Smuggling of contraband equipment
An important case pertaining to thousands of containers of ISAF/Nato, which went missing from Karachi still reverberates on the national scene. According to reports, Customs has no record of these containers, which did not reach Afghanistan, causing a huge revenue loss to the national exchequer and economy to the tune Rs50 billion or even more.
In late August 2012, the honourable Supreme Court observed that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was not serious in the missing Nato containers case. According to media reports, these remarks were given by the two-member bench of the apex court, comprising Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain while hearing the third fortnightly progress report prepared by NAB on the Nato missing containers.
The court had directed the NAB to complete the probe into the case and submit the progress report before the court after every 15 days. However, the NAB authorities, seeking more time from the apex court, pleaded that in order to check the status of a total of 112,000 CBCs, which were issued manually, four more months were required.
At this, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain said that the NAB could be given more time but it should recover all the embezzled money with interest. He rightly observed that if Rs50 billion were spent on the country’s education sector, it would make every child of the country literate.
Exactly, one year later, in late August 2013, Federal Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar informed the National Assembly that the NAB was still investigating the mysterious cases of Nato/ISAF missing containers on the directives of Supreme Court. He said the NAB was in the process of finalising the investigations but had not yet communicated the number of persons found involved in the said scam. He added that the NAB was to submit its investigation report before the Supreme Court.
On the other hand, the finance minister revealed that the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) in its report had investigated the commercial transit trade and based his findings on the data retrieved from terminals on sole assumption that containers returning empty within eight days or less (7,922 containers identified) from border stations were allegedly missing. He said the exact number of containers and quantum of revenue loss thereof had not so far been determined.
The following month, former member of Customs Ramzan Bhatti submitted his report on smuggling of arms and ammunition as well as evasion of duty on different items at the Karachi Port and Port Qasim to the Karachi Registry of the Supreme Court after an order was passed on August 30 by the larger bench of the apex court.
According to media reports, the Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, tasked the Ramzan Bhatti commission to ascertain:
(a) As to whether arms or ammunition are brought or smuggled through the sea and what are the possible measures and ways to be adopted to stop it.
(b) Who can be held responsible for the smuggling of arms and ammunition in the country through ships, vessels as well as launches and what are the reasons for not preventing the smuggling of the same.
(c) As to whether the Customs officials posted at the Ports of Bin Qasim and Karachi manage to recover hundred percent customs duty and the revenue or there are certain mechanisms on the basis of which these duties are evaded, which cause loss to the public exchequer and ultimately such black money is used for illegal activities and promoting crimes in the country.
Shockwaves were created when the Director General of Sindh Rangers Maj-Gen Rizwan Akhtar made public that 19,000 containers had been stolen from the Karachi Port during the tenure of a certain minister.
So what should be the route to take the sensitive and important matter to its logical conclusion?
It is suggested that the probe into 19,000 missing containers case must continue to find out as to what material was stuffed in the containers and smuggled into Pakistan. In this regard, the anti-smuggling intelligence agencies must advance the probe and uncover those responsible and their real intentions. Also, foreign hands involved in sending unauthorised equipment/substances to Pakistan must be uncovered and the purpose exposed.
The political leadership must realize the rule of law will only be established if matters of such nature are allowed to be probed thoroughly. It is their responsibility to help uncover the truth.
The country’s security entails that the investigation into the matter must be completed and relevant conclusions drawn. Playing blame games and politicising the issue will not be in the interests of the country.