Farid and Amir drive through Kabul on the way to Amir’s old neighborhood. They pass a dead body hanging from a beam, and two beggars haggling over an artificial leg. They reach the Wazir Akbar Khan district and the houses there are in better shape. Farid says the Taliban live there now, as well as the “people behind the Taliban,” who are mostly foreigners.
The image of two beggars bargaining for a prosthetic leg captures the tragedy of daily life in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. Farid hints at the larger international forces at work in the country, like money and support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and others.
Amir sees Baba’s old house, and then the narrative slips into Amir’s memory of him and Hassan finding a little turtle, painting its shell red, and pretending it is a monster they have tamed. The story returns to the present, as Amir stands outside the gates and looks in. There is an unfamiliar car in the driveway, and the house looks smaller than Amir remembered it. Amir finds his old bedroom window and remembers watching Ali and Hassan drive away.
The tragedy of Kabul truly strikes Amir’s heart as he looks at Baba’s house. Once again, thoughts of Hassan are inextricably linked with Amir’s memories of his childhood and Afghanistan. After the opulence of America, Baba’s mansion seems smaller and less impressive.
Farid warns Amir that they shouldn’t linger, and he says that it is best to just forget the past, as nothing has survived. But Amir says he is tired of trying to forget. He climbs the hill to the old pomegranate tree, and finds his old carving in the trunk: “Amir and Hassan. The Sultans of Kabul.” Amir sits down and looks down over the city, remembering it as it once was. Then Farid honks and they have to leave.
Amir cannot help revisiting the old places of his childhood, but like everything else in Afghanistan, even the pomegranate tree has wilted. The Kabul that Amir remembers is symbolically dead, and in need of drastic change to redeem itself.
They stay in a run-down, overpriced hotel that night, and Farid asks Amir about America. Amir talks about the overabundance of food and television, and then he and Farid tell old Afghan jokes. The next day they go to Ghazi Stadium for the soccer game. The field is just cratered dirt, the players have to wear long pants, and no one in the crowd dares cheer too loudly.
America and Amir’s life with Soraya, suddenly seem worlds away from this desolate Afghanistan. Even soccer games, once Baba’s source of joy and enthusiasm, have been reduced to subdued, frightening events.
At halftime, two red pickup trucks full of Taliban drive into the stadium, and they unload a blindfolded man and woman, one from each truck. They bury them both up to their chest, the woman screaming wildly. Amir wants to leave, but he feels he must watch. An old cleric recites a prayer, and Amir suddenly remembers Baba mocking his old religious teacher, and saying “God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands.”
The true horror of the Taliban starts to be revealed here. They interpret Islamic law in a strict, harsh way (that most Muslims do not agree with) and use it to justify their violence and oppression of women. The violent punishment of “criminals” is considered an appropriate spectacle for a soccer game.
The cleric makes a speech, explaining that they are there to carry out God’s law and punish sinners. He says that adulterers throw stones at God’s house, and so they must throw stones back. Then another Taliban official steps out of the truck, and Amir and Farid recognize him as the man they are looking for – he is wearing “John Lennon” sunglasses and draws cheers from the crowd.
The rules of decency have been broken down and corrupted by the Taliban, and fear is used as a replacement for law. It is not a jury or even a judge that pronounces the man and woman guilty, but a religious cleric, and the punishment for a sexual sin is a violent, public death.
The official throws starts throwing stones at the male prisoner until his head is a mangled pulp, and then he moves on to the woman. The Taliban then throw the bodies into the back of a truck, and the soccer game resumes. Farid arranges a meeting with the official for three o’clock that same afternoon – all he has to do is tell one of the Talibs that they have business to discuss.
The official who has taken Sohrab emerges as a formidable antagonist, as he personally murders the man and woman. Clearly the population lives in constant fear, as anything perceived as a sin by the Taliban can be punished with public, unquestioned violence.