“Proud but shocked”, the first woman winner of the Afghan version of TV show, American Idol, says after achieving a difficult victory in the hugely popular televised singing competition.
Zahra Elham, a woman in her early 20s, says she will fight the Taliban with her music, embracing a victory rich in symbolism as her country faces an uncertain future as Washington, seeking a way out of the war, holds talks with the Taliban.
According to AFP, Elham, from Afghanistan's ethnic Hazara minority, enchanted audiences with her high-pitched, raspy voice, performing Hazara and Persian folk music in traditional loose, colourful Afghan dresses and heels.
Elham, who spoke to AFP in an interview at the private television channel Tolo, which produces Afghan Star, appeared taken aback by her new fame more than a week on, but determined to use it to inspire other girls.
"I was very proud of myself but at the same time shocked to be the first woman to win the contest," the young woman said, her hair elegantly covered with an olive green scarf, visibly still uncomfortable with a camera.
The new Afghan star said that no one in her family is a singer, and she was totally inspired after watching YouTube videos of idols such as Aryana Sayeed, a characterization that in conservative Afghanistan is a bold, deeply political one.
"Yes, my voice is important for the women of Afghanistan," Elham replied bluntly when asked if she, like Sayeed, is now a role model for Afghanistan's young women, in a culture where women are largely absent from public spaces.
Despite her passion for Afghan music, Elham, is also a Justin Bieber and Maher Zain fan, says she has no intention of going in to politics. But if the Taliban return to some semblance of power in Afghanistan, she says, "I will fight with my music, because I want to make my life music and singing."
The Taliban used their strict interpretation of Islam to ban music, and force women behind closed doors and beneath burkas during their austere rule of Afghanistan from 1996 until they were ousted in 2001. Since then they have waged an increasingly bloody insurgency against the Afghan government and US-led international troops.
Young women, keenly aware of how their gender were suppressed under Taliban rule, are among the most vocal in warning they will not compromise their rights if the insurgents return.
For now, however, Elham says her victory is a matter of pride, and that she remains focused on her music, with plans to learn the guitar and make more video clips of herself performing. "I see my future in music, and I can make my future bright with singing," she says.