Just Published today about how the economic environment has changed between these two countries. The News in Pakistan`s highest circulated Daily in English along with The Dawn – Faysal.
By Ammar Shahbzi, Monday, June 27, 2011. Karachi.
Kamal Hossain came to Karachi in 1991 at the age of six. “Back then, coming to Pakistan was a dream,” he says. His father sold a small piece of land to pay for his airfare and pleaded with his uncle to take him along. Kamal began his life’s work as a domestic help at a bungalow in Defence. Today, he owns a Paan shop at a busy intersection in Gulistan-e-Johar, making Rs500-600 a day.
“In the early 90s, when I used to send money back to my village in Bangladesh, Rs1 was equal to 2 taka. I remember, after working for a few months at the bungalow, I sent Rs2,500 and my parents received 5,000 taka. It was worth it.”
In recent years, Pakistan’s economic slump and Bangladesh’s relatively stable growth have put the labour-class Bengali immigrants here into a dilemma.
“Bangladesh is no more what it used to be,” says Mohammad Jahid, a sugarcane-juice vendor. Jahid recently came back from Bangladesh and plans to wrap up his business and return for good.
Two of his cousins living with him since 2001 have recently moved back, leaving him alone in the city. “I am not sending money to my mother as regularly as I used to, because in every rupee I lose 25 paisa. Now it’s the opposite.”
According to the National Alien Registration Authority, there are more than two million Bengalis living in Karachi alone. Most of them are employed as micro-entrepreneurs, such as running a Paan shop. A majority of them are staying illegally.
Although, there is no official record to substantiate the recent flight of Bengalis back to their homeland, Mustafa*, a Karachi-based Hundi trader, agrees that Pakistan’s depreciating currency has dealt a blow to his once-thriving Hundi business.
“The volume of business has declined drastically in the last few years. Now I have cases when people are actually asking for money from their families in Bangladesh,” he said.
Jahid, the sugarcane vendor, had come here with high hopes. “Now people in rural areas are also thriving. They have money to spend. They are buying motorcycles and refrigerators. A lot has changed. Things look good.”
But there is a section of comparatively affluent Bengalis like Jahangir Mia, a garment-contractor, who doesn’t think going back is an option. Jahangir has been living in Karachi since mid-80s and speaks spotless Urdu. He calls Karachi his home and believes that the current economic dip is a bad patch, and the country will soon come out of it.
For most micro-entrepreneurs like Kamal and Jahid, who work on the roads of Karachi, the recent spate of violence in the city along with the rising cost of living is mainly influencing their decisions to wrap up their businesses.
In Musharraf’s era, things were still reasonable, they say. They used to keep their shops open till Fajr back then, and now they close after midnight. “We don’t even get enough time to do business.”
Despite being trapped in seemingly not-so-profitable ventures, there are those who believe that no matter what the circumstances are, Karachi still holds promises that the capital of Bangladesh — Dhaka — does not offer.
“I’ve been selling Paan, Chalia and goodies-for-kids for the last 14 years and I like the simplicity of this business,” says Mohammed Sharif, who is settled here since 1997.
He said that people in Dhaka were clueless about these products. “Here kids as young as 14 are addicted to Chalia, Gutkha and Naswar. And in Bangladesh, it is only the old people — Nannis and Daddis — who take these stuff. In Bangladesh, Paan too, is very unfashionable amongst middle-aged men. But here, this is what they chomp all day.”
Although there are no data to claim that hundreds, if not thousands, of Bengalis are wrapping up their businesses that took them decades to built, and are either going back to Bangladesh or making tireless efforts to move to Middle East, given the state of the economy and the security situation of the city and the personal accounts of many Bengalis, it is pretty obvious that for many Bengalis, Pakistan has lost its former greenness.