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By Amir Mohammad Khan
PESHAWAR – Until three years ago, Shah Sawar, 32, owned a qehwa green tea shop at Peshawar's Namak Mandi Bazaar and employed eight bearers.
"Bomb blasts and insecurity, coupled with price hikes, had badly affected the business,” he remembered while grinding cardamom and tossing it into a kettle to make qehwa. “I closed my tea shop when I found it hard to pay the utility bills and salaries to daily wagers at my shop."
Sawar is now a daily wager at a second-storey tea shop at the Qissa Khwani Bazaar, earning Rs. 250 (less than US $3) a day.
"The prices of green tea, sugar and cardamom have multiplied during the past few years while the number of customers has dried up," he said, lifting the kettle from the fire and handing it to a nearby bearer for delivery to a shopkeeper at the bazaar. "The price of a loaf of bread jumped up to Rs. 10. People are more worried about their meals than taking tea now."
Qehwa is a favourite beverage in Peshawar and the adjoining areas. A cup served after lunch or to guests is regarded as a mark of hospitality.
"We visit Peshawar once in a while, and whenever we come here, we make it a point to take qehwa at Qissa Khwani," Muhammad Yaqub, a middle-aged man from Kohistan, said while sipping tea at Sawar's shop along with two acquaintances. "Qissa Khwani's is a very tasty and famous qehwa."
A feature of Peshawar's cultural life for centuries, qehwa khanas, or green tea shops, at Qissa Khwani used to be crowded with customers conversing over a cup of tea. Much of the demand came from nearby shopkeepers who would offer it to customers. Popular for its strong and distinctive taste, the tea costs Rs. 12 for a four-cup kettle.
The situation took an ugly turn during the recent past because of the security situation in Peshawar.
Terrorism has played havoc with the tea business in Peshawar, Amanullah Khan, president of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Tea Sellers Association, told Central Asia Online. "People come no more to the market,” he said. “If somebody does, he doesn't visit tea shops and tends to leave in a hurry.”
"There were 600 tea shops in Peshawar,” Amanullah said. “During the past two and half years, 82 have closed due to a slump in business. Six green tea shops have been destroyed in bomb blasts during the past three years.”
"The remaining qehwa khanas, too, would shut down if the situation persists," he added. "This would deprive many people of their jobs as 14 to 15 people are associated with each qehwa khana."
"Shops remained open for only 212 days out of the 365 days in 2010. They were closed for more than 100 days due to security concerns," Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Usman Bilour told Central Asia Online. "Our province is witnessing negative economic growth. The prime minister of Malakand’s (economic relief) package may herald some good news for the province."
"We had three blasts in Peshawar this week,” Bilour said. “It has hit people’s confidence and has damaged business and industry, not only in Peshawar but in the entire province.”
"Contrary to the practice in other parts of the world where markets remain open and commodities are put on sale during holidays, our markets and bazaars are sealed against suicide blasts and terrorist acts on Eid, Muharram or other such occasions," Bilour added.
“Earlier, we used to remain open until 1am … to cater to our customers,” Salim Khan, another green tea seller at Qissa Khwani Bazaar, told Central Asia Online. "Now the bazaar is completely shut at 9pm.”