Pakistan's Independence Day celebrations dampened by high prices

Traders say the usual rush of business before the August 14 celebration is absent this year

Pakistani flags hang over a market in Karachi selling items in the national colours ahead of the country's 76th Independence Day. EPA
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Young riders have removed the silencers on their two-wheelers as they do every year to make a noise for Pakistan's Independence Day, but the celebratory mood among the general population this year has been dampened by worries over the escalating cost of goods.

“I have been selling Independence Day items for a decade now," said Dilawar Khan.

"But this year the sales are low. Last year, we had sales worth Rs200,000 till the eve of the national day. However, this time, we could not even make half of that sale,” he told The National at his stall in Peshawar.

Shafqat Raies, a trader on Mall Road in Lahore, said businessmen as well as other people were in "survival mode".

“Businesses are down as spiralling prices of goods and commodities have resulted in less shopping in the markets,” he said.

Still, "there are many people, particularly youngsters, who are celebrating the day”, he said, noting that the practice of removing two-wheeler silencers to make extra noise for the day was still being followed.

Official customs are being followed as usual for Pakistan's 76th Independence Day, with buildings illuminated and events planned in schools. The day usually begins with a 21-gun salute.

Muhammad Sajid, a member in Lahore of the recently formed Pakistan Markazi Muslim League, said the party organised a women's Independence Day rally from 4pm to 6pm, and another for men from 7pm to 11pm, on Sunday.

One of the main causes attributed to the rising costs is the frequent increase in the prices of petroleum products, which has a knock-on effect on other items. On August 1, Pakistan's Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced a 7.8 per cent hike in diesel and petrol prices to help meet the budgetary targets set by the International Monetary Fund.

“Besides economy, I think [militants] and dynamics of international politics have landed us into a quagmire,” he said.

Zahir Shah, an analyst, said the re-emergence of Taliban militants, who have staged deadly several attacks recently, as well as concerns about international political tensions, were also weighing on people's minds.

Meanwhile, celebrations in some cities are expected to be quieter than usual because of bans on riding vehicles without silencers, as well as the popular practice of blaring can air horns.

In Peshawar, these horns have been prohibited until Tuesday, after complaints that their use, particularly by children, was creating a nuisance and dangerous levels of noise pollution.

The horns have also been banned in the southern port city of Karachi, where a local court has ordered action to be taken against anyone selling or using them.

Updated: August 14, 2023, 5:01 AM