Karachi's silk business hanging by thread

Out of a dark, dingy space in Karachi's Banaras town comes some of the world's most beautiful cloth. But violence threatens to tear through the country’s age-old silk industries.

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    The constant clanging coming from the four-arm swinging power-looms was deafening. I had only been inside the tiny silk cloth factory for 10 minutes but already had a pounding headache from all the noise.

    And yet, produced out of that dark, dingy, space came some of the most beautiful cloth I have ever seen.

    Karachi's Banaras town has long been a destination for shoppers looking to buy the country's finest silks.

    Situated in Orangi - one of the city's poorest slums - the locally produced material has long provided an economic boon to an otherwise depressed area.

    But not any more. Business is down by more than 50 per cent. Local traders say the city's chronic and often deadly violence is to blame.

    At the factory, I met a young man named Naveed Ansari whose family has been in the silk business since before Partition.

    He told me no one can remember business ever being this bad.

    "There’s too much violence in Karachi," he said. "The situation has ruined our industry. No customers will come to this area because there are so many shootings and killings. So many businesses like ours have already had to shut down."

    Everywhere you look in Banaras town, shops have been shuttered and people are out of work.  

    Still, those lucky enough to keep their doors open are suffering too. Like Mohammed Sharif Ansari.  

    His silk fashion boutique is normally full of customers during Ramadan. Now it sits empty.

    "I’ve lost half of my business because of all the fighting between ethnic communities here. The Urdu speakers are fighting with the Pashtuns and the Balochis are fighting as well. With all these killings around here, it’ll take at least 10 years for the silk industry to recover."

    The ethnic dynamic to the fighting is significant.

    Historically, Pashto-speaking traders would purchase the silks in bulk and sell it all over the country.

    Now, because of the threat of violence, they no longer come here and neither do once loyal customers.

    Which means more shops and factories will likely be shuttered.


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