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Growing as a major export earner

April 01 - 07, 2002

The Afghan refugees, generally considered as a burden on the economy of Pakistan, have contributed significantly for economic growth as well by adding a new flavour to the hand-knotted carpets produced in Pakistan.

The skill, the Afghan refugees have brought with them, has added attractive Central Asian colours and designs to the local carpet industry in Pakistan.

Resultantly, Pakistan's hand-knotted carpet industry has started assuming a prominent role in the world market and made a valuable contribution of around $300 million in the overall exports of the country last year. It was for the first time that the hand-knotted industry fetched such a respectable export figure in the fiscal year 2001, said Yacoob H. Salehji, former chairman of Hand-knotted Carpet Exporters Association.

Actually, this industry has progressively grown during the last few years and the potential the industry has strongly suggest that it will gain a respectable position after rice and leather sector. Yacoob Salehji feels that time is not far away when the hand-knotted carpet exports would be doubled to the extent of $600 million next three to four years.

Interestingly, this industry neither need any imported raw material nor consumes electricity, which are generally the basic requirements of other export based industries. Mostly, the handlooms, which are used, for producing hand-knotted carpets are located in the remote rural areas of Sindh, Balochistan, NWFP and Punjab.

Recently, a private sector unit of 200 handlooms has been set up in Chahchro near Islamkot, the heart of Thar Desert.

In order to provide technical assistance regarding colour scheme and designing to this carpet-producing unit, a digital telephone exchange has been set up in District Thar to give expert advice to the workers through Internet.

Jacob Salehji says that this industry has tremendous depth to enhance our exports as almost 100 per cent of the carpets produced in Pakistan are exported. We have reached an export level of $300 million while the total volume of the world's annual exports is around $6 billion, which means that there is a great room for improvement in this sector.

Salehji says that recently formed SMEDA bank can really play a significant role in giving a boost to this export-oriented industry.

Primarily, the middle man who swallows the lion's share out of the earnings of this industry runs the industry. The skilled workers are generally work for the middle man who pockets a major chunk of the earnings.

Pakistan is one of the world's largest producers and exporters of fine oriental hand-knotted carpets. The beauty of designs, excellent colour combination, craftsmanship and perfect finish, Pakistani carpets have become renowned the world over.

Pakistani carpets are the favourite of consumers in all major markets. The special characters of Pakistan carpets are that they combine quality with a reasonable price. In the past owning a carpet was the ultimate in luxury. But thanks to the improved knotting technique, dyeing and finishing skill developed by Pakistani craftsmen, even a man of average means can now afford a hand-knotted carpet.

With their exquisite craftsmanship, enhancing patterns and mystical beauty, oriental rugs have fascinated and dazzled viewers and owners the world over for centuries. Prized possessions of kings and commoners, conquering heroes and fugitive princes, they are the stuff dreams are made of enchanting colours woven into patterns of captivating beauty flowers, tendrils, mystical animals and geometrical designs that carry one to the world of fairy tales.

Since the entire material used in carpet making is produced locally hence it does not cost any sort of foreign exchange on imports of raw material. Another advantage of this industry is that unlike other manufacturing units, it does not consume electricity at all because the entire system works manually.

The commodity is entirely made by hand-knot by knot tried over months and sometimes years of painstaking labour. Bits and pieces of yarn of different colours are tied to warp a process, which creates both, pile and design. Most carpets have the traditional set design handed down to the present from the hoary past. But what distinguishes the oriental carpets from the run of the mill machine-made variety is the inimitable style, warmth and beauty and above all the individuality that the touch of human hands add to this product.


The areas forming Pakistan have historically been the centres of carpet making in the South Asian Sub-Continent. The ancient city of Lahore, which is a major centre of carpet manufacturing, is a pertinent example. It occupied the same position four hundred years ago when Mughal Emperor Akbar brought over some carpet weavers from Iran to weave carpets in India.

Abul Fazl, author of "Ain'e akbari" writes "His majesty has caused carpets to be made of experienced workmen who have produced many master-pieces. The carpets of Iran and Turan are no more thought of although merchants still import carpets from Goskhan, Khuzistan, Kirman and Sabzwar. All kinds of carpet weavers have settled in Lahore and drive a flourishing trade. These are found in every town, but especially in Agra, Fathepur and Lahore," writes Abul Fazl.

In the beginning only reproductions of Persian originals were made, but over a period of time Lahore weavers developed their own distinctive style, modifying the Persian designs and motifs and adding local colours and flavour to them. Local motifs and floral designs were also developed and used in carpets along with the traditional Persian ones. The depiction of elephants or carnations clearly showed local inspiration. Abul Fazl has written in detail about Lahore as it developed during the Mughal period. In those days very fine carpets were woven. Some of them having achieved as many as 200 knots to the square inch and the wool used was so fine that it could pass for silk. So famous became the carpets from Lahore in those days that one Richard Bell master had a carpet specially woven for him in 1637 which was later presented to the company. This carpet is in the possession of Girdler's company in London.


A reference may also be made to the famous Indus Valley civilization, which flourished in Pakistani regions of Sindh and Punjab some 5000 years ago.

