High above the dirt and the dust, the heat and the haze of congested Kabul, thousands of brilliantly coloured kites hovered and swooped in the sky like so many exotic birds of prey.

Afghanistan’s kite-flying season has begun, and on Friday afternoons — as the sun begins to cool — the capital’s careworn residents now flock up flat-topped Nader Khan hill to indulge in their national pastime.

From here, beside a silver-domed royal mausoleum, warlords used to shell the surrounding city in the years that followed the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, but yesterday the scene was positively festive.

Dozens of kitemakers hawked their beautiful creations, each wrought from tissue paper and finely honed for balance. They fetched anywhere from 20 US cents to $3.

Working in pairs, a multitude of kiteflyers engaged in warfare of a different kind, the object of which is to use their strings to sever those of unseen opponents. The charka gir unreels the nylon string, which is smeared with finely ground glass. The gudiparan baz — his index finger invariably scarred by a lifetime of cuts — manipulates the kite so that its string saws at that of its enemy from a position of greatest strength.

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