LAHORE: In the realm of economics, war posturing rarely carries much weight. That is why escalating border tension between Pakistan and India has a limited effect on trade between the two hyphenated but hostile neighbours.
But, despite the latest flare-up in tensions, there has been no let-up in the smuggling of goods across the border with a variety of goods trickling in and out. If anything, it is a sign that the sabre-rattling and war frenzy created especially by the Indian government and its media has little or no substance. It also indicates that the carriers of goods prefer economic realities to posturing.
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During a visit to Anarkali’s Paan Mandi, popularly known as mini-India, labourers can be seen placing Indian-made goods on shop shelves in a narrow alley of the market. For them it is business as usual. Another two shopkeepers chewing paan (betel leaf), animatedly discuss the escalating tension between the two neighbouring countries.
While barking out instructions to the labourers, they tell them to handle the goods carefully and in the same breath curse the hawkish elements and warmongers in India for triggering what they call ‘unnecessary’ war hysteria.
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“The Indians cannot afford a war. Their economy is too good to be destroyed through an pointless war. They start this debate to have a war with Pakistan over and over again to gain political mileage. Nothing happened in General Pervez Musharraf’s era. And nothing is going to happen now,” says shopkeeper Mehboob.
Ever since the tensions grew, a hot topic of discussion in the Paan Mandi is the possibility of war between the two atomic powers. From Indian cosmetic products to eatables to clothing, everything is available in the Paan Mandi, which makes it shoppers’ mini-India in Lahore.
An interesting fact about the bazaar is that almost all shopkeepers are those whose families migrated from India after Partition. The majority of them are those whose families were based in Delhi.
“India will suffer if it cuts its trade with Pakistan. Their products have a market here and they give us incentives, too. A product which is sold at Rs10 in India is sold at Rs8 to importers. If their products have all consumed up in India, what’s the need for them to sell them to us at lower rates?
“This is the fact which shows they don’t want to lose Pakistani market. India’s hollow threats of imposing a war are idle threats. They cannot afford to have a war and destroy their business interests,” Aashqeen, an elderly shopkeeper, whose parents migrated from Delhi, told The Express Tribune.
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Traders in Paan Mandi don’t see any war clouds hovering over the Subcontinent, but they do think that direct trade between India and Pakistan may suffer in times of escalating tensions. They say it happened in the past — in 1965, 1971 and in 1999 after the Kargil conflict. They; however, believe that Indian products will keep coming to Pakistan.
“Several products which are not included in the list of direct trade products come here via Dubai. Even if direct trade stops between the two countries, popular products will keep coming via Afghanistan and Dubai.
“For instance if Indian cloth comes to Pakistan from Dubai, there they stamp it as Chinese cloth and then sell it in Pakistan,” said Ibrahim Khalil, president of Paan Mandi Traders Association.
“Many Indian products are brought by those who frequently travel between India and Pakistan. They are called ‘carriers’.” Ibrahim said.
“No war is going to happen between India and Pakistan, and India knows that much better than us. They shouldn’t repeat rhetoric over and over again. The threats to cut off trade with Pakistan are going to harm India more than they harm Pakistan.
“Our ancestors were Urdu speaking, but now we speak Punjabi as good as anybody else. We have made new relations and that’s how things are moving on. India should also get over Pakistan and move on,” said Muhmmad Imran, another shopkeeper.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2016.
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