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.


Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

Updated 21 January 2020

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

  • Ex-president says Taliban offer to reduce violence a ‘major development’

KABUL: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged President Ashraf Ghani to drop the pre-condition of cease-fire to begin talks with the Taliban amid high hope that the US and Taliban delegates will sign a deal following more than a year of secret discussions.

Speaking in an interview with BBC local service, Karzai said the government “should not block intra-Afghan dialogue under the pretext of cease-fire.” He said the Taliban offer for reduction in violence as the group says is nearing to ink the deal with American diplomats in Qatar, was a “major development.”

He said Ghani needed to accept the Taliban offer.

Ghani says truce is a must ahead of starting any negotiations with the Taliban calling reduction in violence a general term and arguing that such a call by the Taliban political leaders in Qatar only goes to show that they have control over field commanders back in Afghanistan.

The Taliban say the group will announce truce when the intra-Afghan dialogue begins which will happen after Washington sets timetable for withdrawal of the troops.

Washington at least on one occasion called off the talks with the Taliban in Qatar due to Taliban attacks back in Afghanistan as discussions continued in Qatar despite none of the warring sides having committed to halt offensives during the talks.

Ghani’s government has been sidelined from all rounds of talks between the Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar. There has also been rift between Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with the president in the National Unity Government, on the pre-condition of cease-fire.

Unlike Ghani, Abdullah is happy with reduction of violence. Talking in a meeting of council of ministers, Abdullah on Monday indirectly said Ghani had taken the peace process in his monopoly.

 “Peace is not one person’s monopoly, one person’s wish — but it is a collective desire, and the people of Afghanistan have the right to take a position regarding the peace process,” said Abdullah.