School holidays for some kids: sports camps, blockbuster movies and lie-ins. School holidays for Afghan children along the Torkham border: earning extra money for the family as smugglers.
Rabiullah, 12, has worked at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for two years. “I make around three to four hundred rupees a day,” he says. “I usually buy rations with the money and take it back home to Afghan side,” where he goes to school.
There are many Afghans like Rabiullah who work here. A private contractor, with good connections in the border forces on both sides, hires them, gives them trolleys and they do round trips transporting various goods and sometimes even people.
According to the Afghans working here, their employer also makes sure they encounter no hassle by paying off border officials on both sides. Such corruption is an open secret. “Everyone gets their share, and no one stops these children or adults from moving in and out. Even heavy duty vehicle contractors pay them,” alleges a man from Landi Kotal, which is the last stop in Khyber Agency at the Torkham border before Afghanistan.
The hustle and bustle at the Torkham border indicates that business is good for border officials. A huge queue of trucks lines up on one side, waiting for papers to be processed, while a score of people can be seen walking or sitting in hand-driven trolleys on a side path. “Most of these are refugees who are going back home,” says one security official at the border. But many are not.
Those who frequent Afghanistan for business do not usually need a visa because they can just pay border security to let them pass through. “It is better not to have an Afghan visa on your passport. Otherwise it will be difficult to get foreign visas,” says one businessman in Peshawar. There are agents on the border who can ensure a hassle-free entrance and exit. “Even if you don’t have a passport, we can manage your entry,” says one agent who doesn’t reveal his name. His price is Rs5,000 to Rs10,000 one way, depending on how well one can negotiate.
But that doesn’t end the money trail at this lucrative border. Just before Torkham, in hilly terrain, men travelling with packs of mules loaded with different goods are visible. “Some businessmen are involved in smuggling items into the country, to avoid paying taxes,” explains an exporter, who is also involved with the Pak-Afghan transit trade. According to him, items like cement, tea, spare parts for vehicles and other lightweight items, for which a manufacturer has to pay heavy taxes if supplied in local markets of Pakistan, make it into the country through this porous border, which is almost 2,600 kilometers long, usually on foot and sometimes using vehicles.
Since Afghanistan has very little and in some cases no import duty on items entering the country, it is profitable to re-route these goods back into Pakistan through other areas bordering the neighbouring country.
The governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan have tried to control these border areas, but have failed due to corruption. Also, since many residents of Khyber Agency do not recognise the border as legal, controlling it is challenging. There are further problems: according to one businessman from Peshawar, narcotics brought into Pakistan through this route is also very common. “It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. No one has been able
to stop drugs smuggling in the past, and no one will be able to, in the future,” he claimed.
Edited by Imran Yusuf
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2012.
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