BALOCHISTAN: A HAVEN FOR CAR-SNATCHERS

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER, QUETTA
Oct 01 - 07, 2007

Balochistan has been notorious as a haven for car thieves involved in dumping the hijacked vehicles at different junkyards in various parts of the province. It is a hard fact that some of the gangs involved in snatching of vehicles in the country enjoyed the official patronage and support. This encouraged the criminals turning it into an organized crime. A number of vehicles stolen in Karachi and other major cities of Pakistan were several times recovered by the police in Balochistan. Ultimately, Balochistan government came into action and started the process of computerized registration of all the vehicles existing in the province to check mobile crimes like killing, shooting and kidnapping that were frequently committed using stolen vehicles.

Last December, Karachi Police arrested four suspects of an inter-provincial gang, who were allegedly involved in snatching, theft and transporting of vehicles to Balochistan and recovered five vehicles from their possession. The suspects were also charged with tampering engine and chassis numbers and changing appearance of vehicles. The gang had sold out a large number of vehicles in Turbat and in its vicinity after tampering their engine and chassis numbers. The vehicle-snatching has been a lucrative business in Karachi, as criminals with the collaboration of security officials smuggle the vehicles to Afghanistan via Hub-Balochistan route and get a good amount for it. Stolen vehicles are also sold in the local market where their different parts are sold separately.

There are several reports about presence of a junkyard for the stolen vehicles in Chaman, a city near Pak-Afghan border. The engines of new cars are purchased, changed or replaced at this junkyard at throwaway prices and many people have benefited from this option. This activity was in vogue some five years ago when people from all over the country used to visit Chaman to renew and valuate their four-wheelers. Islamabad's previous policy of supporting the Taliban regime in Kabul also encouraged the sale of reconditioned cars and vehicles to the local market, as the vehicles imported under Afghan Transit Trade (ATT) facility were resold to the Pakistan market, using the Chaman route.

The task of registering vehicles was assigned to the provincial department of Excise and Taxation. The department took the initiative for computerized registration of vehicles but several times it had to extend the period for computerized registration. The Excise officials especially the ETO's of motor vehicles wing were the main players and they should be held accountable for the unjustifiable procrastination. The delay in registration work did make no sense, as the province could not afford such dereliction and slow action on the part of this department.

The stolen vehicles in Balochistan have largely been a potential threat to the law and order situation, as most of the stolen vehicles are used by the terrorists for carrying out their criminal activities. Some officials of the provincial excise department were also found involved in preparing fake documents of the stolen vehicles for minting money. These corrupt practices on the part of the officials allowed mushroom growth of gangs of robbers in Balochistan. The fake documentation of lifted vehicles can not be carried out without the help and guidance of excise staff.

Amongst the provincial indirect taxes, which generate more revenue at present than the direct taxes, are the taxes on motor vehicles, both commercial and private, which are the highest revenue earners amongst the provincial taxes. The provincial excise department raised its revenue by regularizing the smuggled vehicles during the amnesty period granted a few years ago by the Central Board of Revenue. Some officials of the department have been involved in issuing the duplicate registration number-plates and documents. In other words, these corrupt officials of the provincial excise and taxation department helped the criminals to sell these vehicles at throwaway prices. The provincial government needs to take punitive action against the corrupt officials and regulate the computerized registration of vehicles in Balochistan.

Why has the province been serving as the most favorable market for stolen vehicles, which were brought to the province from time to time from major cities of the country? Firstly, the land of Balochistan is characterized by set of paradoxes in terms of its physical features- uplands, plains, mountains and coastal areas. Whereas humid coastal areas like Mekran lie here, the arid and hottest areas of Kachhi plain and Kharan desert are also the part of the province. A unique amalgamation of modern life-style in urban areas and traditional and tribal life-style in rural areas gives different colors and shades to the social life in Balochistan. Nomadism in relation to atmospheric conditions is a distinctive feature of life in rural Balochistan. The stolen vehicles are used as taxis in remote areas on kutcha roads or in hilly regions where registration of vehicles are seldom checked..

Secondly, Balochistan is a tribal and traditional society. The tribal chief or sardar enjoys authoritarian position in traditional Baloch society. The hierarchy of tribe and sub-tribe is reflected in various forms of oppression within the society at various levels.

The remote rural areas of the province still present the picture of medieval Age. Over 75 percent of the population is rural, with agriculture and livestock the mainstay of the province's economy. The people are living in higher level of deprivation and in lower level of development when compared with that of other three provinces of Pakistan. The criminals" gangs find the province a favorable place to promote their business of car snatching and face no problem in selling those vehicles due to the presence of huge showrooms in remote areas where such deals are made.

In fact the province's geography, demography, tribal system and its terrain lure the criminal minds to see it as haven for their business on the other hand the province's strategic location can make it a commercial and business hub in the region. Balochistan can emerge as a strategic manufacturing and assembling hub for the country's auto industry. The province is rich in natural resources. Its human resources need to be developed. The government can mobilize the private sector for setting up the manufacturing and assembling units in Balochistan.