A Nation Stays Alive When its Culture Stays Alive

Author Name: Shezay Piracha      24 Sep 2021     Society

The battle for the control of the skies is fierce, not between aircraft or drones made of metal and steel but between delicate and appealing kites made of paper and string. They appear as flashing colors like dragonflies beyond the smoke and above the landscape of war debris.

Kite flying, an outdoor sport of Afghanistan, has been part Afghan culture for over a 100 years. In fact, this region is quite famous for kite flying in Asia, yet unlike other countries where this past time is immensely popular like Pakistan, India or Bangladesh, Afghanistan’s kite industry is quite homespun. It is a recreational activity enjoyed by men and women, young and old alike.

Colorful long-tailed kites are often seen hovering above clear skies almost every Friday evening when dozens of boys, as well as men, gather on their rooftops after congregational prayers to fly their kites. However, it is winters that are considered the ideal time for kite flying, accompanying strong cold winds as well as kite tournaments and competitions filling the atmosphere with brightly colored kites from East to the West. A time of the year that is awaited by all, especially little boys and girls. Groups of boys from extreme poverty-stricken backgrounds, too, get a chance to engage as they collect kites, sprinting after the ‘defeated’ ones that fall to the ground - these boys are often called ‘kite runners.’

It cannot be denied that Afghanistan’s culture has been exposed to destruction and much of its values have been robbed after it has spent almost the last three decades at war. However, the culture of kite flying still holds its roots. It is not only a sport that echoes the spirit of honor and delight but for the people of Afghanistan, is also considered a form of art and a way of life. The symbol of the ‘kite’ represents joy and freedom, both wished for by the Afghan people.

Since Afghanistan has been used as a melting pot for war by regional and international powers for years and its culture is so disrupted by it, ‘kite flying’ has also evolved to become ‘kite fighting’, a ‘jang’ (war) at great heights, where the strings of the kites are used to cut the opponent’s and force them to fall to the ground. At war, kite flying takes on the edge of competition and its sole pursuit becomes an unspoken challenge or fight for all. This, in itself, becomes so significant that the undefeated kite becomes a matter of honor, a battle cry of victory after competing against the best kite flyers in the neighborhood.

Preservation of such cultural activities is central to nation-building and is crucial as Afghanistan hopes for a return to security and stability amidst the efforts for peace. However, as the Taliban push upon their growing advantage and gain a solid foothold over the country, at the call of the withdrawal of US forces, what is next for the culture of Afghanistan, is quite uncertain.

During the Taliban regime of 1996-2001, many innocuous past times, activities for amusement and forms of artistic expression were banned. These included not only kite flying but also playing music, television soap operas, keeping fancy hairstyles or having any kind of festivals and tournaments. All of these and many other activities were considered ‘anti-Islamic’ and a distraction from Islam by the extremist Taliban. Furthermore, there were also restrictions on movement, education was minimal, women were oppressed, artworks were destroyed, and museums plundered. As a result, naïve people were effectively oppressed, and Afghan culture suffered immensely at the hands of the Taliban.

These years were considered joyless and dark, and very few Afghanis would like to return to this grim era. For decades, the people of Afghanistan have not seen peace, whether under the rule of the Taliban or since after the United States and NATO forces took control, and no such hope for peace and prosperity can be predicted for the future generations as well. Although it cannot be assumed that the current Taliban have the same intentions as they did back in the 1990s, however, it cannot be denied that the culture of Afghanistan is again at risk and ethnic as well as sectarian divisions, may yet again be fueled.

Whether for an individual or an entire country, one’s identity is expressed through values, traditions, and cultures, and when connection between the past, present and future becomes fragile, people lose association with their shared heritage. The nation of Afghanistan will only stay alive as long as its culture stays alive with it and with the rise of the Taliban, preservation of Afghanistan’s history and culture is at risk or at least remains uncertain.

 

The author was part of CASS’ 2021 Internship Program during which interns were asked to write an article on Afghanistan. The best articles were selected and edited to be posted on the CASS website.

 

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