Caps Of Pakistan

January 25 was a cold day in Islamabad, and everyone — almost everyone — came to the ICP alumni meeting wearing a cap.

Photo by Tariq Hayat

A man is known … by the cap he wears! This may not be true elsewhere but is true in Pakistan, where the cap a man wears can give away his ethnicity — and a little bit more.

With increased travel and TV exposure, the caps worn in one part of Pakistan have also been adopted by people in other parts of the country but, still, the headwear is often a good indicator of a man’s ethnicity — and a little bit more.

The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(KP) and Gilgit-Baltistan have the largest variety of men’s caps, the most common being the pakol — the flat, round, woolen cap with a tiny brim all around.

The cap comes in different colors of white, gray, and different shades of brown, with minor variations in the size of the brim and the width of the fold beneath the brim.

Zaman Khan greeting Gen. Aurakzai. Amb. Ayaz Wazir and Mian Ayaz Gul at the back (Photo from Tariq Hayat)

Lying on a table or a shelf, a pakol looks somewhat like a frisbee and, actually, if you try to skim it across in the air, it could fly like a frisbee for a short distance.

The cap is believed to have originated in Afghanistan, where it is a popular headwear, especially in the north.

The Western world got a glimpse of this cap during the Soviet-Afghan war, in the 1980s when Ahmad Shah Masud — an icon of the Afghan resistance — and his fighters were often seen on TV and in newspapers wearing pakols. The West’s romantic fascination with the Afghan warriors even led some online stores to sell pakols, to both men and women. The romance has since faded, and so has the online business of selling pakols.

Shaista Amjad in a Pakol

Pakol is a cold-weather cap. On particularly chilly days, you could even unroll the folds and pull it down over the ears like a ski cap. It may look sloppy but is effective against the cold.

L to R: Fayyaz Khan, Zaman Khan, Sahibzada M Naeem, and Tariq Hayat. (From Tariq Hayat’s collection)

Worn properly, however, with the edges rolled up and the cap sitting lightly on the head at a slight angle, it looks stylish.

In Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, the white color pakol is more popular and is sometimes worn with a colorful bird feather stuck into the rolled-up edge. The feather gives it a dashing look.

A Pakol with a bird feather gives it a dashing look. (Photo from Pinterest)

Pakol has also another use, unintended though. It can be used as a money pouch. It’s not uncommon to see day laborers, when buying something, retrieve money out of the folded edge of their cap and then carefully put the change back into it.

The only problem I have with this cap is it’s too itchy on the forehead. I wish someone would think of lining the inside of the rim with some soft material.

Another cap, which is common in KP, is the round, white cotton cap with a flat top. It resembles an overturned cake mold with vertical walls and a flat top. It is said to have originated in Dir, a district of KP, and is therefore called Diroji, but is also commonly worn in other parts of KP. It’s is an all-weather cap and is cheaper than a pakol.

Yet another cap, more popular in KP than anywhere else in Pakistan, is the karakul. While pakol and the white cotton Diroji caps are worn by young, old, rich and poor alike, a genuine karakul cap is expensive — and dressy.

Imtiaz Ali Qazilbash in a karakul cap. (Photo from Tariq Hayat)

Karakul originated in Central Asia, and it’s the name of a family of sheep bred in that region. This particular breed is known for its soft and curly pelt. Shorter and tighter curls signify a better quality pelt. The best quality karakul is obtained from the sheep’s kid when it is still in the mother’s womb. The pregnant sheep is slaughtered to get to the fetus, and then the fetus is killed to get the pelt. (Obviously, pro-life activists do not approve of it).

L to R: Amb. Humayun Qazi, Imtiaz Ali Qazilbash, and the author. (Photo from Tariq Hayat’s collection)

Karakul cap comes mostly in two shapes, boat-shaped and oval-shaped, and in different shades of chocolate brown, grey, and black.

When Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam of Pakistan, came visiting Peshawar in 1946 or soon after, someone presented him with a boat-shaped karakul cap, which he wore in public. Because of him, the boat-shaped karakul cap came to be known as Jinnah Cap. The name still holds.

Jacqueline Kennedy in Peshawar, in 1962 (photo from Pinterest)

Later, President Ayub Khan also wore a karakul cap, the oval-shaped version, with his Western suits. The cap sat well on him.

During his presidency, sometime in 1962, when the US First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, came visiting Pakistan and went to Peshawar, her hosts presented her with a dark-colored karakul. She wore the cap at a rakish angle, complementing her hosts and charming the Pakistani public.

Karakul hasn’t quite gone out of fashion but you don’t see many people wearing it anymore, either because of its cost or the way its pelt is obtained — or both.

There are several other colorful caps in KP, their colors and embellishments indicating not only the specific area the cap comes from but also signifying, in some cases, the political views of the wearer.

One cannot think of a cap that could be associated with Punjab. Punjab is the land of ‘pugs’, ‘pugrees’ or turbans. However, one cap that can still be seen in Punjab, though rarely, is the Rumi topi, also known as fez in English and tarboosh in Arabic.

Rumi topi originated in the city of Fez in Morocco, hence the name fez. Somewhere in the mid 19th century, the then Ottoman Sultan, in order to modernize Turkey and its armed forces, adopted the fez as national headwear, along with a Western-style uniform for its armed forces. Since the Ottoman Empire at the time extended to Egypt, Iraq and other Arab lands, the fez was adopted in those countries as well. That is where it got the Arabic name tarboosh.

The Muslims of the Indo-Pak subcontinent, attracted to the Caliphate or Khilafat, among other things Middle-Eastern, adopted the fez as part of their attire and gave it the name Rumi topi. (Turkey, also known as Rum in the Muslim world because of its earlier connection with the Roman Empire, then was the home of the Caliphate.)

Mustafa Kamal, however, abolished the Caliphate along with all its symbols, including the fez, in 1924–25. Instead, he introduced the Western hat. But the fez stayed with the Indian Muslims until well after the creation of Pakistan. If you look at the old pictures of the period of the Pakistan movement and soon after, you would see many fez caps in them.

The rulers of Bahawalpur state, in Pakistan, wore fez caps, possibly because of their Abbasi connection with Baghdad, and even made it mandatory for their staff and soldiers as long as the state was an autonomous part of Pakistan.

Late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan in his fez (from Pinterest)

One of the prominent Pakistani politicians who wore the fez all his life was Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. In fact, the fez — and the hukka — became his hallmark.

Sindh has its own distinctive cap, which stands out for its colorful embroidery and glasswork. The Sindhi cap is round in shape except that a portion in front is cut out to expose the forehead. It comes in two varieties: hard and soft. The hard variety, when not worn, keeps its shape, but the soft variety can be folded, and even put into one’s pocket. Sindhis, rich or poor, usually own a Sindhi cap and routinely wear it. Even little kids wear it.

A five-year-old in a Sindhi cap (photo by the author)

The Sindhi cap is also used in Balochistan, with a slight variation of the design of the opening at the forehead, both by the Pashtuns and the Baloch. Balochistan, otherwise, is the land of white turbans.

A Swati embroidered cap (photo by the author)


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