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Mon, Dec 26, 2005

Kite Flying Ban Extended in Pakistan

This Is Not The Kite You Had In Years Gone By

by Aero-News Senior (and occasional Foreign) Correspondent, Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien

Pakistani kite-flying enthusiasts, denied their sport by a court ruling, protested in front of the Pakistani Supreme Court in Lahore; the protest got physical and riot police subdued it vigorously with riot batons.

The kite enthusiasts had gathered in hopes that a ban imposed last month was going to sunset last Friday. Instead, the court extended it, and scheduled a new hearing in January. The outcome might be an outright ban on the popular sport of kite flying -- and kite fighting.

if you're not Pakistani or Afghan, you're probably asking questions like, "Why would anybody fight, let alone riot, over kites?" If you are, you might be asking, "How dare that court do such a thing!"

The Sport In Question

Boys and young men dedicate themselves to making a kite that will fly high, fast, and above all, be controllable -- for the object of the sport is to cut the string of other kites with the string of your own. The string is given an abrasive coating of glued-on powdered glass to enhance its ability to cut other strings -- and here's where the problem comes. Because the string will not only cut kite strings, but also, anything else it encounters. The kite flyers' hands are normally cut to ribbons and bloody by the end of a competition.

But last month in Lahore, a string ran across the throat of a spectator, a young girl. There have been other deaths, too. Boys have run off roofs or into traffic in an attempt to chase the cut-off kites (bringing in the trophy is worth extra points, as it were). And a bunch of people of good will went to the Pakistani court and said that innocents were dying out there; "do something." Hence the ban that brought the protesters out Friday.

The Cultural Importance Of Kite Fighting Can't Be Overestimated

This is a major sport played by Afghan and Pakistani men and boys, and it has its roots in the fiercely competitive Pushtun (also called Pathan) tribal culture. It's a warrior culture: the President of Afghanistan is Pushtu; so are the leaders of the Taliban; so are many of the best generals in the Pakistani armed forces.

The older men may not participate in the kite-flying directly any more, but they are still involved, as enormous sums (by Pushtun standards) are wagered on the events.

On of the reasons the Taliban were hated was their ban on kite flying and kite fighting. Mullah Omar's theory was simple: it wasn't explicitly authorized by the Holy Koran, ergo, out with it. Of all the immense catalog of barbarities of that benighted regime: the murders, the abuse of women, the wanton destruction of antiquities -- the kite-flying ban might have been the one most cited by former Taliban who rallied to our side.

An entertaining and culturally=accurate novel that hinges on the sport through the last thirty or so years of Afghan politics (and for many Afghans, years of American exile), the Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini was a surprise best seller last year. Highly recommended for the reader in your family, to anybody interested in Afghanistan or that part of the world, and for anybody who likes a good tale told well. It might help explain why kite bans made grown men riot in the streets of Lahore or change sides in the war.

When Kite Fighting Came To America

An Afghan-American friend described to me how the influx of Afghan refugees that have settled in California brought the sport with them. "You know, we were new in the country, and didn't speak good English yet. So my brothers and I are in the park and we see people flying kites. Great! We can participate! So we made a kite -- but no one attacked us, and then when we cut their strings they got mad at us. We're going, 'What's with these losers, they don't want to play?' and some guy is saying, 'You cut off my kid's kite and made him cry, and I'm gonna bust your nose.' And with the language barrier it took a while to figure it out. Oops. Sorry!"

As more Afghans moved into the area, an amicable solution was found -- separate corners of the park for Southwest Asian kite-fighting and North American kite playing -- and everybody's happy. My friend escaped a beating and still has the nose God gave him, and nobody has made a little kid cry in a long time.

But if the Pakistani guys whose sport is now banned find out that it's still legal in Fremont, California, there's not telling what'll happen next.

FMI: www.khaledhosseini.com

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