By RAVI ADHIKARI
February, 8th 2002
NEW YORK: Meteor-like brief though his visit was to New York, Afghanistan’s interim head of government Hamid Karzai found time to assure a group representing the Hindus and Sikhs of Kabul and Jalalabad that they would be restored their religious and civic rights, and that the properties seized from them by the former Taliban regime would be returned to them.
The group met with the Afghan leader at a reception hosted by tristate area Afghans at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan on Jan. 30, one of a series of engagements on a tight nine-hour schedule beginning with his arrival in Washington, D.C., at 8 a.m. and departure for London at 5 p.m.
Visiting dignitaries being a dime dozen in New York, Manhattanites hardly vouch even crowned heads and elected leaders a glance. But wherever he went, Karzai collected crowds gaping at his dazzling ensemble of a great Afghan cape, called chapan, draped over striped Kabul trousers, his shining bald pate covered by an Uzbek-style sheep’s wool cap.
Karzai made straight from the airport to the United Nations, where he addressed the Security Council chaired in January by Mauritius. He thanked the world body for its support in the struggle to rid his land of the Taliban, and asked for expansion and extension of the international force. Anil Gayan, foreign minister of Mauritius replied with a promise of continued attention to the needs of the war-ravaged land.
Television crews and newspaper photographers had a surprise when Karzai, avoiding the banked cameras and newsmen in the lobby of the council, emerged through the delegates’ entrance, where a single microphone had been placed for his use. Stopping for a minute to thank the U.N. and the United States, Karzai took the escalator down to the street.
In the long line of Afghan men and women waiting for security check at the Grand Hyatt, there were many women, none in veils, though some had their heads covered.
The minority delegation, which met with Karzai, included Balbir Singh, Mohan Singh, Balwant Singh Longani, Narinder Singh Nagpal, Suraj Prakash and Kulraj Longani.
Karzai left a dazzled U.S. behind, as borne out by the comments of bystanders and columns in the press, including tabloid dailies which pay scarce attention to foreign news. Daily News of Jan. 31 put a top-to-bottom color photo of Karzai on Page 2 with the heading “Hat’s off to Karzai,” with a sidebar of quotes from fashion designers. The New York Times ran stories on his wardrobe in two issues, under such headings as “In Flash of an Afghan Cape, a World Star is Born,” and “Conducting Diplomacy With Flair And a Cape.”
In both, some curious references were made, and analogies drawn, with Gandhi. In the first article, Todd S. Purdum, who notes Karzai was educated in India, says: “He is quick with a quip in a clipped British-Indian accent that conjures up Ben Kingsley as Gandhi.” In the second, Guy Trebay writes that the evolution of Karzai’s dress was similar to that of the Mahatma.
“By the accounts of Afghans, the dress typically worn by a man of Mr. Karzai’s class and background would be a suit, just as it would have been for Gandhi, a politician whose evolution was marked increasingly by radical alterations of dress… Gandhi began his career wearing British-made suits and ended in unstitched dhotis made from khadi, the traditional hand-woven cotton cloth.”
(J. Datta also contributed to this report)