Despite the passage of ten years during which trailers carrying North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) cargo have been plying the national highways between Karachi and Torkham, causing Rs122 billion ($1.4 billion) in damages to road infrastructure, Pakistan has yet to sign a formal agreement with the 28 nations’ group to regulate the movement of its cargo.
Nato trailers have been carrying load beyond the approved axel load limit, causing extensive damages to the road network, said an official of the National Highway Authority (NHA), Najeeb Qadar, in a testimony to the National Assembly standing committee on commerce.
“The losses have been shared with the Foreign Office and the NHA is considering either charging an international borders fee or a transit fee to rehabilitate the infrastructure,” Qadar said.
Nato and International Security Assistant Forces are using three road networks from Karachi to the Afghan border.
No legal agreement
There is no formal agreement with Nato and Isaf for the movement of their cargo, according to the defence ministry, said the panel chairperson Engineer Khurram Dastgir.
Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding with Britain, as a representative of Nato, in 2001, but that has no legal binding, said Dastgir.
“The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is approaching but agreements regarding cargo transit are still vague, despite serious apprehensions that weapons are being smuggled in Nato containers,” he added.
The committee recommended that the government bring Nato and Isaf supply explicitly within the ambit of Pakistani laws.
Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Zafar Mahmood said Pakistan’s understanding with Nato was a “military affair” and his ministry had nothing to do with it.
“The commerce ministry was kept out of the loop at the time of signing of the MoU with Britain,” he said.
NHA officials, the Federal Board of Revenue and the Commerce Ministry were not on the same page, however, on the issue of checking the containers and charging a fee.
Despite exceeding the axel limit, the authorities are handicapped to take any action against Nato trailers, said Qadar. The NHA cannot force the drivers to unload the goods.
The maximum penalty for violating the axel limit is Rs5000 and that does not stop the drivers from overloading, he added.
The commerce secretary, however, said there was nothing in the law that stops the NHA from taking action against Nato trailers for violating the axel load limit.
Meanwhile, the FBR opposed NHA’s proposition to charge a fee from Nato trailers.
Under the MoU, the government cannot levy any tax on the Nato cargo, an FBR representative said.
“It seems that there is no coordination between the government ministries and no one has comprehensive information on what is going on in the name of Nato transportation,” said Yasmeen Rehman of the PPP.
Meanwhile, the issue of smuggling under the garb of Nato supplies has already surfaced.
According to some official estimates, at least 7,922 Isaf containers went missing en route to Kabul, causing billions of rupees in losses to the exchequer.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2011.