Slow business and rains dampen Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations

Updated 13 August 2019

Slow business and rains dampen Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations

  • Eid Al-Adha holiday and torrential rains have put a damper on business mood
  • Imports of flags, buntings and other items have declined due to higher duties

KARACHI: Pakistanis, gearing up to celebrate the nation’s 72 Independence Day on August 14, are finding it difficult to match the zeal and fervor of previous years.

In addition to torrential rains, traders say, the Eid Al-Adha holiday lull has cast a damper on the business mood in Karachi, the country’s commercial hub and the capital of Sindh province.

Pakistan came into existence on Aug. 14, 1947, following the partition of India as the British colonial rulers were preparing to leave the subcontinent. This Independence Day, Pakistan is also observing a “national day of solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Laxman Das, a vendor in Karachi, prepares for the upcoming celebrations. (AN photo)

Each year around this time, a bump in patriotic sentiment translates into brisk sales of national flags, badges, hats, toys and special dresses among other things.

“This year business is down by almost 50 percent,” Abdullah Abdul Habib, a wholesale trader in Karachi’s paper market, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“The rains in the port city of Karachi, which supplies goods to other part of the country, have disrupted business activities. The fact that the Eid Al-Adha holiday has coincided with the Independence Day week affected sentiments adversely.”

Pakistan meets between 75 and 80 percent of seasonal demand through imports from neighboring China. This year the federal government’s measures to restrict imports in order to keep the “balance of payments” situation under control have led to a reduction in the imports of flags and related items.

“The curbs on imports this year were a major constraint. What we are selling is the leftover stock of the previous year,” Habib said.

“Due to duties and taxes, imported goods have become almost 40 percent costlier than last year.”

The traders said that flags and badges cost a minimum of 10 rupees ($0.06) this year, and that prices varied depending on the size of the items. Traditionally, kiosks and temporary stalls mushroom in cities and towns across Pakistan as traders attempt to cash in on Independence Day spending.

Muhammad Shoaib, a trader who usually sets up a kiosk in the old city area of Karachi, says the business slowdown is palpable. “Last year business was very good, but this year it is very slow because of bad weather conditions,” he told Arab News.

A number of businessmen also complained about rising prices, blaming the government and the prime minister, former cricketer Imran Khan, for inflation levels reaching over 10.3 percent in July.

“We are surviving but it is not as good as it was last year. Taxes have been imposed by Imran Khan’s government. The poor people who earn a daily wage are heavily affected,” Sarfarz Ahmed, a hawker, said.

“People are still coming for shopping, and we will celebrate Independence Day as usual.”

His views were echoed by another hawker, Shaam Lal, who was trying to sell green bangles to girls. “Last year business was very good. I need my income to support my family. We enjoyed Independence Day,” he told Arab News.

 Children sift through badges and buntings to buy goods of their choice for Independence Day celebrations. (AN photo)

“But this year we are worried about our children’s well-being.”

Among the hawkers selling patriotic souvenirs in Karachi’s old city area was Laxman Das. A newcomer to the business, he said his “toy horns for children were much in demand.”

Ali Zaib, a vendor, was happy he had succeeded in selling almost his entire stock of Independence Day knickknacks. “Business is very good,” he said. “I have sold almost all the shirts and flags that I had in stock. People are celebrating August 14.”

Yasir Ali, a teacher, said: “I have come with my children as they wanted to buy flags and badges for Independence Day.”

A girl celebrates Pakistani Independence Day in Islamabad. (AN photo)

He said that, for his children, toys painted with the national flag were a major attraction.

Zafar Iqbal, a resident of Lahore, said Pakistanis like him were also buying flags of Kashmir along with Pakistani flags this year. “We are with Kashmir, and support their struggle for freedom,” he said.

Last week India’s parliament approved by a large majority a controversial decision by the federal government to revoke Article 370, a constitutional provision that granted the Muslim-majority region special status.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been on lockdown since, with phone networks and the internet cut off and tens of thousands of troops patrolling the streets.


