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Pak smugglers markets rethink business model due to troops withdrawal

Pakistan's war market for military goods is declining as US troops leave (All photos: IANS)

Hamza Ameer

Once brimming with combat boots, flak jackets and other war paraphernalia, the 'smugglers markets' in Pakistan are being forced to rethink their business model as foreign troops exit Afghanistan and contraband dries up.

The US is set to wrap up its military presence in Afghanistan by the end of this month, the end of a campaign that saw hundreds of billions spent, often with little accounting.

Along the Afghan border after 2001, the markets mushroomed in Pakistan, offering military gadgets, clothing and luxury goods meant for American bases and compounds.

A massive market called "Karkhano", located in Peshawar, has been known to sell smuggled and looted goods of Americans and NATO forces. However, with the border closed and foreign forces withdrawal from Afghanistan, the market shop owners are worried about inflow of goods, which they say has badly affected businesses.

The Karkhano market, for decades has been famous for having NATO supply goods on sale with them. From night vision goggles, to watches, shoes and other things, the market has anything and everything that has been part of the supplies for the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's fencing and sealing of hundreds of kilometres of the border in recent years, and the rapid departure of foreign troops have led to dwindling supplies.

Instead of night-vision goggles and high-quality ammo vests, the markets are now stuffed with cheap goods from China and Southeast Asia.

"This market used to be filled with customers as many people had interest buying quality products of NATO. But now its empty. This is because supplies from across the border have dried, due to the border fencing and closure of the main border gates," said Jamal Khan, a shop owner in the Karkhano market.

"Its not only because our supplies from Afghanistan have dried out that the customers are not coming. Its also because this market's identity and reason for being so famous was the availability of many things under use of the NATO forces. Now we keep Chinese products with us. And nobody would come to this market to buy them, when they can buy from any other market," said Abdullah Jan, another shopkeeper.

For at least two decades, this market has been the spotlight of smuggled NATO goods. Businesses of shopkeepers have boomed, as no other such market exists in the country.

However, with the foreign forces withdrawing from Afghanistan, and Pakistan fencing its border; shopkeepers of the market are worried and are forced to rethink and re-arrange their businesses.