In an Afghanistan where people are hungry for peace, an NGO has found a splendid way to emphasize the joys of peace and the terrible results of war: They are sponsoring children who are orphans from the many wars of Afghanistan to fly kites on a historic hill high above Kabul.

on September 20, 80 children took to one of the city’s favourite recreation spots for the traditional Afghan sport of kite flying. Tapa-ye Maranjan, famous for the tomb of Nadir Khan, where several generations of Afghan kings are buried, makes a perfect site as it is perched high on a hill overlooking Kabul, and catches the wind.

The children have not been chosen at random. They all belong to Aschiana, an Afghan non-government group that helps street children, most of whom were orphaned during Afghanistan’s many years of war.

The UN and peace groups hope that the celebration and calls for a cease fire will stop the Taliban’s increasingly vicious attacks against the Afghan people.

Some have called for peace talks, land the increased esteem of the Taliban that resulted from the South Korean government’s ass kissing negotiations with that group over women hostages made many locals think that negotiations might result in a compromise.

Alas, the Taliban doesn’t want compromise but a return to power with the establishment of their own puritanical version of Islam…one that covers women with a Burkha and forbids women to study,  and one that forbids simple pleasures such as Bollywood CD’s, television, and kite flying.

Yet even more than the laws requiring women to cover up and denying them the right to work or study, the ban on kite flying was symbolic of the hatred of simple human pleasures of the Taliban’s rigid puritanical tyranny.

You see, flying kites in the Spring is common in all of Asia from Japan to Malaysia to Arab lands, and often most popular in the spring when the winds are brisk. In Hindu India, the kite is a symbol of Hope and joy, so flying kites is associated with  various Hindu festivals, but in Pakistan it is merely a celebration of spring and joy.
When the feast of Basant (or jashan e baharaan) is celebrated each Spring, not only do colorful kites fill the sky, but the competitive sport of cutting each other’s kite string makes the custom even more exciting:

The object is to fly the kite in such a way that its string wraps around and cuts the string of the other team’s kite. Each fall of the kites is celebrated with drum beating and loud screams of “bokata”. The colours of basant are not only seen on land, but it seems as if the whole sky celebrates and dances along with the kites of various colours, shapes and sizes. This event does not even stop during night-time. For the kite flyers the sky is illuminated with lights using Powerful electric torches, and also by tying candle-lamp, “qindeel” to the kite string.

Yet such innocent fun was not only forbidden by the Taliban, in Pakistan itself the increase in rigid Islamic mosques are trying to outlaw the festival as “pagan”,  or under the guise of safety (kites can hit you on the head when they fall, and the strings can cause cuts). But of course one can make kites safe without a ban, and it is  religious leaders, not doctors, who are behind the ban. Nevertheless, the power of militant Islam in Pakistan can be shown by the arrest last Spring, of over 200 poor people in Pakistan  for kite flying.
There is nothing in the Quran or Islamic law that forbids the sport. Indeed, in India the largest kite flying festival is associated with the festival of the Sufi Saint known as Gareeb Nawaz.

But perhaps that is the problem: the more common Sufi inspired Islam of the non Arab world, including Pakistan which emphasizes a person’s personal relationship to Allah rather than obedience to the laws imposed by authoritarian religious leaders.

For locals are not only seeing their cultures being stressed by a culture of western globalism but by  a more rigid, rule oriented politicized militant  “Islamic revival” that has more to do with the funding of militant Islam by Saudi charities. than with the Islam itself.

And the innocent sport of kite flying is caught in the middle of the struggle.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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