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In A Historic First, An Afghan Woman Wins A Local Version Of ‘American Idol’

Zahra Elham, an Afghan woman in her 20s has become the first to win a popular singing competition, with her victory coming as fears grow that women could lose hard-won rights if the US does a peace deal with the Taliban. The Hazara ethnic minority singer snatched first place from her male runner-up on Afghan Star -- a local version of ‘American Idol’ -- in which hundreds of men and women have competed for 14 seasons. “I am so so happy; I cannot even find words to express my feelings. Today, I represent all the girls of Afghanistan. Today not only Zahra Elham but all the girls in Afghanistan have won,” she said amid cheers, applause and even tears from the admiring audience. Known for her high pitch and raspy voice, she had previously said she wanted to break the grasp of male winners on the competition, first launched in 2005 and one of Afghanistan’s most popular television shows. As talks between Washington and the Taliban aimed at ending the long war progress, young women, keenly aware of how their gender was banished behind doors and beneath burkas under Taliban rule, are among the most vocal in warning they will not compromise their hard-won rights if the insurgents return.