Kite flying, dancing, music: Afghan pastimes again at risk from Taliban

By Salaam Times and AFP

Men smoke a hookah water pipe along a river on the outskirts of Jalalabad on June 9. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

Professional musician Sayed Mohammad (right) rehearses with his japani, a traditional Central Asian stringed instrument, along with harmonium player Ghulam Mohammad at Sayed's music studio in Kandahar on June 8. [Javed Tanveer/AFP]

Beautician Farida poses at her beauty parlour in Kabul on June 10. [Adek Berry/AFP]

A general view of a beauty parlour in Kabul on June 10. [Adek Berry/AFP]

A beautician paints the nails of a Pashtun bride for her marriage at a beauty parlour in Kabul on June 10. [Adek Berry/AFP]

A Pashtun bride wearing a traditional costume for her marriage is pictured inside a beauty parlour in Kabul on June 10. [Adek Berry/AFP]

A barber cuts the hair of a customer in Herat on June 9. [Hoshang Hashimi/AFP]

Kite vendors wait for customers at a shop in Shor Bazaar in the old quarters of Kabul on June 9. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

A kite vendor shows his merchandise inside a warehouse in Shor Bazaar in the old quarters of Kabul on June 9. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Manizha Talash, the only female member of a group of break-dancers comprised of mostly Hazara boys, practices a move in Kabul on June 12. [Adek Berry/AFP]

Manizha Talash (left), the only female member of a group of break-dancers comprised of mostly Hazara boys, looks on as a fellow troupe member breaks a move in Kabul on June 12. [Adek Berry/AFP]

KABUL -- The Taliban outlawed dozens of seemingly innocuous activities and pastimes in Afghanistan during their 1996-2001 rule -- including flying kites, watching TV, staging pigeon races, obtaining fancy haircuts and even performing or listening to music.

These have made a comeback in the years since, and many Afghans worry they will be banned again if the hardline Islamists return to power.

Taliban political leaders have promised to uphold women's rights, to allow girls to continue to go to school, to protect diplomatic missions and to provide services to citizens.

But as the insurgents continue to overrun territory, residents are being forced to flee their homes, and those who stay are reporting that the Taliban order men to grow their beards and ban women from leaving the home without a male chaperone.


A kite vendor displays his merchandise for sale in Shor Bazaar in the old quarters of Kabul on June 9. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Since committing to peace talks with the Afghan government, the Taliban have unleashed a campaign of attacks and targeted killings of government officials, civil society leaders and journalists.

The militants have blown up electricity and telecommunications towers, destroyed major infrastructure and transportation routes, and prevented life-saving vaccination campaigns.

AFP looks at some of the activities the Taliban banned in the past and at the fears of those now taking part in them.

The musician

Sayed Mohammad makes a living as a professional musician playing the japani, a traditional Central Asian stringed instrument he first picked up as a boy.

He still remembers the evening two decades ago when the Taliban broke into a house where he and his friends were playing music and singing songs.

According to the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam, only the human voice should produce music -- and only in praise of God.

"I was young, so I was beaten less than my friends," said Mohammad, now 40 and a resident of the former insurgent bastion of Kandahar.

"I was still unable to stand for three days," he said.

But he was lucky, he said, describing how on another occasion the Taliban cut off the fingers of one of his friends for playing the japani.

When the insurgents were ousted, Mohammad celebrated by attending a concert.

"When the music played, I felt a tremor passing through my body out of sheer joy," he said. "Joy that our country was free and that people were now free to start a new life."

Since then, many Afghans like Mohammad have become professional musicians and singers.

"There is no pleasure in life if we live in fear," the father of eight told AFP.

He is determined to pursue his passion -- even if the Taliban return to power.

"Even if they cut our fingers, we will still play music."

The makeup artist

In a small shop in Kabul, beautician Farida transforms a shy young Afghan woman into a radiant bride-to-be.

Despite its bustling popularity, Farida's beauty parlour is one of hundreds across the country that face an uncertain future.

The Taliban severely restricted the movement and activities of women and girls during their rule, and banned beauty parlours from operating in public.

"If they come back, we'll never have the freedom we have now," said 27-year-old Farida, who asked not to be further identified.

