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Kabuliwallah returns to India with IITF

Written by: Staff

Kabul, Nov 12: As many as forty Afghan small traders will revive the age old custom of the 'Kabuliwallah' at the Afghanistan pavilion of the India International Trade Fair (IITF) beginning in Delhi tomorrow.

Immortalised in fiction and in stories from grandparents, the Afghan traders have always been an integral part of street salesmen, travelling door to door with carpets and dried fruits.

However, modern commerce, super markets and packaged goods have pushed away the cries of street vendors. Moreover, the hostility between India and Pakistan resulting in sudden stoppages of road and rail links has made it difficult for Afghan traders to continue their trade.

Trade between the two countries has suffered due to the transit constraints imposed by Pakistan. The Pakistan government does not allow traffic of goods, forcing traders to unload their goods at the border, carry them across in headloads across the no man's land and reload them on Indian trucks.

The other ways of transporting goods are either through the circuitous route via Iranian port of Bandar Abbas or by air freight, both making it absolutely uneconomical for the small traders.

This year, however, an initiative by the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency(AISA) and USAID's Afghanistan Small and Medium Enteprise Development(ASMED) project intends to give an impetus to the trade links, by sponsoring the travel of a group of small traders to the IITF.

Rahima Mushkasami, a refugee who has set up her own embroidery business in Kandahar, is participating at the global event for the first time.

The pavilion has been constructed in the shape of a Blue Mosque and would showcase some of the best of Afghanistan, ASMED's Sunirmal Raybuilt said.

Isolated by decades of war, the country's riches remain largely a matter of grandmother's tales, as its exports have been replaced by goods from other countries. But it still produces the best dry fruits and has mines of lapis lazuli that are unparalleled both in antiquity and quality, while the carpet designs of Herat and Balkh are cherished by all carpet connoisseurs.

Haji Mohammad Hassan, a dry fruit trader from Kabul, remembered his father and grandfather travelling to India. Sadar bazaar, Chandni Chowk, Khari Baoli were names that tripped off his tongue with ease.

''My family has traded with India for 80 years in fresh fruits and dry fruits. At home we still have a pot made in India and inscribed with our family name,'' he said.

Omar Zakhirwal, the President and CEO of AISA said, ''Afghan fresh fruits have a good reputation in India and there is a good market for them. But they get rotten at the border. The pilferage at the border while transferring from one vehicle to another at the Wagah border is as much as 15-20 per cent, a heavy amount for traders.'' Negotiations were ongoing with Pakistan to resolve the problem.

Reduction in tariffs imposed by India would also help, he said.

He feels there is a huge potential market in India as well as investment opportunities for Indian companies in Afghanistan. Indian companies have already invested in construction and health sectors and production of handicrafts could be another important area.

There is a good potential in the area of marble technology, as Afghanistan is rich in marble.

Transit restrictions are an impediment to trade, admits Mr Zakhirwal, but adds that even with the existing situation there is a potential for exporting much more to India. The Afghan pavilion at the trade fair may just be the opening, he hoped.


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