- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan Frenzied horsemen whipped their steeds into a frothing stampede while the riders leaned from their saddles to grab a headless goat.
With both hands, the toughest rider held onto the black goat carcass's legs. He galloped around a field chased by other whip-wielding riders and scored a point by dropping the corpse into a hand-drawn circle.
In a sign that normalcy is returning to this battered capital, the national sport of buzkashi, forbidden for the past five years under the ousted Taliban regime, has returned to the playing fields of Afghanistan.
Thousands of shouting Afghans watched the competition but fled in panic whenever the players on horseback charged into the crowd.
At the height of the game, a pickpocket stole the British ambassador's camera while the diplomat stood in the audience trying to avoid being crushed by oncoming horses.
Buzkashi is "our Afghan game," gray-turbaned horseman Haq Morad said. "When you want to grab the carcass, you can put your whip here, near your boot, so your hands are free," Mr. Morad added while on horseback.
He thrust his foot out to show how he could slide his short whip behind his brass stirrup, which dangled from a saddle covered by a small, multicolored wool carpet. Most of the other players, however, preferred to jam their braided leather whips between their teeth as they rode.
"There are two teams, and whoever can carry the carcass across the field and drop it in the circle wins a point," Mr. Morad said, tugging his black horse's leather bridle to keep the animal steady.
He then galloped toward a fat, black, headless goat the red stump of its neck glistening in the winter sunlight which was sprawled on dry, yellowed grass in a large circle marked by white powder.
The object of the game is for a horseman to snatch a beheaded animal from a circle, gallop with it across a big field, go around a point at the far end of the field and return to toss the carcass back into the circle. Other horsemen give chase. While galloping at full speed, they battle each other for control of the carcass, often resulting in injuries to riders and horses.
Team members protect whoever possesses the animal, which repeatedly changes sides, falls to the ground and is ripped apart before someone is able to score.
Up to 100 people can play.
Yesterday's buzkashi tournament was one of the first played in Kabul in years because the Taliban, which was ousted on Nov. 13, banned most sports and public entertainment.
More than 2,000 people crammed onto an open field to gawk at or gamble on the game. Dozens more lined rooftops of nearby ruined buildings that had been bombed during the past 22 years of war. The crowd, meanwhile, tossed stones at people in front to make them sit down.
Guards with Kalashnikov assault rifles and sticks tried to keep people out of harm's way. But the crowd repeatedly clustered too close to the riders, who focused only on whipping their horses and nabbing the coveted goat.
It was as if Spain's running of the bulls was played in a huge, open field instead of Pamplona's streets with 24 men on horseback chaotically charging at a dodging crowd while trying to play their game.
The riders often ended up in a knot with their horses surrounding the goat's torso while some of the men pulled its legs in opposite directions. Other riders mercilessly beat their animals to try to get closer to the center where the disputed goat was being stretched.
"I have been hurt a lot playing buzkashi, especially my head and knees," horseman Mullah Mohammed said.
"Horses from the northern provinces are the best because they are big and powerful, like this one," Mr. Mohammed said, patting the strong brown horse he sat upon.
"This game is at least 800 years old and was played in Central Asia, particularly when the Mongols were coming here," British Ambassador to Afghanistan Andrew Tesoriere said as he watched the action.
"You have to have physical strength to pick up the goat," he said.
Instinctively patting his coat, the British ambassador suddenly appeared aghast and announced to his guards that a pickpocket had stolen his camera. He lamented that he had lost all the photos he needed for an upcoming presentation.

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