Afghans from north and south fight it out with dogs
AFP - Thursday, December 18
KABUL (AFP) - - The crowd surges forward as two huge mastiffs launch themselves at each other in the ring, before one ends the bout by grabbing the other's throat, and is then paraded in triumph.
Every Friday morning between November and March, thousands of Afghans flock to a makeshift arena on the outskirts of the Afghan capital Kabul to witness such scenes, with thousands of dollars riding on the outcome.
"That was a great fight," says Said Rahim, a 75-year-old dog fighting aficionado and one of 5,000 men and children who watched mastiff Falang win his bout.
"The dogs were very good and it was very special because there was a big bet -- 150,000 afghanis (3,000 dollars)."
The sport brings together Afghanistan's diverse tribes, from southern Pashtuns in turbans to oriental-looking Hazaras from the country's centre and Panjshir people in their traditional pakol wool hats.
But a fierce ethnic rivalry is in evidence.
"People standing on this side are from the north of Afghanistan. On the other side, they are from the south. It's a competition between them and their dogs," says Massud, a translator for the US special forces in Afghanistan.
At the centre of the ring stands the master of ceremonies who announces the upcoming bouts in a voice hoarse with shouting, and wields a large stick to keep the eager spectators from getting too close.
The Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan until it was ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001 banned dog fighting because gambling is forbidden under Islam.
The sport attracts large bets in one of the world's poorest countries.
The dogs' owners win between 1,000 and 3,000 dollars for each victory, and the large sums involved lead to some underhand tactics.
"Some people give opium to the dogs to numb the pain. In the south they sometimes give them whisky to make them more aggressive," says spectator Fatih Mohammad, 47.
Dog owner Barat describes the intensive -- and expensive -- preparation the animals undergo before a fight.
"We feed them with eggs, meat milk. It cost 400 afghanis a day. We walk them for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, sometimes in the hills, so that they get more powerful," he says.
In the ring, the dogs are unleashed by the owners and rise onto their hind legs, each trying to grab the other by the throat.
The owners stand over their animals, shouting encouragement, under the watchful eye of the master of ceremonies.
The most difficult part can be separating the dogs once defeat has been conceded, and the owners sometimes have to throw a bucket of cold water over the animals to get them to loosen their grip.
The battles are fierce, but the spectacle is more a ritual struggle for domination than a fight to the death.
"I have seen hundreds of fights and I have only seen one dog die," says owner Mohebullah.
"The fight stops before that -- usually when one dog tries to get away when he sees he's losing, and then the owners separate them."
A handful of police officers provide the only security at the arena, despite a suicide attack in February that killed 100 spectators at a dog fight in the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
But terrorist attacks are not the only danger. Falang's owner Kefaiat suffered a heart attack after his dog's win and had to be taken to hospital -- though that did not dim his brother Khalil's enthusiasm.
"I received more than 500 phone calls from people congratulating me on the victory and asking about my brother's health," he said.
"This dog is the best ever, clever as well as strong. Many people have asked to buy him, but my brother would not so much as part with his leash, even if he was offered the whole of Kabul for it."
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Dogs are separated by their owners after the end to one of the rounds of fights during a dog-fighting tournament on a cold winter's day in Kabul. Dog fighting, a popular game amongst Afghans during the winter season which was banned during the Taliban regime, is enjoying a resurgence among the population.
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