Crime & Justice

Authorities cite major successes in recent crackdown on smuggling

By Javed Khan

A burqa-clad woman sits on top of contraband being smuggled to Peshawar on a three-wheeler August 2. [Javed Khan]

A burqa-clad woman sits on top of contraband being smuggled to Peshawar on a three-wheeler August 2. [Javed Khan]

PESHAWAR -- Pakistan has accelerated efforts to crack down on the smuggling of goods such as narcotics -- a main revenue source for terrorists -- following a directive from Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Those efforts are paying off, officials say.

Khan, during a special meeting on July 1, ordered a countrywide crackdown on smuggling and smuggled goods. Actions against perpetrators by customs authorities, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and police forces have sped up since then, especially in areas bordering Afghanistan.

"Led by Imran Khan, Pakistan has launched decisive action against the menace of smuggling. This will boost the local industry and will strengthen the economy," Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, a spokesperson for the Pakistani government and special assistant to the prime minister on information, tweeted on July 2.

Khan has formed a special committee led by the interior minister that would review the anti-smuggling laws to ensure a check on borders and stop any misuse of the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement, she added.

While preventing smuggling is primarily the job of customs agents, police across the country are pitching in to stop the flow of smuggled goods and are handing over seized items to customs authorities.

The actions by the police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to stop smuggling are key as the region is part of a major smuggling route, officials say.

"During the first half of the year, the KP Police extended help to customs authorities in 359 foiled attempts to smuggle various kinds of contraband," Superintendent of Police (SP) Kokab Farooq, a spokesman for the KP Police, said in an interview in September.

In the first half of this year, KP Police recovered smuggled goods worth Rs. 174 million ($1.1 million), which they handed over to customs, he said.

KP Police are extending their full support to customs authorities to end smuggling, said Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Zahoor Babar Afridi.

"We have offered them all kinds of support in case of need, from foiling attempts of smuggling to arresting the accused and handing over the contraband to customs," Afridi said in an interview. Police play a lead role in stopping the smuggling of drugs to Peshawar and rest of the country, he added.

"We have busted a number of major international gangs of drug smugglers and dealers who have been smuggling ice (crystal meth), heroin, hashish and other drugs from across the border to Peshawar and the rest of the country," Afridi said.

Joint checkpoints

Police have registered 1,902 cases against drug smugglers and dealers across KP this year, KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan learned on August 21 during a high-level meeting.

Top officials informed the chief minister that police have arrested 2,060 suspects and recovered about 3,500kg of hashish, 217kg of heroin, 10kg of ice and 167kg of opium, according to an official handout from the KP government.

Nasir Khan Durrani, a former inspector general of police for KP, in a letter to the federal government in March 2016 had expressed concern over the volume of smuggling of contraband items from the then-tribal areas to Punjab Province.

He suggested to the federal government that it set up joint checkpoints of customs and police at key areas with closed-circuit television cameras and scanners installed in and around them to help stop smuggling.

The money earned through smuggling is financing terrorism, highlighted the letter.

The FBR on August 17 decided to inspect markets and bigger trade centres to stop the sale of smuggled goods in these markets. The FBR teams will be visiting these markets from September in all major towns, according to officials.

"Smuggling is a serious threat to local industry and businesses, but nobody ever bothered to take effective measures to stop the menace," said Qaisar Khan, a Peshawar-based journalist.

The biggest threat is the smuggling of drugs from across the border, he said.

"Tens of thousands of people are getting drugs easily even though there are several [security] forces," Khan said, emphasising that authorities need to go after drug traffickers and smugglers more effectively.

As per Durrani's letter, revenues from smuggling are financing terrorism, said Khan.

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