An unperishable connect
Chaudhry Altaf has contributed towards Pakistan's development by remitting foreign exchange in the last five decades Chaudhry Altaf has contributed towards Pakistan's development by remitting foreign exchange in the last five decades
Chaudhry Muhammad Altaf is among those who have seen the UAE become a nation from the colonial yoke, and grow from strength to strength. In his five decades of personal experience, he has been the eyes of ears of Pakistan in Dubai, as he was one of the pioneers who introduced Pakistani fruits to the emirate.
"My intention was to earn foreign exchange for Pakistan, and I have been doing it since December 1969," Altaf humbly admits. Pakistani fruits and vegetable were high in demand, and he says, "I seized the opportunity to import fruits to Dubai and remit foreign exchange."
Altaf & Khammas Trading Co. has marketed fresh fruits throughout the Middle East. It is one of the largest importers and re-exporters of mango, apple, pomegranate and kinnow (orange) from Pakistan, with a well-deserved reputation for quality, value and reliability.
The passionate trader is among the few who have tales to tell as he has been part of the success story of the UAE from the very beginning. He proudly says that Pakistan was an oasis of development at the time, and this prompted him to carve a trade relationship with the Arab state.
According to Altaf, in the good old days of 1969, there was one only roundabout and one building with brazen desert all over, apart from few shops at Murshid Bazaar.
"Dubai and the rest of the UAE have risen like a phoenix. There wasn't any proper mode of transportation to bring in fruits and vegetables. We used to make use of pilgrimage ships going to Saudi Arabia through this region to import stuff. Then came the era of launches, and in no time Dubai became a magnate for importers. Much of the stuff was re-exported to other countries in the Middle East," he says.
Altaf says that the British Consulate, which still stands at the same place near Dubai Creekside, used to take care of work visas, and the fee was Dh1 and 37 paisas. "When the UAE was founded, we used to get our work permits stamped for Dh30."
Altaf was among the first to open up both countries for each other in terms of perishable items trade. Mangoes, oranges (popularly known as Pakistani kinnow), grapes, and other seasonal fruits made their way to the newly-founded UAE, and onwards to other lucrative markets in the region. Similarly, Pakistani onions and potatoes were among the best produce and in great demand. He says it was an era of mixed currencies, and several tenders were traded quite easily, comprising of dinar, dollar and Indian-Pakistani rupee.
"It was the largesse of the leadership, which itself was quite accessible, as we used to see Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, late ruler of Dubai, frequently mixing among the people. Sheikh Rashid, indeed, was a great friend of Pakistanis, and a great listener to our grievances," he adds.
Altaf talked of development that turned around the desert-oasis into a modern business hub, and that included highways that were built to connect Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and beyond towards Saudi Arabia. "As more markets opened up in Syria, Bahrain and Kuwait, the UAE became a hub for trading and Pakistani fruits had an appeal for their ripeness and perfection."
He was also nostalgic when he talked about Syrian Air that used to fly into Dubai those days, and Air India had a weekly flight on Thursday. "We used to go to airport for recreation as there was not much to do. We used to enjoy watching Pakistan International Airlines land as Air India took off at the same time. There used to be cheers and Indians and Pakistanis celebrated the moment."
The owner of Altaf & Khammas Trading Co. feels content to have served Pakistan for the last five decades by pumping in remittances back home. "That was my dream and I have contributed towards my country's development earnestly.
"The UAE has always been my home, and now in this new era, our plans are to stay put in Dubai and make use of its strategic market and location as re-exporter for new markets worldwide," he concludes.