LAHORE, Pakistan Amid all the turmoil of opposition politicians being arrested, activists roughed up and police blocking a “long march” protest, the government recently announced it would lift, for one day only, its ban on kite flying.
In recent years, sending bits of paper and wood skyward has been outlawed for what the government deems safety reasons: Several boys fell off roofs and motorcycle riders were injured or killed after getting tangled up in string strengthened with ground glass. (To reduce the risk of injury, the government has banned motorcycle riders for the 24-hour period of kite flying that started Saturday night.)
But critics say authorities have an ulterior motive for the sudden turnaround: They want residents here in Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital, an opposition stronghold, to stop protesting and go fly kites.
“It’s just like what they did in the Roman Colosseum under Nero to distract people,” said Saqib Hafeez, a pilot who grew up in Lahore. “It’s openly political.”
Officials insisted that they were lifting the ban not to distract the masses but rather to help the kite-making industry, which has been devastated by the restrictions.
Kite fighting has long been a cornerstone of Lahore’s spring Basant festival, when fun-loving residents clamber onto their roofs to relax, party and watch kite duels. As depicted in the 2007 movie “The Kite Runner,” contestants try and cut one another’s kite strings through skill and stealth.
On Saturday afternoon, four hours before the start of the festival, there wasn’t a kite in sight for sale at Inner Mochi Bazaar, the traditional heart of the kite-making industry in Pakistan.
Kite enthusiasts say the ban is excessive. “Cars and trains have accidents, but they don’t ban them,” said Khawaja Basharat Hussain, former president of the shopkeepers association that includes many kite makers.
Religious conservatives have supported the ban on kite flying, which they see as an excuse for immoral behavior.
“I hate kites,” said Faqir Mohammed Shami, 78, sitting under the eaves of Lahore’s Badshahi mosque. “It’s an Indian custom, the Supreme Court banned it and I’m totally against them.”