Quetta, Nov. 3: Jamal Kakar fits the typical image of an Afghan Talib. Other than the long beard, his black turban has become synonymous, in the Western media, with the radical Taliban.
However, Kakar, an ethnic Pashtoon, is a moderate Muslim and owns a cloth store near Meezan Square in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest province.
On Fridays, the square is awash with black turbans as Muslims head back home after prayers at the Meezan mosque. “It is Taliban all over, “ exclaimed a Western friend once he spotted hundreds of black-turbaned Pashtoons coming out of the mosque. “They are moving around freely, isn’t it surprising'” he asked his translator who barely managed to control his giggle.
“They are all locals and we see them daily,” the translator Samad Mustafa replied. He also explained to the American journalist that a turban — black, white or green — is an essential element of the Pashtoon dress code in this region. And the tradition transcends Pakistani borders as far as the southern provinces of Afghanistan, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
But several Western media reports in early October reflected a gross ignorance about this Pashtoon custom, leading many to believe that the Taliban had swarmed into this town of over a million. “They are there in thousands, conspicuous by their black clothes, black turbans....,” the Western media reports said.
“Taliban and their staunch supporters may be hiding in the city or other towns of the province. But to project black-turbaned locals as Taliban and potential al Qaida activists is extremely unfair,” said Saleem Shahid, correspondent for the English-language daily, The Dawn. Due to its proximity to Kandahar, the spiritual capital of the former Taliban regime, Quetta and the border town of Chaman had served as a second home for Afghans.
The family of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, for instance, had lived in Quetta for two decades. Several Taliban leaders including Mullah Mohammad Omar and his foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil had lived and studied at religious seminaries in and around the city. In addition to the abundance of black-turbaned and bearded people, most markets in Quetta bear a stark resemblance to downtown Kandahar.
According to Gul Agha, aide to a former Taliban foreign minister, Kandahar residents use the black colour for their turbans out of tradition and because they don’t have to wash it as frequently as the white ones. Agha added that the preference for a black turban had grown out of the dusty and dry climate in southern Afghanistan.