'Mr and Ms Valentine': Afghanistan celebrates with roses and fashion

By Orooj Hakimi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi

By Orooj Hakimi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL, Feb 14 (Reuters) - After a busy afternoon walking the catwalk in a luxury hotel in Kabul on Friday, Salma Hussaini was named Afghanistan's first "Ms Valentine".

The 20-year-old from Bamiyan province took a final walk down the runway clad in a pink and yellow top and white jeans with silver cuffs, before the receiving her sash.

"Valentine's Day is known all over the world, but now it finds its place in Afghanistan too. We have celebrated Valentine's Day with today's fashion show, but we are going to have many more fashion shows in the future," she told Reuters.

The competition, organised by a local modelling agency, also named a 23-year-old male model from Helmand province as "Mr Valentine". The show was a sign of how Valentine's Day is now being celebrated by young people in a conservative society where it serves as a distraction from years of war.

In larger cities, displays of red and pink balloons and posters with Valentine's Day wishes spring up in February. Restaurants in Kabul advertise packages with menus and entertainment such as music and comedy shows for couples wanting to celebrate Valentine's Day together.

Murtaza Haidari, manager of online store Kaaj, said he had received dozens of orders for roses and teddy bears this week and was expecting that to rise into the hundreds by the end of Friday.

Mainly young people took part, he said, and his online shop served those who did not feel comfortable shopping publicly for Valentine's Day gifts.

"It is good to see our people are talking about love, affections and emotions, at least it is better than everyday fighting and war. Most of our customers are youngsters," he told Reuters. "Here there is famous saying among everyday people: 'the Taliban would not have gone to the frontline if he had a lover at home'."

In the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, 23-year-old Hamidullah said he would celebrate Valentine's Day with Nazanin, his fiancee, though he did not want to ruin the surprise by revealing the details publicly.

"I can't say what I will gift to my life partner but there will be a bouquet of red roses, as a sign of my love," he said.

Nazinin, 22, was looking forward to the celebration.

"Life is already full of tension and fear in Afghanistan. This is at least a small opportunity for lovers to express their inner feelings, to enjoy those feelings and emotions," she said. (Reporting by Orooj Hakimi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Additional reporting by Matin Sahak in Mazar-i-Sharif; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Giles Elgood)