KABUL - President Hamid Karzai embraced Afghanistan's victorious football team on Thursday, hours after they united the nation in a rare moment of shared joy, but officials also told jubilant Afghans to stop firing guns into the air in celebration.
The national men's team beat India 2-0 to win the South Asian Football Federation championship in Kathmandu late on Tuesday, Afghanistan's first international football title, sending tens of thousands of joyous Afghans into the streets.
Fans in cars and on motorbikes joined others on foot, cheering, blowing horns and waving Afghan flags throughout the night. Many danced in the streets of the capital, Kabul, after crowding around television sets in their homes, restaurants and coffee shops to watch the match.
"Now I know what being proud feels like, this is the happiest time in my life," said fan Ahmad Bashir, an Afghan flag draped over his shoulders.
"I have no idea what we will do if we ever win the World Cup," he said.
Most of those out in the streets of the strictly conservative Muslim country were men, although some families in cars joined in the celebrations, many shouting "Zendabad Afghanistan!" (Long Live Afghanistan!).
Afghans have struggled under the weight of three decades of conflict, stretching back through the occupation by former Soviet forces, a civil war, austere rule under the Taliban and then another 12 years of war since the Taliban were toppled.
Such celebrations would have been unimaginable under the Taliban, who banned music and television and forbade women access to education and most public gatherings.