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The Kashmir “Sweater”

Is there more to Kashmir than just warm and expensive sweaters?

May 28, 2002

Is there more to Kashmir than just warm and expensive sweaters?

Take 1:
The prized Kashmir wool comes from Himalayan goats. In order for these goats to survive the frigid conditions of their habitat, they developed coarse outer hair that repels the weather.

Beneath that external coat lies a much finer fiber, the insulating — and much sought after — Kashmir wool. It takes each of these rare goats four years to produce enough Kashmir for one sweater.

In order to collect the Kashmir, each goat is combed by hand and only the undercoat can be used for Kashmir wool. In addition, the sweaters are usually knit on hand-operated machines.

The Kashmir shawls, which made the name famous, first used be woven in Kashmir — which today is the hotly disputed area between India and Pakistan. But the fiber usually comes from goats in Tibet and Central Asia.

Kashmir garments used to be so expensive that, for centuries, only the super-rich could afford them. Some illustrious 19th century customers were Napoleon and Queen Victoria. Today, a high-quality sweater can easily cost $250 — more affordable than centuries ago, but still out of reach for most of us. Kashmir’s secret is that it is extremely light, but protects the wearer from cold as effectively as the more humble Norwegian sweater.

Unfortunately, Kashmir is currently not in the news for its namesake export product. On the contrary, it might soon be the theater for the first “hot” regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan. These two nations have a joint population of almost 1.2 billion people. Their population is thus twice as large as the combined population of the United States and the EU.

In other words over 20% of the current world population appear hell-bound for a severe border war. That fact alone should make Westerners — where many buyers of the region’s woolen products live – sweat in their Kashmir pullovers.

Of course, the darkest irony of the situation is that the Siachen Glacier, located in the disputed region between India and Pakistan, is the world’s highest battleground. It is home to the Kashmir goat — famous for its warming wool — and the place where, to date, the cold climate kills more soldiers each year than bullets.

“We are fighting a war that is imposed on us. The world understands this injustice – but chooses not to support us openly.”

(Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s Prime Minister, May 2002)

“Pakistan wants to resolve all outstanding issues with India through peaceful talks and negotiations.”

(Aziz Ahmed Khan, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman, May 2002)

“We want Pakistan to ditch the Kashmiri jihadis just they way they ditched the Taliban for the United States.”

(Senior Indian official, May 2002)

“When precious lives of Indians are lost in cross-border terrorism, the United States advises us to be patient. Patience has its own limits.”

(Jana Krishnamurthy, leader of India’s ruling BJP party, May 2002)

“America is either with us — or with the terrorists.”

(Omar Abdullah, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, May 2002)

As of May 2002, troops deployed by India and Pakistan around the Kashmir theater total 1 million — 750,000 by India and 250,000 by Pakistan.

(Washington Post)