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PM’s anti-smuggling directives

Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed the authorities of government departments that deal with the prevention of smuggling to seek assistance from intelligence agencies to effectively curb this menace. While presiding over a high level meeting, the Prime Minister said that smuggling of food commodities and other essential consumer goods create acute shortage, which leads to high price spiral in retail market and further compounds the miseries of people in the low and middle income groups. Smuggling of wheat flour, sugar, gur, fruits, vegetables and other eatables go on unabated to Afghanistan more than the market demand of this country. Afghan traders export Pakistan’s wheat flour, sugar and rice not only to Central Asian States but as far as Ukraine in the shape of countertrade. FIA inquiry report reveals that wheat quota acquired by inactive flour mills has been misused over the past few years. The newly inducted Food Minister of Punjab, Abdul Aleem Khan, while confirming the existence of “ghost” flour mills in the province, said these invisible entities become fully active only when government release the official wheat quota. The ghost flour mills are being identified. But authentic data regarding active and non-active flour mills cannot be collected on the basis of utility bills alone. It remains to be seen as to whether Punjab Food Department assessment, showing 270 inactive flour mills out of 984, is correct or just guess work. In Khyber Pukhtunkhwa over 90 percent flour mills remain in shut down condition. The wholesale and retail market is largely dependent on supply from Punjab. Same is the case with sugar and other food items of daily consumption. Majority of flour mills are not the members of Flour Mills Association as in Punjab 240 mills are active members of the association out of 750 active flour mills. Apart from creating shortages of food commodities, the scourge of smuggling is causing colossal damage to local industry and trade. As per conservative estimates, smuggling of 11 goods caused a loss of $2.63 billion to the economy in the FY 2016. The tribal districts of former FATA and settled Districts of PATA in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and border districts of Baluchistan still serve as conduit for smuggling of goods into and out of the country. In the merged tribal districts merely the designations of administration officials have been changed. Levy and Khasadar force has been labeled as police. Administrative reforms are yet to come, along with the establishment of properly trained and professionally competent police force. Role of the departments and agencies, mandated with anti-smuggling powers, is not well defined. After 18th Amendment, Provincial legislatures pass laws that enable excise department to grab the powers of federal departments such as Pakistan Custom and Anti-narcotics Force. It leads to turf war and stepping on territories.

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