Young Afghans are enthusiastically tuning in to pop music. Three
years after the collapse of the Taliban regime -- which had banned any music it
deemed as "un-Islamic" -- the popularity of pop music programs aired by
Afghanistan's new private broadcasters is on the rise. Kabul's private Tolo TV
has been broadcasting a nightly one-hour music video program for the past five
months called "Hop." The format is similar to that of the international music
television channel MTV -- with an Afghan twist. But conservative Islamists
complain that programs like "Hop" are corrupting Afghan youth.
addition to the songs of Western pop music stars like Madonna and Jennifer
Lopez, "Hop's" young Afghan hosts also present music videos by Iranian, Turkish,
and Indian pop stars.
After just five months on the air, the format is
proving to be extremely popular with young Afghans. In fact, according to some
audience research, "Hop" is becoming the most watched prime-time television
program in Kabul. The one-hour show begins at 7:30 p.m. every night --
immediately following the news on the private station Tolo TV. The pace of the
program is fast -- with tight editing and camera angles that are unconventional
by the standards of Afghan state television. And the script focuses mainly on
music and performers.
Twenty-two-year-old Shakeb Issar is one of the
program's three video presenters. Issar had fled with his family to Pakistan in
1996 when the Taliban captured Kabul. He was just 13 at the time. Having
returned to his homeland, Issar says he now wants to entertain viewers and
motivate young Afghan performers.
"By playing these songs, we would like
to motivate our singers and actors to become famous like Western artists such as
Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez," he says.
The only female presenter on
the show, 22-year-old Shaima Rezayee, stayed in Afghanistan during the five
years that the Taliban controlled Kabul. She was forbidden from going to school
as a teenager and, in the final years of Taliban rule, was forced to wear an
all-encompassing burqa whenever she ventured outside.
Even now, with
Afghan women free to study and to work, Rezayee says Afghans often are shocked
by her appearance on television and on the streets of Kabul in Western-style
clothing. But she makes no apologies.
"Whenever I go out, some people say
some [bad] things," she says. "But there are more who praise it. Especially my
family -- and a lot of young people in this country encourage me."
Suleiman, Tolo TV's news director, told RFE/RL that the station hopes to expand
its broadcasts outside of Kabul in the future -- first, into other major cities
and eventually to the point that people across all of Afghanistan can receive
Tolo TV was founded by Afghan entrepreneur Saad Mohseni and
his family, who returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after living for 20 years in
The station's initial startup costs also were supported by the
United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Like Kabul's private
FM station Radio Arman -- which also was created by Mohseni's family with help
from USAID -- broadcasts by Tolo TV include a mix of music, entertainment, news,
and talks shows that focus on social issues.
Mohseni admits "Hop" has
generated angry complaints from Afghans who think it promotes un-Islamic values.
But Mohseni says the justification for the program is its popularity.
the Afghans are ready or not, that is really up to the public to decide," he
says. "It is not up to intellectuals and the academics and the so-called
experts. If the public uses these programs with enthusiasm and they are popular,
then obviously the public seems to be ready for these types of
One of the most outspoken critics of "Hop" is Fazl Hadi
Shinwari, a conservative Islamist who serves as chief justice on the Afghan
"It will corrupt our society, culture and most
importantly, it will take our people away from Islam and destroy our country,"
he says. "This will make our people accept another culture, and make our country
a laughingstock around the world."
Just over a year ago, Shinwari was on
the losing side of an attempt to re-implement a ban against state television
broadcasts that show female singers. The ban originated with Islamic
fundamentalists who ruled Afghanistan during the early 1990s. It was lifted only
after the collapse of the Taliban.
A growing number of youth in Kabul
appear to be rejecting Shinwari's arguments. Among them is Wahidullah, a young
Afghan who counts himself among those who watch "Hop" almost every
"Whoever doesn't like this program is being a narrow-minded
person," he says. "This program 'Hop' is so interesting for the young generation
that a lot of young people are just as interested as I am and want to see even
Older Afghans often are skeptical. Sitting in a Kabul
restaurant with a television tuned to "Hop," Kabul resident Abdul Rahman Faizi
says the decisions of Islamic leaders continue to be important in Afghan
"Anything that is according to our Islamic Shariat is acceptable
for us," Faizi says. "But if it is not in Shari'a, people will have a hard time
For now, the broadcasts by each of the half-dozen private
television stations across Afghanistan are limited to local audiences -- either
in Kabul or other Afghan cities. The debate over pop music programs is expected
to heat up in the months and years ahead as private stations expand their
broadcasting range into provincial regions.
More: Tolo TV, Now Also in Kandahar & Jalalabad