Excavations at Mohenjo Daro and Harappa have established that the Indus Valley people knew about the use of spindles and spun a wide variety of weaving materials.

In fact some historians are of the view that it was the Indus Valley civilization that for the first time developed the use of woven textiles. The wall relief and terracotta figures discovered at Mohenjo Daro show that not only shawls, but also floor coverings like rugs were widely in use. It may well have been that it is here that the art of carpet making first evolved and then spread to neighbouring Central Asia.


Balochistan is Pakistan's largest province also boasts of a carpet making tradition thousands of years old. The Balochistan rug with its well-known geometrical motifs is the work of a weaver who draws his inspiration from a long line of Caucasian master craftsmen who made the design famous throughout history. In Baloch carpets rich and somber colour tones are used with quality wool of long and lustrous texture. In recent years Baloch carpets have been increasingly exported from Pakistan.


The development of the art of carpet making is closely linked to the progress of Islamic civilization as it achieved unprecedented heights in Baghdad, Damascus, Cordova, Delhi, Lahore and in the fabled cities of Central Asia. Wherever Muslim culture has flourished, carpet weaving has received special patronage. Most of the well-known carpet designs consisting of intricate patterns of flowers, leaves, tendrils, scrolls, etc. developed under the cultural influence in Islamic civilization which frowns upon the representation of animals and human figures. References to carpet in Arabic and Persian Literature are numerous. The palace of Caliph Haroon-al-Rashid is said to have contained innumerable carpets.

Carpet making is basically a Muslim heritage and it was one of the first crafts to come to this area with Islam. Historians believe that carpet making was introduced to the region now constituting Pakistan as far back as the 11th century with the coming of first Muslim conquerors, the Ghaznavids and the Ghauris. Later the Muslim Mughal Kings imported weaver and set up carpet making centres. Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad in Pakistan and Agra, Mirzapur and Jaipur in India became famous for their carpets. The profession has throughout the basically Muslim in character. It was Muslim Kings who patronized it and it was Muslim weavers who wove knots into designs and earned name and fame beyond their own country.


alim and Naqsha are two terms basic to carpet weaving. Talim is coded script, which not only indicates the number of knots to be tried per square inch but also the design and colour scheme for the given carpet.

Talim is now increasingly being replaced by Naqsha a multi-coloured graph paper, which shows in detail the design of the carpet as it, would look after completion. Naqsha has been introduced recently to organize and facilitate new trainee weavers to work independently to produce rugs economically and fast, maintaining high quality.


The carpet loom has a simple structure. It consists of two crossbeams attached to two upright poles as far apart as the width of the carpet desired to be made. Similarly, the length of the carpet determines the distance between the lower and upper beams. The beams are in the shape of rollers that can rotate in their fame. The beam need not to be the full height of the carpet because the warp can be wrapped round the upper beam and unwound as the carpet is wrapped slowly round the lower beam. In making the new Pakistani product horizontal as well as vertical looms are used.


Wool is the basic raw material for weaving hand-knotted carpets, although cotton and silk are also used. The better the wool, the finer the end product. Wool's special advantage is its flexibility, durability and beauty. Its excellent absorbent quality, wool imparts a deep, rich hue to colours. In its ability to resist staining, wetting and burning wool is superior to all synthetic fibers. Pashmina is the finest and softest among the numerous varieties of wool used for carpet making. Carpet weavers in Kashmir have long used Pashmina wool imported from Tibet. In Pakistan's Northern areas comprising Nanga Parbat and K-2 goats are specially raised with long undercoat that produce wool that is similar to Pashmina. The special wool known as Kashmir quality is used in superior Pakistan carpets.


Pakistan hand-knotted carpet industry made tremendous progress in the last 50 years. It has adapted itself wonderfully to the changing world market requirements and new trends in consumer tastes and preferences.

Since the industry spread in remote rural areas, the latest information technology is being used to bring most of the carpet weaving centres into a network through use of Internet. Besides training centres set up at major urban cities, the private sector is also actively involved in providing guideline and training to the weavers to meet the demand of the international buyers.

New Pakistani products Chobi Pakistan, Pakistan Kazak and other designs has endless possibilities and that is what makes it unique.


Hand-knotted carpets are much in demand in the United States, European Union and even in the Middle East, and in some Far Eastern countries. The entire production is exported every year. Keeping in view the export potential the financial institutions specially recently formed Khushhalibank can play a leading role in developing a strong base for carpet industry. The poor skilled workers have nothing to offer as collateral to get the bank advances. The banks involved in micro financing can lend small amount of loans on personal guarantee to promote this export-oriented cottage industry. An amount of Rs.1-2 lakh is usually required to set up a unit of 4 handlooms, which offers employment to 15-20 persons.

The micro financing without collateral initiated by the First Women Bank in the rural areas has already been proved a great success with 100 per cent rate of recovery. In order to give a chance to be the self-employed, the skilled workers in the hand-knotted carpet industry also deserve to be trusted by the finance providing companies. These workers may not prove to be the bank defaulters like our textile tycoons.