"They don't want women working."

Farida's shop is busiest on Thursday and Friday, when hundreds gather for huge wedding ceremonies.

Out of the sight of men, the women come to be pampered for a few hours.

"I think the Taliban will force us to leave when they come," Farida said.

The kite-maker

In a bustling Kabul market shop, surrounded by hundreds of colourful kites of all sizes, Zelgai says he is determined not to give up the business his family has run for generations.

The Taliban outlawed kite flying on the grounds it distracted young men from praying and other religious activities, but Zelgai and his family kept operating.

"Of course, we did it in secret," the 59-year-old told AFP at his shop in the capital's Shor bazaar.

His colourful store has hundreds of fragile ready-made kites for sale, and he also takes orders for elaborate custom designs.

Business has soared in the years since the Taliban were ousted.

"This is freedom ... we are able to showcase and sell our kites openly without any fear," Zelgai said.

Today, when the wind is right, thousands of kites can be seen fluttering in Afghanistan's clear blue skies.

Some are engaged in fights, with the pilots trying to outwit each other with their flying skills and some using glass-encrusted twine to cut the strings of their opponents.

"People would suffer if it is banned. Thousands of families survive on this," Zelgai said.

The break-dancer

The day Manizha Talash took up break dancing, she knew she would become a target for the Taliban.

Talash is the only female member of a group of mostly Hazara boys who practice break dancing in Kabul -- usually in secret.

The 18-year-old has the support of her mother, who has several jobs to support the family after her husband went missing a few years ago.

But for Talash, who dreams of representing Afghanistan at the Olympics, the risks of continuing are multiple.

Not only is she a girl taking part in a forbidden activity, she is also a member of the Hazara community, considered heretical by some Islamic extremists and a frequent target of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

"If the Taliban have not changed and they lock women at homes and trample their rights, then life would be meaningless for me and for millions of other women of Afghanistan," said Talash.

Despite the risks -- the troupe was forced to switch practice venues after receiving death threats -- she is determined to pursue her passion.

There have been female pioneers in many fields in Afghanistan, and Talash now sees herself as one of them.

"We had no policewomen before; now you see them everywhere," she said, dressed in a t-shirt, cap and black leggings -- an outfit that would be anathema to the Taliban.

"I took the risk of becoming a target," she said. "I have fear in my heart, but I won't give up."

The shisha smoker

On the bank of a river flowing through Jalalabad, Mohammad Saleem and his friends gather every evening to smoke shisha.

"Smoking shisha is very normal at the moment in Afghanistan," said Saleem, puffing the vapours of fruit-flavoured tobacco from a bubbling hookah.

But the Taliban say it is an intoxicant -- something prohibited by the Koran.

Shisha cafes have popped up across the country since the fall of the Taliban, serving hot saffron tea to customers occupied with their pipes.

Cafe owner Bakhtyar Ahmad says the habit is a good way to keep youngsters off the streets -- or from indulging in worse vices, such as drugs.

"There is peace here. We serve shisha, and we play music in the cafe," Ahmad said.

"If the Taliban come back with their old ideas, then they will stop us."

The barber

Business is brisk at Mohammad Ghaderi's salon in Herat, with young men lining up for a shave or fancy haircut that matches their favourite Bollywood or Hollywood actor.

"Afghanistan has entered a new world," said Ghaderi, a men's hairstylist for nearly 10 years.

"There are more hairdressers now, more young people taking to fashion... the government is not against it like the way the Taliban were."

While men in rural areas tend to stick to Islamic styles -- a shaved top lip, a beard longer than a man's fist -- city slickers are a parade of the latest fashion.

But Ghaderi and his customers fear their individualism will end if the Taliban return.

"We are afraid that if the Taliban enter the city and the bazaar, they might be the same as they were 20 years ago," he said.

"Again women will be in burqas, and young men would not be free to do what they want," added Sanaullah Amin, a regular customer.

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It is an interesting and comprehensive report; good information is included in it; however, it looks partially. Indirectly, it propagates as if the environment is being prepared for the arrival of the Taliban. Fighting is not in favor of an Afghan. Instead of making the people hopeless, efforts should be made to accelerate the peace process between the government and the armed men.