Islamabad's Sunday Bazaar reveals city's diverse socioeconomic landscape

  • Future success hinges on its adaptability, necessitating government support through investments in infrastructure improvements, waste management, and vendor training
Published April 1, 2024

Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, is a city of contrasts. In the midst of modern architecture and government buildings lies Itwaar Bazaar, which has been renamed Margalla Bazaar.

This vibrant weekly market pulsates with energy, offering a glimpse into the heart of Islamabad’s informal economy. Beyond mere commerce, this vibrant bazaar serves as a microcosm of Islamabad’s diverse socio-economic landscape, where tradition intertwines with modernity, creating a tapestry of commerce and culture.

It also serves as a bustling social hub where residents from all backgrounds gather for their weekly shopping, attracting foreigners who frequent the market, particularly during the early hours.

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Despite its name, the Itwaar Bazaar is not confined to Sundays. It operates on a unique schedule, typically open on Tuesdays, Fridays, and of course, Sundays. This extended operation caters to a wider audience and allows vendors to maximize their earning potential.

The Itwaar Bazaar plays a vital role in Islamabad’s informal economy. For countless vendors, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the bazaar offers a source of income and a platform for entrepreneurship.

The availability of cheaper alternatives to high-street stores makes the bazaar a lifeline for budget-conscious shoppers. Itwaar Bazaar is a repository of local traditions. The sights, sounds, and bargaining culture offer a unique window into Pakistani culture.

The Sunday Bazaar, originating as the Sector H-9 weekly bazaar in 1980 and rebuilt in 2006, now sprawls across 25 acres with 2,760 stalls, operating not just on Sundays but also on Tuesdays and Fridays.

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In response to fire outbreaks in 2018, 2019, and 2022, a dedicated fire truck ensures safety, while eager children in wheelbarrows offer assistance and vigilant security personnel guard entrances. A ticketing system facilitates access to expanded parking, complemented by convenient access via the Islamabad Metrobus.

The market’s layout, divided into distinct sections for fruit and vegetables, poultry, carpets, and clothing, optimizes the shopping experience, catering to the diverse needs of its patrons. A stroll through the Margalla Bazaar reveals a diverse array of experiences. Families engage in animated negotiations over clothing and household items, while local farmers proudly exhibit their fresh produce, filling the air with vibrant colors and fragrances. Amidst this flurry of activity, second-hand stalls beckon bargain hunters with their eclectic treasures, adding to the bazaar’s distinctive charm.

Yet, despite its vibrancy, the Margalla Bazaar faces challenges. Inadequate infrastructure, including sanitation facilities, detracts from the overall shopping experience. Furthermore, the encroachment of modern shopping malls poses a threat to the bazaar’s traditional allure, prompting stakeholders to seek innovative strategies to maintain its relevance in a rapidly changing retail landscape.

Nevertheless, the Margalla Bazaar remains a resilient symbol of Islamabad’s informal economy. Its adaptability to changing circumstances, evident in its extended operating hours and diverse merchandise, underscores its importance as a driver of economic activity and social cohesion.

Over the years, informal markets like the bazaar have garnered attention from economists for their impact on poverty alleviation and the role of informal institutions within them. Recognizing the importance of fostering an enabling environment, governmental policies should prioritize measures to improve access to credit, provide legal recognition and protection, and integrate informal businesses into the formal economy.

Examining the bazaar through the analytical lens of political economists such as Amartya Sen and Jeffrey Sachs yields insights into its role in promoting social and economic inclusivity. Sen emphasizes evaluating its effects on individual well-being and freedom of choice, while Sachs advocates for targeted interventions and investments aimed at reducing poverty and fostering economic development. Understanding how the bazaar offers opportunities for marginalized communities can inform tailored support proposals, including access to credit, vocational training, and infrastructure improvements.

The future success of the Itwaar Bazaar hinges on its adaptability, necessitating government support through investments in infrastructure improvements, waste management, and vendor training to enhance the market experience. Utilizing online platforms for marketing and outreach can expand the bazaar’s reach beyond its physical location, while collaboration among vendors, governmental bodies, and NGOs is essential for fostering a sustainable and equitable market environment.

Policymakers must navigate the delicate balance of supporting the market’s growth while preserving its organic nature, which entails improving infrastructure, promoting hygienic practices, and ensuring basic amenities for vendors and customers alike.

The Itwaar Bazaar serves as a fascinating microcosm of Islamabad’s vibrant informal economy. It reflects the city’s socio-economic realities, offering a platform for both struggle and opportunity.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Arhama Siddiqa

The author is a LUMS and University of Warwick Alumnus and currently a Ph.D. Candidate at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad


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Tdk Apr 02, 2024 03:29am
This article reeks of Chat GPT..
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