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Homeland in crisis under Taliban, fewer Afghan vendors turn up for trade fair 2021

The India International Trade Fair, which draws traders from around the globe every year, was inaugurated Sunday and will go un till 27 November.

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New Delhi: The India International Trade Fair (IITF), one of the national capital’s old-time favourites, is back in full glory after a gap of one year on account of Covid.

Like the previous years, traders from many countries have participated in the fair. These include Nepal, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Iran, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and the UAE, as well as Afghanistan, despite the crisis the country has been facing since the Taliban takeover.

However, there appear to be fewer Afghan traders this year compared to earlier editions of the IITF.

Speaking to ThePrint, traders from the country cited the difficulties they are facing in the absence of direct Delhi-Kabul direct flights, while also discussing their concerns about the security situation back home.

“In 2019, there were 40-50 Afghan traders but this year, there are about 12 as there are no direct flights between India and Afghanistan,” Haroon Mujaddidi, a 28-year-old dry-fruit seller who has been running a shop in Dwarka, Delhi, for the past three years, said.

Afghan trader Haroon Mujaddidi’s dry fruits stall at International Trade Fair in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi on 15 November, 2021| Photo: Pia Krishnankutty, ThePrint
Afghan trader Haroon Mujaddidi’s dry-fruit stall at India International Trade Fair in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, on 15 November 2021| Photo: Pia Krishnankutty | ThePrint

Haroon complained that the security situation back home has affected his business in India. “Because there are no Delhi-Kabul flights, we have had to start importing dry fruits and nuts by road from the Wagah border. That takes 20-25 days. Before, we used to import via flight and the product would come in just two days. My business was already suffering due to the pandemic but now it’s worse.”

Direct flights between Kabul and New Delhi are unlikely to resume soon because the security situation in Afghanistan remains a concern for India since the Taliban’s stormed back to power in August.

Most of the Afghan traders at the fair were those who settled in India years ago. Brothers Mohammed Rafee Anwari, 39, and Ehsan Anwari, 32 — who have been operating dry-fruit shops in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar and Amar colony since 2007 — are two such examples.

“I am safe here and my family is with me. We are lucky. I try not to think about what is happening in Afghanistan. It is painful,” Mohammed Rafee Anwari told ThePrint. 

Also Read: India wants to be a big player in Afghanistan, so why isn’t it giving visas to Afghans?

Nepalese masyeura, Turkish lamps, Bangladeshi handicrafts

The IITF, which was inaugurated Sunday and will continue till 27 November, is organised by the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), a body under the commerce ministry.

Inaugurating the fair, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said the “IITF will show India is back in business”.

With nearly 3,000 exhibitors from India and abroad, IITF 2021 is being held in a total area of 70,000 square metres — almost three times that in the previous edition in 2019.

However, foreign traders complained of lower footfalls compared to previous years.

“This is the 22nd time we have come to the trade fair in India. In previous years, you and I would not be able to speak for even five minutes because of the crowd but, look around, there are so few people,” said Hayrullah Karpuz, a Turkish trader who owns Istanbul-based Tillo Hediyelik and comes to the IITF with his brothers to sell decorative lamps, ceramics and crockery. “Hopefully, more will come later in the month,” he added. 

About 150 women, he said, work for the family business in Istanbul, specifically to create the hand-made lamps and lanterns.

Karpuz brothers’ stall covered in hundreds of decorative lamps at International Trade Fair in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi on 15 November, 2021 | Photo: Pia Krishnankutty, ThePrint
Karpuz brothers’ stall covered in hundreds of decorative lamps at the India International Trade Fair | Photo: Pia Krishnankutty | ThePrint

Other items sold by foreign traders included Nepalese food, jewellery from Iran, decorative items like traditional crockery from Tunisia, and wooden handicrafts from Bangladesh. 

Nepalese trader Som Prasad Mudbari, for example, is selling masala masyeura, a highly nutritious Nepalese lentil nugget made from black gram, colocasia and mixed masala.

Masyeura are sun-dried and a preserved food kept in the kitchens of most Nepali homes.

According to Mudbari, “This masyeura is used in Nepali soup and is rich in vitamins and minerals. We store this for winter and make curry or soup out of it.”

Bangladeshi wood craftsman Rafikul Islam, 34, who has exhibited his works at fests in China and Uzbekistan in the past, said: “My grandfather and my father used to carve wood. Nobody taught me, I just watched them. Now, I have been running the family business for the past nine years. I am proud to come to India to showcase my work.”

Islam owns a small handicrafts shop in Narayanganj, about 15 km from the capital city of Dhaka.

Bangladeshi craftsman Rafikul Islam at International Trade Fair in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi on 15 November, 2021 | Photo: Pia Krishnankutty, ThePrint
Bangladeshi craftsman Rafikul Islam at the trade fair | Photo: Pia Krishnankutty | ThePrint

Launching of ‘Hunar Haat’

The participating Indian traders have brought items like enamel kundan jewellery from Rajasthan, hand-block print fabrics from Gujarat, and Kishtwar blankets and shawls from Jammu & Kashmir. 

Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi Monday inaugurated the 33rd edition of “Hunar Haat” at the fair — a special exhibition of traditional products and handicrafts.

Naqvi said, during the pandemic, indigenous production capacity became the “safety cover” for the Indian economy during the global recession.

More than 550 artisans and craftsmen from several states and union territories are participating in this year’s “Hunar Haat”. 

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

Also Read: India is wary about finalising Afghan aid route despite Pakistan’s assurance



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