[Dawn 18 November 2019] ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to raise a set of highly technically equipped battalions of paramilitary forces and customs under a multi-billion-rupee multi-pronged Border Monitoring Initiative (BMI) to check cross-border smuggling, causing significant losses to the national economy.
A senior government official told Dawn that Prime Minister Imran Khan had already approved immediate recruitment of more than 2,000 officials, besides raising two additional battalions each of Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts and Pakistan Coast Guards. These inductions would be made through strict security clearance by the relevant security agencies.
Pakistan Customs has been given the lead role for an initial period of two years and would be fully equipped with modern technological gadgets, logistic support, weapons, etc. The prime minister has also ordered immediate creation of a directorate general of law and prosecutions to support customs activities.
The Shuhada package, under which the families of police and paramilitary personnel are given compensation, has also been extended to Pakistan Customs officers and officials who lose their lives in the line of duty.
Upgrade of border monitoring facilities is also part of the BMI. This would cost over Rs52 billion in Balochistan alone where the armed forces will continue to have a leading role. An Anti-Smuggling Steering Committee (ASSC) has also been constituted directly under the prime minister.
At a recent meeting of the ASSC, the prime minister also constituted a committee comprising his Adviser on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh, Adviser on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood and Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Shabbar Zaidi to finalise in a month a plan for tariff rationalisation of the smuggling-prone items. He directed the creation of a number of crossing-point task forces in three-six months at national, provincial and divisional levels with the involvement of senior representatives of the ministries of interior, commerce, narcotics control, maritime affairs, law and justice and defence and chief ministers and intelligence agencies.
Under the BMI’s logistics and equipment requirement, the ASSC also approved procurement of double-cabin vehicles, coasters, motorbikes, high-tech weapons, bulletproof jackets, sniffer dogs and other resources from this year and through special allocations in FY20-21 federal budget and directed the FBR to take a lead role in preparing the project and securing allocations in consultation with the ministries of interior and finance and cabinet division.
The prime minister has also taken a serious note of corrupt practices and absence of disciplinary actions and directed the ministries and agencies concerned to enforce strict disciplinary and administrative actions against all officers/officials dealing with anti-smuggling activities. “Actions should be initiated against supervisory officers if they fail to check or prevent their subordinates from engaging in corrupt practices,” the prime minister was quoted as ordering in writing. All agencies were also directed to immediately introduce performance-based rewards and incentives for the staff.
It has been decided to fully integrate anti-smuggling and trade data with a central data base in six-nine months and a confiscation portal should be created by Pakistan Customs so that full information is available with the top authorities for monitoring purposes.
The prime minister has also ordered gradual transition of process of movement of Afghan nationals from Tazkira to e-Rahdari and subsequent implementation of full visa regime. The entire transition has to be completed in 30 months. Also, the ministries of defence and commerce will revisit modalities of the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement.
The ministries and provinces concerned (particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan) have been directed to set in motion the action plan for economic development of border areas. Financial overlay with priority for different zones will be supported by the federal and provincial governments through the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) and annual development plans (ADPs), respectively. The army will be given lead role in Balochistan, while the KP government will take over major role gradually to fill the gap.
The total financial cost of selective actions under the plan for newly merged districts of KP is estimated at Rs2.25bn which will be adjusted within the Tribal Decade Strategy approved by the Centre and provinces in the last leg of the previous government at an estimated cost of about Rs1 trillion.
Similarly, the financial overlay of these initiatives under the BMI in Balochistan was estimated at about Rs53bn, but due to financial crunch spending will spread to three-five years depending on the threat level and progress on fencing of Balochistan borders. As a first priority, about Rs23bn will be spent on Zhob and Mand regions for improved border monitoring to curb smuggling.
Progress will follow in the Dalbandin region with Rs7bn, Taftan region with Rs10bn and the rest of Balochistan with Rs12bn in that priority order.
The ministries of defence and maritime affairs have been directed to conduct a comprehensive survey of coastal areas within six months. They have also been directed to move a separate case to the prime minister for the survey cost.
The prime minister has directed sequential control over smuggling of Iranian oil into the country with specific instructions that “concerned authorities must ensure that law enforcement agencies are not a party to smuggling”.