Taliban takeover brings feeling of déjà vu to Afghan carpet business

By Mustafa Bangash

PESHAWAR: The Taliban's urge to the United States against the evacuation of the skilled Afghans from the country is somehow an effort to save the country’s industrial sector. However, during the Taliban's previous five-year regime in 1996, Afghanistan's centuries-old carpet industry faced a steep fall.

In the country with almost 40 million population, 1.9 million Afghans are dependent on carpet business, out of them most of the weavers including women and children working from home.

But it took turns when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, followed by a mass exodus of Afghans, including the skilled once to neighbouring Pakistan. Moreover, ninety percent of the hand-woven carpets were also sent to Pakistan for eventual export, thus Pakistan's historical city Peshawar became the hub of these rugs.

It was during the previous reign of the Taliban when this sector slumped again, leaving millions of people unemployed. But soon, with the advent of the United States in the country, men, women and some children returned to their favourite business and filled the void.

An Afghan refugee Muhammad Haroon who deals in carpets in Peshawar said, ‘’We in Afghanistan don’t allow our women to work in offices because of the social restrictions. Perhaps it is the only reason that they sit at homes, weave rugs and run their businesses. Our women are accompanied by the school-going children who first play with the threads used in carpets but later their mothers train them and eventually become their support’’.

‘’The things going on in Afghanistan are having a direct impact on the carpet industry and unemployment of thousands of skilled Afghans who later on leave the country and change this centuries-old income source,” Muhammad Haroon revealed.

Another dealer Kher Muhammad said, "Like many Uzbeks, I have inherited this business from my forefathers. My elders used to weave carpets and take them to the markets when it was peace and tranquility in the country. There were no Taliban and US troops to cause hindrances in any business but the carpet industry slowed down with the Taliban’s takeover previously. We are producing carpets in Peshawar but things changing in Afghanistan do have a direct impact on us. I fear that things are going to be the same as they were in 1996 when most of our friends were jobless and the carpet markets were empty. Most of the carpet shops sold out and the industry collapsed. With little hope, Afghans are surviving now but this takeover of the Taliban has completely left us in distress’’.

‘’Almost three to four members of the Turkmen and Uzbek families know how to weave carpets. No Pakistani knew this skill until they were employed by Afghan refugees in the country but they are now able to weave exactly how Afghans do,” Kher Muhammad pointed out.

Kher Muhammad revealed, ‘’the industry is taking its last breath. With government support, we can save it from falling. I, therefore, request the authorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan to work jointly as a high number of skilled people in not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan will go jobless.