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, it was something worn by Tajiks and Uzbeks from northern Afghanistan. When 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. But now, a tainted presidential election later, and with efforts to make a truly multi-ethnic government foundering, the sheen is off the fur headwear. Young men no longer wear it; Karzai’s opponent in the aborted poll runoff, Abdullah Abdullah, a northerner, preferred a hatless suit-and-tie ensemble.
“It would have been better if he just wore a turban. It would have been more honest,” said Rahnaward Zariab, a novelist.
“Instead he deceived the nation. The costume of Karzai doesn’t mean anything; it’s not a symbol anymore. Now we are seeing his actions, and it’s clear now that he is a Pashtun.”