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Mustached Pakistani Man Emerges From Hiding, 'Handlebars' And All

Amir Muhammad Afridi sports a 30-centimeter mustache.
Amir Muhammad Afridi sports a 30-centimeter mustache.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- The meticulously groomed patch of black hair has been restored to its former glory, with the help of almond oil and imported mustache wax.

Some would call Amir Muhammad Afridi's facial creation a "Super Mario"; a "gunslinger" -- in an ode to American Wild West types like Wyatt Earp; or perhaps a "Dali, -- as in the surrealist painter.

Afridi's handlebar mustache, which drops to just above chin-level and rises in a twist to the peak of his forehead, was in fact inspired by prominent Pakistani politician from the 1960s. Sporting it these days, however, essentially makes it a badge of courage.

Two years ago local extremists in Afridi's hometown of Bara, a city in Kyber Agency in the country's northwest tribal areas, took umbrage at his mustache, determining it to be un-Islamic.

Then one day in the summer of 2008, members of the Lashkar-e Islam extremist group stormed Afridi's home, took him to their local office, and forcibly trimmed both ends of his 30-centimeter 'stache.

Afridi, now 40, considers it one of the worst days in his life.

'A Harmless Obsession'

"The incident saddened the whole district of [Khyber]," he says. "A lot of people called me [to express their sympathies]. More than 90 to 95 percent of them were deeply saddened by the incident. They were disappointed because I have never hurt anybody. Mine is a harmless obsession. My mustache is a unique style. It made my fellow Afridi tribesman proud because nobody across Pakistan had such mustache."

After the incident Afridi quietly moved to nearby Peshawar, where he set up his electronics business and kept a low profile. And once his carefully cultivated handlebars had been restored, he decided it was time to reemerge.

But while he proudly displays his mustache in Peshawar, his determination to have it meant he had to leave his beloved hometown behind.

"I didn't lose heart and I grew my mustache back," he says. "This was a very painful decision for me because, on the one hand, I dearly loved my hometown Bara. But my passion for sporting a mustache forced me to leave and move to Peshawar. Now I cannot go back to my homeland because of this."

Strict Interpretation Of Islam

It wasn't always that way. After watching an interview of deceased Pakistani politician Malik Amir Mohammad Khan, his namesake Afridi was so impressed he decided to grow one himself.

His mustache was so popular that Afridi -- who is also a tribal malik, or community leader -- used to receive a nearly $60 a month from the local administration to keep it groomed to perfection.

But that was before the extremists moved in and began enforcing their strict interpretation of Islam.

Hundreds have died in recurring violence in the Khyber Agency since 2004, when several rival Sunni extremist groups began fighting in the region.

Lashkar-e Islam, considered the most powerful among them, controlled Bara for years and regulated public life.

They often handed down severe punishments and publically humiliated those accused of straying from the group's ultrafundamentalist interpretation of Islam.