Karakul hat is one of the old hats in afghan, Pakistani, Kashmiri culture up to Indian Muslim leagues and on imam’s heads, and it has so many varieties. Its name came from the karakul sheep which is a breed of sheep in northern Afghanistan and the region.
As it says, the karakul hat was worn by many people including afghans, but from a regional cultural feature, today, especially after wearing by Afghan governors, it becomes an afghan feature.
Karakul hat, it once attracted the admiration of trendsetters in the West, the jests of comedians at home and abroad, and the somewhat impotent ire of animal rights advocates.
Hamid Karzai’s hat, while still firmly on the Afghan president’s head whenever he appears in public, is no longer quite the symbol it once was.
Known as a karakul hat, and made of the pelt of fetal or newborn lambs of the karakul breed of sheep, traditionally it was something worn by Tajiks and Uzbeks from northern Afghanistan. When Mr. Karzai, a Pashtun from the turban-wearing south, took office in 2002, the karakul hat was part of his attempt to devise a wardrobe that was Afghan rather than ethnic or regional.
It was a move widely praised at the time, in Afghanistan and abroad. The American designer Tom Ford called the Afghan president “the chicest man on the planet.” Afghans looking for national symbols after decades of ethnic strife inspired a brisk trade in the hats, made of lambskins from Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and fashioned by Kabul’s hatters, whose shops lined both sides of Shah-e-do Shamshera Wali Road.
Now, a tainted presidential election later, and with efforts to make a truly multiethnic government foundering, the sheen is off the shimmery fur headwear.
Young men no longer wear it; Mr. Karzai’s opponent in the aborted election runoff, Abdullah Abdullah, a northerner, preferred a hatless suit-and-tie ensemble. All but 12 of the hatter’s shops have closed on Shamshera Road, also famous for its shrine covered in pigeons. Those remaining say they are lucky to sell a hat a day.
“I went back to my village in Logar wearing my karakul hat,” said Ahmed, an Afghan in his 50s, who was shopping for a new hat, “and people laughed: ‘There goes the old man who thinks he’s president.” It was not clear which offended him more, “old” or “president.”
“Hamid may be the only guy in Afghanistan wearing that particular kind of hat,” said a post on a satirical Web site, Ridiculopathy.com, “but all the same the pointy wool chapeau has come to symbolize the country to the rest of the world.”
Just as Mr. Karzai’s hat is more than just a hat, the reaction against it is more than just a fashion whim. “It would have been better if he just wore a turban. It would have been more honest,” said Rahnaward Zariab, a novelist and cultural commentator on Tolo TV in Kabul. “Instead he deceived the nation. The costume of Karzai doesn’t mean anything; it’s not a symbol any more. Now we are seeing his actions, and it’s clear now that he is a Pashtun.”
Mr. Zariab complained that there were relatively few non-Pashtuns in Mr. Karzai’s new cabinet, which is yet to be completely approved by Parliament.
Efforts to solicit a comment from the president on his headgear met with no success, and slight annoyance. “Everything else is finished with,” said his spokesman, Waheed Omer, “Now you’re going to write about the hat?”
Mr. Karzai himself once, at a military ceremony in Kabul, explained his affection for the karakul hats. “I wear them because they are very, very Afghan,” he said, according to an Associated Press account. “And if it looks good, all the better.”
Among the hatters, at least, the president still gets rave reviews for his good taste. He is also one of their best customers.
Mr. Karzai’s affection for the karakul hat is so strong that, if the hatters’ accounts are to be believed, he has purchased dozens of them since taking office. Sayed Habib Sadat, the owner of one of the remaining hat shops near the shrine, says he has sold Mr. Karzai 15 karakul hats in various shades, mostly the dark gray he prefers, but also blacks, and mottled brown-and-whites.
“The president is bringing the old traditions together and showing people: ‘I’m an Afghan. I’m using my tradition,” Mr. Sadat said. “It’s been good for him, and for us.”
Main article: Afghanistan: the Land of a Thousand Hats