US officials push to revive Afghan peace talks

Updated 22 October 2019

US officials push to revive Afghan peace talks

  • High-level delegations in Kabul meet government, Taliban

KABUL: Top US officials including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi are pushing for the revival of Afghan peace talks, despite President Donald Trump abruptly declaring the peace process dead.

Esper, who was making his first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary, met President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

“The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, that’s the best way forward,” Esper told reporters who were traveling with him.

Multiple rounds of talks to end the fighting have been held between the Taliban and diplomats in a process led by US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, with the Afghan government excluded at the insurgents’ insistence.

Pelosi, after meetings with Ghani and Abullah that were also attended by diplomats and the top US military commander in Afghanistan, said she had discussed the issue of peace talks with the Taliban.

“Our delegation received briefings from (US) Ambassador John Bass and other top diplomats on reconciliation efforts with the Taliban … We underscored that the women of Afghanistan must be at the table for reconciliation talks.”

Ghani discussed the Sept. 28 presidential election, bilateral matters and the peace process with Esper and Pelosi, his office said. 

“Peace is a priority for us, a peace which is led and owned by Afghans and the values of the constitution and women are protected in it,” a presidential palace statement cited him as saying.

Abdullah said he was backing the revival of talks and was ready to make a sacrifice for “real peace.”

“During a fruitful meeting with Pelosi, we exchanged views on the credibility of Afghan elections, credibility requisites, prospects for peace/political settlement. Peace is one of the priorities of the Afghan people and we are supporting these efforts and I am ready for any kind of sacrifice for gaining real peace and for the cessation of war.”

He, unlike Ghani, did not emphasize the need for the peace talks to be owned and led by Afghanistan, but stressed on keeping the gains made since the Taliban was removed from power.

Trump tasked Khalilzad with finding a peaceful solution to the war and the eventual withdrawal of US troops from the country. However the process was thrown into chaos when the president tweeted last month that he was canceling peace talks with Taliban leaders at Camp David after the group claimed responsibility for a Kabul attack that killed a US soldier and 11 other people.

Khalilzad made a surprise stopover in Pakistan earlier this month at the same time that Taliban delegates were on a visit to the country and, according to foreign media reports, discussed the revival of peace talks with the group which the US had toppled from power more than 18 years ago.

Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who knows the Taliban’s leaders, said the US had already established contact with the group and was keen to sign a deal but was concerned about a potential political crisis between rivals Ghani and Abdullah who are the main candidates in the presidential poll.

The vote was twice delayed, while the initial results of the ballot have not yet been disclosed due to technical issues.

“Now everything has to wait for the result of the election … it seems the Americans are concerned that if it signs the deal with the Taliban now and a crisis begins due to the election, then it will make America’s position weak,” he told Arab News.

“Through these trips, American officials are trying to persuade both sides (Abdullah and Ghani) to respect the result of the election so that when the time of intra-Afghan dialogue starts with the arrival of a new government, the Taliban does not argue that there is a crisis with the government.”

He said Esper’s comments about troop withdrawal was part of the deal Khalilzad had discussed with the Taliban before Trump’s interjection. 

“Americans are confounded since Trump has come to power. First he pushed for the talks, then he canceled the talks and now wants them to be resumed,” he said.

Zubair Shafiqi, another analyst, said troop drawdown was a Trump goal that was aimed at his domestic audience and his re-election campaign next year.

He said Washington had come to the conclusion that the presidential election in Afghanistan would go to a second round, and that the visits by top US officials in recent weeks was aimed at telling leaders in Kabul that they had to brace for the formation of a broad-based interim set-up which should involve the Taliban too.

“I think Americans think that with the low turnout based on (last month’s) election, there will be no strong government in Afghanistan, so it is trying to convince the key sides that they have create a government in understanding with the Taliban,” he told Arab News.