It is expected present government does not bow to the pressures
From Shamim Ahmed
Apr 10 - 16, 2000
Although the deadline (April 13) given to the traders in Bara Markets
and other deadline in smuggled goods to clear stocks of smuggled merchandise is to expire
within a week or so, it is business as usual at all major market and shopping centres
known for dealing in uninvoiced foreign products in the twin cities of Islamabad and
Rawalpindi. The report from other parts of the country are no different.
The government has announced to recover normal duties on all smuggled
goods after the expiry of the deadline on April 13. No one will be allowed to deal in
smuggled items without payment of duties. Owner of a big shop in the Blue Area, full to
capacity with foreign products, told this correspondent that neither any official
notification to the effect has been received nor any official contacted any body in the
market in this regard. "We have only read some such reports in the newspapers".
They are right in a sense. The only official word available so far on
the issue came from Interior Minister Lt. Gen Moinuddin Haider (Retired) during his visit
to the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) last month when he warned retailers
to clear their shops of smuggled products before the deadline expired because the
government was serious about solving this problem for good. He had told them that the
government was not going to retreat on this issue and everyone holding stocks of unsold
smuggled items would have to pay the customs duties for selling them after expiry of the
deadline. The same statement was repeated in Islamabad after a few days at press
conference in which the Interior Minister said that the present government had decided to
take on the smuggling mafia in the country which has caused colossal loss to the national
economy. According to the Interior Minister a hefty sum of over Rs. 100 billion was lost
in taxes and duties every year due to the smuggling of consumer goods.
According to the reports in the newspaper the traders of Bara Markets
in NWFP and FATA have formed an association titled as "United Traders
Association" and resolved to resist the government move. According to a report a
meeting of the association was held in Peshawar Friday March 31 to discuss the situation
arising out of an impending government's crackdown on smuggled foreign goods. The traders
rejected the government's policy of extending the tax and duty regime to the Bara Markets.
They termed the government policy as cruel and said that it would throw hundreds of
thousands of people out of their jobs and deprive them of their living. They urged the
government to take into account the peculiar situation in the tribal areas where there
were no industries.
Unveiling government plans to deal with the menace of smuggling and
evasion of customs and excise duty, Interior Minister said in Islamabad in January last
that the three-month deadline has been set for the payment of duty on the smuggled goods.
Briefing newsmen after a meeting of the high powered committee, he said that all smuggled
goods will be seized and sellers will be arrested on the expiry of the deadline. The
number of bonded warehouses, which have played a key role in smuggling along with Afghan
Transit Trade, will be drastically brought down to single digit from the existing 48.
It is certainly a welcome decision which is bound to have a positive
impact on the national economy. The national press has been consistently pleading with the
past governments for action to regulate the bara markets, in accordance with law and
rules. Smuggling has, over the decades, assumed an alarming proportion and turned out to
be a paralled economy, which is depriving the country of its rightful levies including
excise and customs duty worth over 100 billion rupees per year. Thousands of industrial
units have been rendered sick, due to the availability of smuggled goods in open markets
and sometime at cheaper rates. Because of successive governments wilful avoidance to curb
the menace despite tall claims, mushroom bara markets have sprung up almost in every major
city and town, stuffed with smuggled goods including cloth, crockery, electronic gadgets
etc. Ironically, a varity of the Indian goods is also on display in these bara markets. At
times, the smuggling mafia enjoyed official patronage, which made it so powerful and
brazen that the agencies assigned the task of checking the smuggling, were virtually
The Interior Minister has rightly identified the bonded warehouses and
Afghan Transit Trade, as the major sources of smuggling into Pakistan. The present number
of bonded warehouses is totally irrelevant to the requirements of the foreign missions in
the country. There is, therefore, an urgent need to regulate these smuggling dens.
Smuggling harms the national economy, any national economy, in many
ways. It undermines the local industry, discourages legal imports and reduces the volume
of revenues collected from duties and levies at the import stage and taxes collected at
the retail stage.
Shope's shelves across Pakistan are flooded with smuggled goods of any
and all descriptions. The markets of Pakistani town on the borders of Afghanistan as well
as those located in such far-off urban centres as Karachi, Lahore and federal capital
Islamabad are flooded with smuggled goods. Even the rural areas have not remained
untouched by the flow of varieties of daily-use smuggled goods. Smuggled goods are not
only easily available but are also appreciated by the bulk of buyers who prefer anything
which is foreign. The situation has become so bad that smuggled products such as many
premium varieties of cigarettes which are either locally produced or being legally
imported have to face a tough competition from their smuggled counterparts.
While the menace of smuggling has left hardly any sector untouched in
Pakistan there are certain items which are more smuggling prone than the others.
Electronics items such as television, VCR, VCP, household items such as blenders, mixers,
juicers, radio cassette players, air conditioners, refrigerators, irons; garments, cloth
and a wide range of toileteries, perfumes, cosmetics are some of the high smuggling prone
items. One can easily buy a range of known smuggled cigarettes, perfumes, electrical and
electronic items, and even shoe polish. In short, smuggling has become a routine part of
all economic activities in Pakistan which hardly raises any eye brows nor stirs the
slightest fear of the law. Different government in the past have been making tall claims
to eradicate smuggling mafia from the country. Some of them took half hearted measures but
soon succumbed to the powerful lobby of smuggler mafia, let us hope that the present
government does not bow to the pressures and the programme announced by the Interior
Minister for curbing the menace of smuggling is persued with full force and authority.