen in 1996, and banned all television as part of its strict imposition of sharia law.

The mujahideen now form the backbone of the Northern Alliance, a faction of mainly Tajiks from the north who were instrumental in helping the U.S. military topple the Taliban in late 2001.

POWER STRUGGLE FOR AIRWAVES

The lifting of the ban came weeks after the replacement of engineer Mohammad Isahaq as head of Kabul Radio and TV. His successor, Ghulam Hassan Hazrati, has close ties with Raheen.

Ishaq is a senior member of the Northern Alliance who was at loggerheads with Raheen in a battle that reflected the broader struggle between Karzai's reformist government and conservative elements who still control many key positions of power.

Reaction on the streets to Parasto's surprise appearance also reflected the tussle.

"This is not our culture," said Shah Mohammad, a government soldier. "We should not allow this to happen and should reimpose the ban."

A student at Kabul University said, "I see it as just another success for the democrats. It has taken them a long time to bring the changes, but they are getting stronger day by day.

"Cable TV is back, alcohol is sold in some shops and now the lifting of the ban on female songs -- they are all victories for the democrats."

Cable television is widely available in Kabul, despite earlier efforts by the conservative-led Supreme Court to outlaw it for being obscene and un-Islamic.



Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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