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Illegal trade at Torkham border: Pakistan loses Rs.5-6bn a month

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was informed on Tuesday that the national kitty was being deprived of Rs5 to 6 billion per month due to undocumented economy at the Torkham border, Bara and the hawala/hundi market.

A report submitted by Additional Advocate General of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Omer Farouk Adam, a member of the four-man commission appointed by the Supreme Court on Aug 21 to check illegal border crossing into Pakistan from Torkham, claimed that the ready to use SIMs were bought through Torkham and used at Torkham once and then during a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on Dec 16 last year.

It said stakeholders both the government departments/officials and non-state actors who profit from the loopholes continued to nght for status quo at Torkham border to the detriment of the people of Pakistan. The report, however, was not signed by other members, including head of the commission Additional Attorney General Mohammad Waqar Rana rather Chief (International Customs) FBR Dr Mohammad Zubair even contested the figures acknowledging that though there were no two opinions about the tax evasion, he was not in agreement about the figures being quoted.

Mr Zubair expressed reservations over other findings.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja had formed two commissions first the Torkham Border Commission in KP consisting of AAG Mohammad Waqar Rana, KP AAG Omer Farouk Adam, FIA Director Jaffar Shah and Chief (International Customs) FBR Dr Mohammad Zubair Yousfani.

Same was the composition for the Chaman Border Commission for Balochistan except for Assistant Advocate General of Balochistan Shai Haq in place of AAGKP. The KP AAG said in the report that goods worth millions of dollars were seized on Torkham border every month, but no record was available or maintained by any department.

The report said illegal trade from Torkham border alone was between Rs100m and Rs150m per day. The Asian Development Bank`s Integrated Border Immigration System was still in the pipeline since 2002 and only one or two meetings had taken place so far. There are two vehicle passes and 14 mule passes into Pakistan in Khyber Agency. The vehicle passes are Torkham and Shalman which is 15km east of Torkham.

The report said the easement right was granted under the 1893 agreement to the divided tribe living on both sides of the border and Shinwari was the only such tribe. The report explained that the FIA Act, 1974; Foreigners Act, 1946; Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance, 1981; Passport Act, 1974; Immigration Ordinance, 1979; and Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance, 2002, have not been extended to Fata.

As a result the role of FIA at Torkham border has been reduced to only checking travel documents of people who voluntarily come forward to get their passports stamped. The court noted that under Article 247 of the Constitution, the laws can be extended to Fata by issuing regulations by the president. `We are surprised why these laws have not been extended, without the enforcement of which, the situation cannot be addressed,` the court observed, adding that despite the announcement of the National Action Plan, only a summary was moved to the president to extend the laws but the same was gathering dust at the interior ministry.

The report stated that FIA was not keeping record of people whether Pakistanis or foreigners entering or leaving Pakistan and FIA`s arrival and departure booths were equipped with passport scanning machines, a camera and computer connected with the interior ministry data bank but no biometric machines were available.

Similarly the customs officials at Torkham border only perform cargo clearance activity on a daily basis where approximately 800 to 1,000 cargo carrying vehicles cross the border in either direction. But there is no dedicated yard for parking of vehicles, no vehicle scanning machine, no cargo handling equipment, there is an acute shortage of staff, luggage scanners, storage facility and no arrangement for security of personnel and cargo.

Customs officials do not check private cars and public transport, the report said adding that officially no duty/taxes were imposed on passenger baggage nor any goods/baggage confiscated.

At present the Frontier Corps and political administration checked private vehicles and passenger baggage at Torkham border. The goods seized are put in 13 stores / warehouses and disposed of as per provisions of the Customs Act. There was no antinarcotics department at the border, the report said.

In its order the court noted that 5,000 to 30,000 people crossed border every day but since there was no record, it was difficult to identify how many of them were drug-traffickers or terrorists.

The court ordered the FIA director general and the attorney general to submit a complete report and explain steps taken during the past 15 years. It also ordered the FBR chairman and the attorney general to submit details about steps taken for eliminating smuggling at the border.The Chaman Border Commission will present its report before the court on Wednesday.

Source: http://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=02_09_2015_003_010