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Head Gear Changing in Afghanistan

March 2, 2002

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may be willing to go hungry for their right to wear a turban, but back home the head gear is going out of style as a symbol of harsh Taliban rule.

``Business is bad,″ said Nazar Mohammed, a 45-year-old turban seller who hadn’t sold one in over a week.

During the Taliban’s reign, virtually all members of the regime and many _ if not most _ males wore spiraling turbans, promulgated as the most Islamic of head coverings.

Today, after the Taliban’s ouster following a U.S.-led bombing campaign, most men in the Afghan capital of Kabul have shed their turbans, leaving only the elderly and a few other holdouts still wearing them.

A quarter of the 300 detainees, or 75 detainees, at the U.S naval base at Guantanamo Bay refused to eat lunch Friday, three days after guards stripped an inmate of a turban after he ignored orders to remove it.

Guantanamo inmates have been told they may wear turbans but guards have the right to inspect them, a U.S. official said.

On the streets of the Afghan capital Friday, even those wearing turbans sided with the guards.

``They are prisoners. They should do as they are told,″ said 60-year-old farmer Abdul Wakil, himself turbaned.

These days in Kabul it’s difficult to find anyone who has anything nice to say about the Taliban, the hardline Islamic militia that used to whip women for showing their faces and jail men for trimming their beards.

To be sure, turbans remain an integral part of the Afghan wardrobe nationwide, especially in the southern region of Kandahar, the Taliban’s former stronghold.

Most of the turbans worn in Afghanistan are made in the Shomali Plain north of Kabul, home to the former front lines in the war between the Taliban and the northern alliance, or are imported from Pakistan.

The most expensive silk turbans sell for around $20, with the cheapest polyester ones going for $2.

But in Kabul, where the Taliban frowned upon the un-turbaned as un-Islamic, the preferred hat nowadays is the ``pakol,″ the trademark wool cap worn by slain northern alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massood, who fought the Taliban for years.

To make up for slumping turban sales, Nazar Mohammed has stocked up on dozens of pakols. He said turban sales are down 80 percent or more since the Taliban were driven from the capital in November.

Another hat salesman, Jon Mohammed, hasn’t sold a turban in two weeks, but pakol sales have more than compensated for that loss.

``Before everyone wanted to please the Taliban. Now everyone wants to look like Massood,″ he said.

The Taliban used to say that a turbaned man’s prayers are 27 times more effective than those of the bareheaded man.

No, said farmer Mohammed Akhbar, ``God hears your prayers because of what’s in your heart.″

Yet, Akhbar, who describes himself as being somewhere between 60 and 70 years old, wears a turban and says he will do so until he dies.

``Our fathers and grandfathers wore turbans,″ he said. ``For me, it’s a habit.″

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