When kites and Islamists attack

ARIF ALI/AFP I noted back in January that Pakistani authorities had temporarily lifted a ban on kite-flying in time for a spring festival, Basant. Well, it turns out that 11 people died during the weekend celebration—two from having their throats slit by wire strings, five from celebratory gunfire, two from electrocuting themselves in power lines, ...

603725_070227_basant_05.jpg
603725_070227_basant_05.jpg

ARIF ALI/AFP

I noted back in January that Pakistani authorities had temporarily lifted a ban on kite-flying in time for a spring festival, Basant. Well, it turns out that 11 people died during the weekend celebration—two from having their throats slit by wire strings, five from celebratory gunfire, two from electrocuting themselves in power lines, and the final two from falling from rooftops. 

The deaths are a great opportunity for Islamist political parties, many of which consider flying kites to be "un-Islamic." Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest of these groups, held anti-Basant rallies in a number of Pakistani cities yesterday:

ARIF ALI/AFP

I noted back in January that Pakistani authorities had temporarily lifted a ban on kite-flying in time for a spring festival, Basant. Well, it turns out that 11 people died during the weekend celebration—two from having their throats slit by wire strings, five from celebratory gunfire, two from electrocuting themselves in power lines, and the final two from falling from rooftops. 

The deaths are a great opportunity for Islamist political parties, many of which consider flying kites to be “un-Islamic.” Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest of these groups, held anti-Basant rallies in a number of Pakistani cities yesterday:

JeI leader Muhammad Kamal criticised the government of adopting ‘Western and Hindu cultures’ in the name of ‘enlightenment and moderation’ that President Pervez Musharraf has been advocating.

Kamal’s speech shows the Islamist opposition as struggling to get much mileage out of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s concurrent visit to Pakistan. The United States seems to have learned from President Bush’s disastrous March 2006 visit, when the U.S. leader told Musharraf in public, “I came to check up to make sure you’re still with us.” As regional expert Barnett Rubin complained to FRONTLINE about that incident:

What Bush is actually doing is saying, “I came here to see if you’re really on my side,” and he looked at Musharraf and he expected Musharraf to say something like, “Yes. We are the loyal followers of the United States of America.” In other words, he expected Musharraf to commit political suicide, which shows his complete lack of understanding of Pakistan or many other Muslim countries.

Cheney’s quieter trip, though a stern warning that U.S. patience with Musharraf’s foot-dragging is wearing thin, was therefore a smarter approach to a delicate political problem. Better, from the U.S. perspective, to have rallies about kites than nefarious American influence.

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