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Once Again Afghans Take to the Skies

For centuries, kite flying has played a significant role in Afghan culture. Banned under Taleban rule, it has made a comeback in recent years. And once again the skies above Kabul are filled with activity.

For centuries they have filled the skies above Kabul, often engaged in aerobatic battle. "Gudiparan bazi", or kite flying, is a sport that many Afghans have raised to the status of an art.

Afghans, like 12-year-old Mohammad Ashare, enjoy kite fighting with other flyers, trying to break the string of opponents and send their kites floating off in the wind. "Depends on how good your string is, then it is your technique,” says Mohammad. “For example, you roll your string on top of the other kite’s string, and never pull the string, just let roll."

Banned during the Taleban years because it was considered un-Islamic, kite flying has made a comeback in Kabul. And kite shops can now be found all over the city.

Abdul Shkur came to one shop to buy some kites for his children. "Compared to other countries, we do not have parks here, places to take our kids to play. So kites are a good thing for our children, so that they can play."

If the Taleban found someone flying a kite, they would beat him, break the spool of string, and tear up the kite. Sixty-nine-year old Mohammad Anwar remembers that time well. "During the Taleban time everybody just left here because we could not have a shop like this and we were not allowed to fly kites. So they were treating us very badly and everybody left the country to go to Pakistan and Iran."

Kite fighting, or "jang" is a big part of the sport. Kites are often flown close together from the rooftops and neighbors engage in battle trying to cut the string of their opponents. Some go to great lengths to improve their odds by mixing a paste of finely ground glass and adhesive, which is applied to the string.

It can be a dangerous sport. And many lose their footing in the heat of battle and fall from the rooftop. Each year there are injuries and some deaths. To some, this is a serious sport and each neighborhood will have its "sharti" or kite-fighting champion.

Khan Tazada, who often enjoys a good battle, says there is nothing secret about his technique. "You need good wind, not very fast and not very slow. Medium wind to keep it in the sky. Then, we put it in battle with other kites and this is the best part of the game.”

But most people fly kites for the pleasure of it. Standing on a hilltop above this city that has seen so much misery and pain over the past 40 years, there is something peaceful, almost lyrical about launching a kite to the will of the wind. It's soothing to the spirit and for a moment provides respite from the problems of the day.