Peshawar, often associated with bustling trade, is poised to undergo a transition as Afghans return to their home country. While a common belief is that this would stimulate business opportunities in the city, prominent business figures argue otherwise.
They contend that the departure of Afghans will not have a significant impact on Peshawar’s trade dynamics. Business activities, such as goods transport, garment sales, hardware, tea stalls, bean trading, mobile phone retail, dry fruit shops, and auto parts dealers, have thrived in the city, courtesy of both small and large Afghan-run enterprises.
Khalid Ayub, a respected businessman, maintains that business growth hinges on a vibrant economy rather than the presence or absence of Afghans. He points out that Peshawar alone hosts between 25,000 to 30,000 registered businesses, with an additional 70,000 operating off the radar. Afghans, primarily involved in unregistered businesses, constitute only 10 to 15 percent of this segment. Therefore, their departure won’t significantly affect business opportunities in the city. For the economic climate to improve, it is imperative that Pakistan engages in more trade with Afghanistan, fostering monetary circulation within the market.
While some may anticipate decreased rents and property prices following the Afghan exodus, Khalid Ayub argues that the country’s dire economic state and rampant inflation would deter people from capitalizing on these lower prices. He predicts a negative impact on property dealers and house owners. He emphasizes the importance of foreign investment in fostering business growth.
Shehzad Siddiqui, the Information Secretary of the Central Organization of Traders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, believes that reduced shop and house rents in Peshawar will indeed benefit local residents. However, the property business, which is burdened by high taxes, will remain relatively unscathed by falling property prices. The currency business has been impacted by Afghan involvement in the trade of foreign currency, exacerbating currency exchange-related challenges.
Siddiqui asserts that the solution to stimulate trade and employment lies in the implementation of sound government policies. He highlights the numerous taxes imposed on traders in the region, escalating the cost of doing business. The high cost of electricity further drives up production costs, resulting in higher prices for consumers. Additionally, increased fuel prices have led to higher transportation costs, consequently affecting the prices of essential commodities.
Siddiqui suggests that governments should offer interest-free or low-interest loans to businessmen, a practice prevalent in economically robust nations. In contrast, the Pakistani government has primarily made announcements without substantial follow-through. Given the country’s dire economic circumstances, inflation, and inadequate infrastructure, establishing peace and order is imperative to boost employment and trade—a factor lacking in the current environment.
In summary, the return of Afghans to their homeland may not be the catalyst for substantial trade growth that many expect. Trade expansion is contingent on the implementation of sound government policies rather than the arrival or departure of any particular group.