Porn gains big following in Afghanistan

From Japan Today
Friday, February 15, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan In a darkened room at the back of a teashop in dusty downtown Kandahar, 23-year-old Latif stands mouth agape, giggling nervously, staring at the first pair of breasts he can remember seeing.

Satellite television has come to the conservative southern Afghan city of Kandahar, and as well as Lithuanian documentaries, Polish cultural programs and Catalan soap operas, the city's inhabitants can now watch something equally alien to them pornography.

Following the fall of the Taliban, satellite dishes are springing up on rooftops across the staid city. Private homes, restaurants and guesthouses are tuning in to 170 channels from all over the world. Four of them show nothing but porn.

The Taliban, who told women to stay indoors and even beat them if their shoes made too much noise when walking, may have gone but Kandahar's Pashtuns have not abandoned the strict social and religious codes that govern interaction between the sexes.

Almost all women between puberty and old age still wear the burqa head-to-toe veil when venturing out of their homes. Most men have never seen a naked woman outside their immediate family.

Despite their lurid names one is called "100 percent hardcore" the porn channels are mild by Western standards, showing topless women gyrating around poles or reclining languorously as telephone numbers for sex chat-lines and mail-order videos scroll across the screen.

But most Kandahar men, cut off from the outside world by decades of conflict and warlordism and then by the harsh rules of the Taliban, have never seen anything like it.

Many are uneasy. "This is not good for our society," said a 26-year-old man who works for an educational foundation. "People should not be watching such things. It's not right."

But there is no shortage of viewers. In one guesthouse a group of bearded Afghan men sit glued to the screen, one of them frantically stabbing at the remote control to change the channel when a female Western aid worker walks into the room.

Abdul Wasi runs one of the many satellite television shops that have emerged in Kandahar since the Taliban left.

He sells six-foot dishes for about $100 and eight-foot dishes with a digital receiver for about $250, importing the equipment from Pakistan.

The small brick shop is surrounded by dozens of dishes littering the pavement.

"I've been in business a month, and I have sold nearly 400 dishes," Wasi said. "My shop is always busy. Everybody wants to watch satellite television." (Compiled from wire reports)