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Sunday, 28 April, 2002, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Karzai heads for hat trouble
Hamid Karzai: Where did you get that hat?
Hamid Karzai, leader of Afghanistan's interim government is under attack - from animal rights campaigners.

They have pointed out that his favoured headwear - the karakul hat - has its origins in the cruel slaughter of sheep.

The Indian animal rights group People for Animals points out that the hat is made from the fleece of a lamb.

And the traditional method of producing the fleece is barbaric.

"The karakul wool is made by beating a pregnant ewe till it aborts," said Maneka Gandhi, Indian Minister for Social Justice, who also heads People for Animals.

'Forced to abort'

"As soon as it aborts, the lamb that comes out has very curly tight hair.

"The lamb's skin remains curly and tight for the first 24 hours of its life. While still alive, the lamb's skin is stripped off and made into a cap.

"The mother which is forced to abort also dies," she said.

A recent investigation by the Humane Society of the United States pointed out what it called the "suffering, inhumane slaughter, and waste of lives behind karakul fashions".

Principal Afghan exports (1990)
Fruit & nuts
Karakul (sheep) skins

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit
Afghanistan, along with other countries in the region, exports millions of pelts from the Karakul sheep every year, making it one of Afghanistan's biggest industries.

Mr Karzai favours the hat as part of his day-to-day outfit, because it reflects Afghanistan's diversity.

It combines the long shirt and loose trousers favoured by Pashtuns, the outer robe popular among Tajiks and Uzbeks and the karakul hat worn by Panjsher highlanders.

And his outfits have been praised for their aesthetic quality as well as ability to cross tribal barriers.

Gucci's creative designer Tom Ford has been quoted calling Mr Karzai "the most chic man in the world".

Vishwanath Pratap Singh: Switched from karakul to synthetic
But Mr Karzai may well come under pressure to drop the hat - like others before him.

Former Indian Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh wore one too before Ms Gandhi, who was environment minister in his cabinet between 1989 and 1990, asked him not to.

"I was not aware of how it was made. I thought this to be like other fur caps," he said.

"When I was told how it was made, I switched over to synthetic and since then I have been wearing a synthetic hat."

See also:

21 Jan 02 | Business
Totting up the bill in Afghanistan
28 Apr 02 | South Asia
Karzai urges Afghans to come home
02 Nov 01 | South Asia
Karzai: King's powerful Pashtun ally
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