As the economy falters, Pakistan is telling city dwellers their late-night shopping and eating habits must end

Pakistani economy
Shoppers visit a market in Lahore, Pakistan, Jan. 4, 2023.

KM Chaudary/AP

Islamabad, Pakistan – It’s a feature of Pakistani city life that confuses many western visitors to the country: shops and malls stay open late and tend to be busy well into the evening.

Need a handwoven rug at 9:30pm? No problem. A custom-made three-piece suit by 10? The local tailor is still buzzing around at his sewing machine. Some spicy samosa snacks and a cooling Kulfi after midnight? Of course, the shop next door still stimulates them.

But it seems that this night-time consumption culture may soon be a thing of the past as the hopelessly tight-fisted Pakistani government has ordered all malls and markets to close by the insanely early hour of 8:30pm

Pakistani economy
People walk through a shopping mall in Peshawar, Pakistan, Jan. 4, 2023.

Muhammad Sayyad/AP

It’s one of a handful of new measures recently announced to save energy — not because Pakistan is keen to go green, but because it simply can’t afford to keep the lights on.

The country’s defense minister, Khawaja Asif, briefed journalists on the cabinet-approved plan to shut down markets, including restaurants, which is expected to save the country about 62 billion Pakistani rupees, or $273 million, annually.

Other emergency measures included closing the wedding halls at 10pm every day – at that time some guests would not even have come to a traditional Pakistani wedding.

The energy saving plan also plans to ban the production of inefficient light bulbs and fans from February and July respectively.

Chefs fry fish at a restaurant in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, January 2, 2023.


Asif also said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has ordered all government agencies to cut electricity consumption by 30%.

As a “gesture,” half of the streetlights across the country will also remain off, he added.

The measures were triggered by the emergency situation in which Pakistan’s economy has been stuck for years. International markets fear the country of 230 million people could default on payments for the first time in decades. If that happens, there are fears that it could trigger a complete economic collapse of the national economy and even major social unrest.

A $1.1 billion International Monetary Fund bailout is stuck over disagreements with the Pakistani government over belt-tightening measures demanded by the international financial organization. The negotiations should have been concluded in November.

Most of Pakistan’s electricity is generated using imported fossil fuels, including liquefied natural gas, the prices of which have skyrocketed in recent months.

Chefs fry fish at a restaurant in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, January 2, 2023.


The government has tried to stabilize the economy by curbing imports and inflation that has been high for decades. But the rapidly depreciating currency has made imports more expensive, while consumer prices rose 25% year over year in the first half of the current fiscal year.

Although the economy is in dire need of stability, business groups have been unhappy with the government’s announced plan.

The main business association for small and medium-sized traders, the All Pakistan Anjuman-i-Tajiran, insisted shops would stay open until at least 10pm and restaurants until 11pm. Saving energy by curbing economic activity is not a wise strategy, the group said.

Instead, she proposed conserving energy by limiting the use of air conditioning and heating in government buildings and restricting fuel and electricity privileges for bureaucrats and government officials.

The business world should have an uninterruptible power supply to keep the economy running, she demanded.

The impasses, both internally between business leaders and the government and between the government and the IMF, clearly bode ill for Pakistan’s economy as the country braces for a new year. As the economy falters, Pakistan is telling city dwellers their late-night shopping and eating habits must end

Rick Schindler

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