The Associated Press
Saturday, March 22,
Afghanistan: In a well-guarded
hotel on top of a high hill, a lively audience of Afghans and American VIPs
watched the season finale of Afghanistan's version of "American Idol." Singers
performed on a star-shaped stage while cutting-edge graphics flashed in the
Meanwhile, only a
couple hundred meters (yards) down that hill, thousands of Afghans demonstrated
Friday against the publication of Prophet Mohammad drawings in Denmark, yelling
"Down with Denmark" and "Death to America."
burned flags of the Netherlands and Denmark and an effigy of a Dutch filmmaker
Richard Holbrooke, a
former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, was
among the VIPs watching the filming of "Afghan Star." But because of the
protests outside, he couldn't leave the hotel when he had planned to. He took
note of the irony.
"I love it,
fabulous. Better than 'American Idol,'" Holbrooke said of the show. "It shows
the two Afghanistans. The riots down there and the show up
the way President George W. Bush's administration has handled the Afghan
conflict, saying Washington "neglected" the country "and now we're playing
He said any of the
three remaining candidates for president — Republican John McCain and Democrats
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — would do better in Afghanistan than
candidates will put more emphasis on it than President Bush," Holbrooke told The
Associated Press in the hotel lobby. "The war in Afghanistan is going to go on
longer than the war in Iraq, at a lower intensity."
But Holbrooke, a
supporter and adviser to Hillary Clinton, said the Democratic candidates would
phase out of Iraq faster than McCain and put more resources into Afghanistan. He
said Clinton would like to increase support for agricultural programs to help
create jobs in the country.
Inside the hotel's
ballroom, Rafi Naabzada, a 19-year-old ethnic Tajik, was voted the winner of the
third season of "Afghan Star," the country's most popular TV show. The two
finalists - the other was Hameed Sakhizada, a 21-year-old ethnic Hazara -
together received more than 300,000 text message votes.
A female singer from
the most conservative Afghan tribe, the Pashtuns, was voted out last week,
finishing in third place. She had drawn the ire of conservative clerics in
Afghanistan, who said women should not be singing on TV.
Saad Mohseni, the
founder of Tolo TV, which produces "Afghan Star," said the show is helping bring
about social change in Afghanistan.
"Not just in music,
but in the way people voted, the way they lined up in an orderly manner (outside
the show) ... the way the losers are gracious. No one is threatening violence.
That's a huge change," Mohseni said.
He estimates that 11
million Afghans watch "Afghan Star." The country's population is around 30
At the bottom of the
hill, thousands of Afghans chanted and held signs against Denmark, where
newspapers recently reprinted drawings of the Prophet Mohammad, and the
Netherlands, where Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders plans to release a film
criticizing the Quran this month.
"We want to say to
America and the European Union, this is not freedom of speech. It's barbaric,
and they must stop the film's release," a cleric told the
The cleric also
called for Danish troops in Afghanistan to leave. Denmark has 600 troops in
Afghanistan serving under NATO's International Security Assistance
Osama bin Laden, in an audiotape released this week, warned of a "severe"
reaction to European publication of the cartoons. His message raised concerns
al-Qaida was plotting new attacks in Europe.