KARACHI (Reuters Life!) - Sky-rocketing prices and security concerns are keeping butchers' knives sheathed in Pakistan ahead of the Muslim feast of sacrifice this year, with people buying less livestock for ritual slaughter.
Bustling livestock markets in major Pakistani cities are attracting smaller crowds ahead of the Eid al-Adha feast which begins in Pakistan on Saturday and commemorates the patriarch Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God.
Rising prices and unemployment have tightened the purse-strings of many Pakistanis ahead of the feast and at the country's largest cattle market, set up each year on the outskirts of Karachi, traders say business is slow.
"So far it is like we've had no sales," said livestock trader Gullan Bhund, who traveled from the countryside with his flock.
"Mostly the people from the lower middle class and lower class are arriving here, and they say the animals are too costly and they can not afford to buy them."
Muslims who can afford it are required to purchase a livestock animal and distribute most of its meat to the needy.
Further north near the border with Afghanistan, people in the city of Peshawar are living in constant fear of attacks by Taliban militants bent on destabilizing the government.
Militants have carried out a series of bomb attacks, most of them in the northwestern area, since the army launched an offensive in their South Waziristan stronghold in October. Peshawar has borne the brunt of the attacks, including one at a cattle market on its outskirts.
"People are not turning up due to fear of bombing. I live nearby. I have been reciting verses from holy Koran all the way here. We do not go into the middle but walk alongside the cattle market," said customer Moosa Kaleem.
There have been eight suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan this month, six of them in Peshawar, and about 110 people have been killed in total.
Although the security situation in Karachi is better, the Peshawar bombings are also keeping residents on edge.
"You know what sort of circumstances the country is going through these days. Every one who comes to the market fears that someone wearing a (suicide) jacket could jump in out of nowhere and explode," said Atif, a shopper, bargaining for a cow.
Rising food prices, particularly for sugar and flour, present one of the toughest challenges for Pakistan's 18-month-old civilian government, along with crippling power shortages.
Many analysts say that influential businessmen and politicians are fuelling price increases to make more money, a factor that is heightening public anger.
The rising electricity tariff is another burden. The International Monetary Fund wants to see higher power prices to improve the power industry's finances.
"People want to buy animals, and they want it as quickly as possible but their pockets are not allowing them. The purchasing power of the people has extremely weakened," said Khalid Ansar, a shopper at Karachi market.
Eid al-Adha marks the climax of the annual haj pilgrimage, which must be carried out at least once in the lifetime of any Muslim who is financially and physically able.
Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country where more than 90 percent people of its 160 million population practice Islam.
Editing by Miral Fahmy