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Indian soaps stir outrage in Afghanistan

TV channels air sexy soaps despite clerics' concern

Indian soap operas with their tales of family drama and trysts among the rich and beautiful have transfixed Afghans, but not everyone is a fan.

Conservative Muslim clerics and some politicians are outraged by the soap operas aired hour-after-hour by more than a dozen private television stations that have sprung up since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

Branding the program immoral and against Islamic culture, the critics have launched a campaign to press the private channels to pull the plug on the soaps.

"We are 6,000 people in this mosque, our intention ... is to go and blow up all the TV antennas if they do not stop it," Enayatullah Balegh, a university teacher and influential cleric at Kabul's largest mosque, told reporters.

Earlier this month, some members of parliament, supported by the Ministry of Information and Culture, issued a declaration to private TV channels to stop broadcasting five Indian soaps.

But the television stations appear defiant.

"It is against the media law," Masoud Qiam, a senior presenter for Tolo TV, told Reuters, referring to the declaration. "We will not stop the airing of the soap operas," he said.

Tolo is Afghanistan's most popular TV channel, broadcasting a mix of news and entertainment. It has had several brushes with conservatives over its fare.

"We don't consider any of the programs against our culture. These are the most watched programs that people like," Qiam said.

Hindu idols

Conservatives object to the Indian soaps as they show men and women together, "immodestly" dressed women and the worship of Hindu idols.

The channels have made concessions, cutting scenes of Hindu worship and blurring areas of bare flesh. But that hasn't appeased the critics.

"These programs have changed the behavior of our women and children, we don't want them. All Muslims know that these things are not allowed in Islam," said Gullab Khan, who was attending Balegh's Friday prayers.

Afghan law forbids publication of material "contrary to the principles of Islam". Problems arise in the interpretation of the law.

Despite a wave of unprecedented freedom since the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative Islamic society. But more and more Afghans are returning from exile, bringing back new ideas.

Afghanistan has its own pop stars who sing ballads and folk songs, and even a rap star. The Afghan version of the American Idol talent show, put out by Tolo, was a sensation but it also raised criticism, especially when a woman came third.