Jerome Starkey in Kabul
22 March 2008
than 300,000 people voted in the final of Afghanistan's version of Pop Idol and
hundreds more crowded into a hotel in Kabul yesterday, shrugging off angry
fans from across the country voted by text message as two male finalists battled
it out on stage, just a few hundred yards from a massive demonstration by Muslim
of young Afghans queued for hours to see the final held at the Intercontinental
Hotel, which was once a favourite stomping ground of the Taliban. The building
was protected by armed police with machine guns mounted on pick-up trucks, while
just beyond the gate crowds waved placards protesting against European cartoons
and a film which they say insults Islam.
in the country, two policemen were killed and four people wounded in blasts in
Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif. Inside the hotel, fans waved glow sticks and
chanted for their favourite singers, as previous Afghan Star winners – now
household names – performed their signature tunes to rapturous cheers, whistles
exuberance would have landed them in jail, or worse, under the hardline Taliban
regime, which ruled the country until 2001. Shakeeb Hamdard, its first winner
who is now one of the biggest Afghan stars, said: "People love music, and we
Naabzada, 19, an ethnic Tajik, was crowned this year's winner, beating Hameed
Sakhizada after a three-hour music marathon. Both men wore suits, one white, one
silver, for their performances, while most of the audience wore jeans and
show's makers claim it gets 90 per cent of the country's television audience and
it is especially popular with young people.
it has drawn fierce criticism from religious hardliners. The influential Islamic
Council petitioned President Hamid Karzai to ban it. One performer, Setara
Hussainzada, was forced to flee her home last month after she received death
threats for letting her headscarf slip as she dared to dance on stage.
performers simply walk around with one arm outstretched towards the audience. Ms
Hussainzada bobbed up and down as she sang.
of the show's owners, Zaid Mohseni, said most of the opposition comes from the
government, which he accused of launching a campaign of harassment against his
television station, Tolo. He said: "We have experienced systematic intimidation
resulting in self censorship." A government adviser accused Tolo of acting like
Manalai, an adviser to the Information and Culture minister, said: "We are
disgusted by what they do, but we allow it. We are not impeaching them. Tolo
behave like a rogue TV station." Tolo has also come under fire for broadcasting
Indian soap operas, which hardliners claim are undermining Afghan culture.