Afghanistan’s “Pop Idol”- Signs of Democracy, Progress, Liberation?

Afghan Star contestants at the finals

By Majed Iqbal- The second presidential election in Afghanistan under the new constitution, designed after ‘liberation’ in 2001 was held on August 20, 2009.

The much awaited election has been at the forefront of international observers from the west. An election result which must prove that democracy has now been embedded in Afghan society and a living showcase to the world that the troops sent thousands of miles away from across the world were not fighting in vain.

The fight for ‘people power’ took a new form, away from the battlefield where western troops are fighting the ‘insurgency’. The fight to establish people power was now through Television allowing Afghanis to digest democracy through voting for their favorite singing stars by text messaging, in the form of the countries own version of Pop Idol.

The program titled “Afghan Star” drew viewing figures of 11 million people (a third of the population) who tuned in to watch the finale, gathering in homes, fruit shops, coffee houses and military barracks. The six-month-long television show, running for the third season would name the final two contestants, based on votes sent in from viewers via text message and offering a grand prize of £2,500 for the winner.

“Afghan Star is very good as it shows all the sleeping talent across Afghanistan,” one young man in the crowd said in good English.

“The young generation before, during the decades of war, could not stand up and show what they had, but now all the young generation can show their talents.”

According to the United National Development Programme around 68 percent of Afghanis are under the age of 25. So this is the generation which is being addressed to once again become part of the global community by sharing in the West’s version of Global values.

Lima Sahaar, one of the female contestants is from the southern province of Kandahar to Kabul. Her hair is usually covered with a scarf and is dressed in traditional Afghani clothing.

“I’m not afraid. Afghan people don’t care about risks or dangers. I think all of Afghanistan is in danger, but if we worry about those dangers we can’t move on and the country’s not going to develop.”

Western press have cheered on and ‘broadcasted’ the progress made for women since 2001 citing that the vey fact a young woman from the birthplace of the Taleban is on stage performing each week says a lot about the way Afghanistan has changed in the last six years.

In the midst of a war torn and ethnically divided country the show has attracted participants from different backgrounds attracting women, men, children, elders, Pashtuns and Hazaras.

Rafi, a 19-year-old from Mazar e Sharif, Hameed a classically trained musician from the persecuted Hazara ethnic group, Lima, a 25-year-old woman from conservative Kandahar) and Setara, a 21-year-old woman from Heart.

However, in the midst of this new wave of Afghanistan embracing a mock up a western Show, one of the female contestants who is voted off dances briefly and when her head scarf slips off, she does not replace it.

Backstage, horrified, her fellow contestants’ voices are thin when they ask, “Why is she dancing?” …”this is not what a woman should do on national television” said one of the male final contestants.

So is this the nation’s first flirtation with democracy? And is Afghanistan making that progress that liberation forces from Britain, America and around the world promised dispensing their ‘moral’ duty to take out the country from the cave age which the Taliban provided and drive the country to modernity?

A further question which stands un-answered, why are Afghanis still conservative, holding onto Islamic ideals despite the fact that the Taliban are not in power? Wasn’t this the very ‘conservatism’ which the West wished to remove and replace with ‘modernity’?

So why would, in the eyes of the West, a liberal person, contesting in the finals of a talent show, the pinnacle of Afghanistan’s ‘Liberation’, object to women dancing on stage?

Quite similarly, Afghanistan’s democratic route in the recent election has been boasted about in western media as a new dawn for the country.

However, according to human rights groups, at least 70 candidates with links to “illegal armed groups” were on the ballot list in the election. Both of Hamid Karzai’s vice-presidential candidates and many of his key allies in the election are alleged to have committed widespread human rights violations and war crimes.

Mohammad Qasim Fahim Better known as Marshal Fahim, the vice-presidential candidate is accused of having been a former Communist secret police chief, murdering prisoners of war during the 1990s, running private armed militias, and involvement in kidnapping and other crimes after 2001. Fahim, a key U.S. ally in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, had also previously served as Karzai’s First Vice President and Minister of Defense, appointed to those positions in the interim and transitional governments installed after the 2001 invasion.

Democracy, a loaded and sensationalist ideal, proposed to be in function and continuously referenced on the lips of the American and British today has seen criminals, warlords and hand picked American government ‘Politicians’ take positions of authority, endorsed and rubber stamped by Western governments.

Violence and harassment is still on the rampage by Government Ministers against Women Ministers, against independent and outspoken Islamic Political parties and news stations which don’t tow a particular line. Education has not changed, women still feel insecure on the streets and prefer to wear the burkha and the youth can see duplicity in the West’s international approach to the Muslim World with the events like Gaza and Pakistan.

Both the recent elections and the Afghan Star show have highlighted that the west’s battle hasn’t really succeeded in winning the hearts and mind of the Afghani people but instead have used such smokescreens like voting and Afghanistan’s own version of pop idol to claim that progress has been made and the country is on its way to real change.

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