Smuggling thrives despite strict security claims

Flow of goods from across the border continues despite Pak-Afghan Transit Trade Agreement.

Hidayat Khan August 04, 2012


Consumer goods of all sorts are smuggled to Karkhano and Barra Markets. From there, they find their way to domestic markets and major cities of Punjab with the help of customs officials.

Karkhano and Barra markets are distinctive from other commercial areas in Peshawar in the sense that hardly any Pakistani laws and taxes apply here. Ironically, these markets are situated a few kilometres from the Model Customs Collectorate (MCC), the government agency primarily responsible for countering smuggling.

To tackle cross-border smuggling and tax evasion, in 2011, the government enforced the Pak-Afghan Transit Trade Agreement. However, smuggling continues in Peshawar’s Karkhano Market, which is a hub for the sale and purchase of smuggled goods.

People involved in this trade told The Express Tribune that goods are brought from across the border on camels and land in Landi Kotal.  Another route through which the goods enter the tribal areas is by crossing the Kabul River. Trucks and boats alike smuggle these items to either Jamrud or Landi Kotal tehsils of Khyber Agency, situated right next to Peshawar.

“There are warehouses in Landi Kotal that store smuggled goods which then proceed to Karkhano markets,” said Alam Shinwari, a resident of Landi Kotal.

These illegal products are loaded on wagons, buses and even motorcycles and taken to the markets of Peshawar via Jamrud Road, with the complicity of customs officials.

“We are not responsible for the smuggling going on inside the city,” responded the MCC reluctantly when inquired about the matter at hand.

“Custom officers earn more through bribery than they would have if they were in Europe. After being posted away from here, some officers pay hundreds of thousands of rupees to get posted back because they get used to these unlawful earnings,” said Salahuddin, a van driver who has been taking the smuggled goods from Karkhano into intercity markets for the last 16 years.

However, officials of a Mobile Customs Squad (MCS) positioned on Jamrud Road halt every second vehicle heading towards the city for check-up. “We are here to prevent the smuggling,” a member of the squad said.

The smugglers, however, consider MSC as partners in the whole affair.

He added that smugglers make arrangements with the customs officers before taking the goods on GT road so that drivers like them are not stopped for inspection.

Besides locals, people from Punjab also visit these markets and take these goods back to their province.

“Traders from Punjab come to these markets specially to buy the smuggled goods, like clothes, on wholesale rates since they are cheaper,” said Zakir Khan, a trader.

A big reason for this is that Pakistani goods are more expensive than foreign smuggled goods and with the help of the police and customs officials, bringing them to the market has become easier.

He added that drivers are unaware of what is smuggled. “Heroin is sometimes also hidden inside the clothes,” he informed.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2012.