- The Washington Times - Monday, November 26, 2001

JALALABAD, Afghanistan Mohammed Zubir Khasar celebrated what he called "freedom day" when the Taliban left town by playing music for the first time in five years on Jalalabad's only radio station.
That happened not quite two weeks ago, Nov. 14, when the Taliban pulled out and local tribal warlords formed a new government for Jalalabad and the surrounding province.
Today, Mr. Khasar waits for the new leadership, under Gov. Abdul Qadeer, to give its approval to play music during the daily 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. broadcast, the only time the little station with its limited funding is able to turn on its tiny transmitter.
"Music is part of our culture. Afghan music, that is, not Western music," said Mr. Khasar, a former comedian who had been the lone announcer on Radio Jalalabad since shortly before the Taliban came to power in 1996.
Today, he has reason to be hopeful. The new government has already moved to lift a number of onerous Taliban restrictions, such as one banning girls from going to school.
Likewise, homemade kites can be seen flying above mud-walled villages, breaking yet another taboo that was a product of the Taliban's fanatical interpretation of Islam.
But music is another issue. "I'm concerned now because a small group of military commanders in the new government opposes music," Mr. Khasar said.
"I'm still waiting for their decision. If they don't mind, I'm ready to start playing."
The official weight of a seemingly simple decision to allow music illustrates that the new government shares many of the strict Muslim beliefs of the Taliban.
That means that any loosening of restrictions is likely to come in measured degrees instead of a wholesale abandonment of Taliban restrictions.
Locals say women will probably not be forced to wear the face-covering burka. But head scarfs will, in all likelihood, be required, and most women will go on living their lives without speaking to men other than their fathers, brothers and husbands.
Afghanistan's tradition of music comes mainly from its Persian-speaking people in the east and the north, not the ethnic Pashtun areas that dominate the south.
Even in Pakistan's Pashtun areas along its border with Afghanistan, one rarely hears music in public except for an occasional lone musician playing soothing tunes on a mandolinlike instrument in an upscale restaurant.
Among public officials, one senses ambivalence toward the question of whether boys and girls should be singing inside classrooms.
Abdul Ghani Hidayat, the new education secretary for Nangarhar province, said music will be introduced in boys schools and newly opened girls schools by way of the Afghan national anthem, which will be played every morning.
As far as singing in the classroom, he said, "We have never had that sort of tradition in the classroom. It's not part of our culture."
One of the world's most famous converts to Islam, pop singer Cat Stevens, stopped singing for more than 20 years, believing that music was un-Islamic.
Only recently did he sing again for a charity event for the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"Before the Taliban came, there were no restrictions on music, so I don't expect any now," said Mr. Khasar, 34, whose broad smile often emerges from behind his thick black beard, softening the lines of worry around his eyes.
"Young Afghans men, women, boys and girls they all want to hear music. It's the older people who are divided," he said.
"Under the Taliban, they had so many rules. You couldn't do this. You couldn't do that. You couldn't play music. There was a joke that you couldn't even laugh. The only thing you could do was go to sleep."
Much of his two-hour show is devoted to reciting verses from Islam's holy book, the Koran, interspersed with news reports.
Now, Mr. Khasar finds himself dusting off a library of reel-to-reel music tapes that have been locked away for the past five years, hoping for the chance to play the tapes once again.
"I love music," he said. "This is the fruit of the inspiration of the Afghan people."


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