PESHAWAR/LAHORE, Pakistan : Markets in major Pakistani cities on Wednesday spurned a new government directive to shut early under an energy conservation drive, in a blow to the cash-strapped country’s plans to curtail energy imports amidst an economic crisis.

Tuesday’s directive ordered all malls markets and restaurants to close by 8:30 p.m. to save fuels, whose imports have drained Pakistan’s foreign reserves leaving them at a level that barely covers a month’s worth of imports.

Reuters reporters in the nation’s largest cities of Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar, saw almost all major markets and malls staying open beyond the cut-off time on Wednesday.

“We outright reject this plan,” Mohammad Ishaq, president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a traders association in the northwestern city of Peshawar, told Reuters, adding that businesses that already faced security issues and energy shortages, would resist attempts to enforce it.

“This policy will kill me and my business, which starts after 8 p.m. when children come to my shop with their parents,” Muhammad Raza, a toy shop owner in the eastern city of Lahore, said.

Markets in major Pakistani cities traditionally remain open late into the night, in most cases up to 11 p.m., as shoppers usually get out in the evenings.

In Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub, president of the Pakistan Traders Association, Mohammad Ajmal Baloch, also said local traders were reluctant to cut business hours short.

Businesses fear the new energy-saving curbs will further slow the economy, already weighed down by the aftermath of historic floods in August 2022, soaring energy costs and central bank rate hikes to tame decades-high inflation.

The central bank has halved its growth projections to 2 per cent for financial year 2023 and Pakistan has struggled to quell default fears, with $1.1 billion in International Monetary Fund financing still awaiting approval.

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