Wasim Sajjad

PESHAWAR: The famous Karkhano market of Peshawar appears to be deserted. Surprisingly, no hustle and bustle was to be seen on the streets even in the working hours of the day. No trucks were available getting unloaded as usual. Businessmen looked to the empty roads in distress, waiting for the customers to arrive. The business was almost on its last legs after the restrictions on the Torkham border since the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

Nisbat Ali maintains a business for the last 18 years in Karkhano market. Seated on his managerial position, gossiping with his two youngsters, he waits desperately for customers, time and again looking towards the road.

Nisbat Ali said that first the businesses were impacted by the lockdowns imposed by the government and later on the closure of the Torkham border added salt to their wounds. He said the last two years were too hard for them, however, they somehow managed to maintain their businesses.

People associated with different businesses took a sigh of relief when constraints on Pak-Afghan border were reduced. But the recent development of Taliban takeover has once again hit the bread and butter of those associated with trade with Afghanistan.

Earlier in 2020, when lockdowns were imposed, the businessmen hoped and waited for the pandemic to disappear. They borrowed money from their relatives to somehow manage their businesses, but restrictions of trade on the Torkham border after the takeover of Kabul have triggered a serious threat to merchants.

Mr Ali’s business was reduced by about 70 percent. Previously, when constraints were not imposed on trade with Afghanistan, traders in Karkhano market supplied goods to Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. But, now, the consumers buy goods from the local market of Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi that cost them heavily as opposed to that imported goods from Afghanistan. He said that due to the inflation in the country the suppliers demand money in advance. On the other hand, high taxes made the market value of products too high and the purchasing power of buyers was too low.

A major reason behind reduction of goods supplied to other provinces from Karkhano market was strict action taken by the government of Pakistan to stop illegal supply of goods to other cities of the country. Strict check and balance by Pakistani officials and the entry of lesser vehicles through the Torkham border has also affected goods supply.

Shahid Hussain, Chairman Pak-Afghan transit trade standing committee, said that since the fall of Kabul into the hands of Taliban, trade was drastically reduced. Traders on both sides of the border were distressed as they worried for the future. He said trust level immediately fell among the traders and only routine business was going on.

Mr Hussain informed that thousands of trucks were halted on Afghan side of the border and were not allowed to come to Pakistan due to several reasons. Around 4,000 trucks were stopped at the Chaman border and more than 4,000 trucks were stuck at the Torkham border. He said the problem would continue till the government in Afghanistan starts functioning formally.

Banks in Afghanistan are closed and the exchange of money with foreign traders has become difficult for Afghan traders, and Pakistani merchants are also affected from this. Mr Hussain said traders were hopeful since the Taliban announced the government. However, he said, the Taliban had the challenging task at hand to take the traders of both Pakistan and Afghanistan into confidence.

Pakistan normally imports fruits, vegetables, coal and gemstones from Afghanistan, while Pakistan exports daily use items, industrial goods, cement, steel, sugar and wheat and other heavy machinery to Afghanistan. Pakistan has also a major role in construction sector of Afghanistan and many other heavy industries. But the recent developments have reduced the imports and exports badly.

Muhammad Noor Ahmadzai, President of Afghanistan Transport Association in Pakistan, said there were a huge number of vehicles, included 2,000 Pakistan registered that did routine transportation to Afghanistan. He said that owing to the ongoing situation, the security checkup has been tightened too much and the border crossing has been reduced. He said that in the past, more than 2,200 vehicles entered Afghanistan daily, but now only 300 vehicles manage to enter the neighboring country.

Mr Ahmadzai alleged that police in Pakistan also demands bribe that has also caused problems for the drivers and owners and they are unable to manage their economy. The takeover of Kabul by the Taliban has not created much of a mess on the border, he said, adding that fares have also been reduced to a very low level and it was now a fight for survival for them. In the past, the normal fare was about 150,000 which was reduced to 60,000 after the fall of Kabul. The trucks that were stranded on that side of the border required at least a month these days to come to Pakistan, which would now take a day or two to come back.

Mr Ahmadzai said that before the fall of Kabul it was assumed that there wasn’t peace in Afghanistan, but there was business, and now, there was peace, but no business.

Noor Muhammad and Nisbat Ali both feared that if the situation on border did not improve, then they will have to shut their businesses.

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