The Dog-Eat-Dog World of (Illegal) Pakistani Kite Flying

The Kite Flying Festival in Lahore, Pakistan has gained much international attention lately due to Khalid Hosseini’s bestselling novel The Kite Runner.  Unfortunately, it has also received too much attention in Pakistan as well, according to Sam Knight of The Times (UK). 

In his wonderfully penned essay, Knight tells us that the annual festival (known as Basant) isn’t a bunch of kids merrily lofting kites into the air, but rather a cutthroat competition in which kite flyers use their kite strings to sever the strings of other kites and send them tumbling back down to earth.  Over the years, however, competitors have engaged in an increasingly dangerous arms race in which kite strings are now coated in crushed glass, acid, or slivers of sharp metal.  As kites are downed, these treacherous strings dangle from trees and electrical lines, often snagging passersby and motorcyclists.  Last year 24 people died from injuries sustained from these so-called death strings.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, corporate sponsors have stepped in to hijack the event, contributing to a growing atmosphere of drinking, partying, and profiteering that has raised the ire of local devout Muslims. 

Faced with such growing concerns, Pakistan actually banned kite flying last December.  This naturally resulted in protests and a rash of illegal kites taking to the air.  A ban was also put in place for the Lahore festival which was to take place earlier this month at the beginning of Spring.  As Knight reports, however, the ban was openly defied throughout Lahore despite legions of police confiscating kites and arresting many of those who dared send their creations aloft.