Chief Editor: Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

Customs officials sacrifices to curb smuggling

Dr. Abdul Qudoos Shaikh, Deputy Collector (DC), Anti-Smuggling, Model Customs Collectorate of Preventive, Quetta laid down his life early morning on Tuesday 9th July, after struggling for his life for six days. An outstanding enforcement sleuth of the Pakistan Customs Service who while enforcing the writ of the government in the difficult terrain of Baluchistan was ambushed and attacked on the night of 3rd July, 2019 after seizing a container load of smuggled high value goods near Kohlpur, Baluchistan.

As the staff was busy completing the legal formalities, Mr. Shaikh, on his way back his HQ office in Quetta was forcibly stopped near Gahi Khan Chowk by two vehicles of armed men, who rammed their jeeps into his official car. The assailants forcibly pulled him out of his vehicle and brutally assaulted him with SMG butts and then escaped, leaving him critically injured in a pool of blood. With the officer barely clinging on to his life, he was brought to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Quetta, and admitted to its Intensive Care Unit.

“Such is the cost that the Customs Department pays for, in the line of duty, however this often goes unrecognized”, stated a senior Customs Officials. Needless to mention that this was not the first attack on Customs officials engaged in Anti-smuggling operations as in the last 3 years, Ten officers / officials have lost their lives and dozens were injured. Besides the fatalities, there have been notable instances of staff being kidnapped, especially in Baluchistan and KPK provinces, to browbeat the Customs Department,into submission besides loss / damage to state infrastructure.

The issue of smuggling finds its genesis in Pakistan’s border terrain which spans a distance of 7,888 kms including 1,046 kms of coastline. Smuggling, through these western frontiers, has flourished due to high import tariffs and transit trade with Afghanistan. Contributing to this isNon-recruitment of human resource, low investment in infrastructure and logistics for the Customs though requests for beefing up support for Customs Border Management Initiatives by the Department remain pending.

Though the Customs department has shown outstanding results in 2018-19,successfully seizingsmuggled goods and currency valuing Rs.31.07 billionand collected revenues of Rs.1,748 billion. The cost-benefit analysis clearly makes a compelling case for greater recognition, appreciation and investment in the organization by way of additional human resources, logistic/infrastructure and technology initiatives.

In the absence of any new posts created and with the existing meager resources, Customs recently undertook extensive re-modeling in which the organization is to meet the future challenges of the enforcement domain. In January 2019, Preventive Collectorates have been established in Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore and Multan whereas the country’s two major airports have also been separated into independent Collectorates to focus on the issue of illegal

movement of currency. To enhance coordination efforts amongst the enforcement units and with other LEAs, two Chief Collectorates, one each at Lahore and Quetta, are being established. The HR requirements of the new formations have been met by redeployment of staff / infrastructure from other Collectorates by carrying-out systematic need-analysis vis-à-vis business workloads. Finally, to monitor the illegal currency movement and Anti-Money Laundering efforts, the office of Director, Cross-Border Currency Movement (CBCM) has also been established without any fresh recruitment.

In retrospect, smuggling is a major issue confronting the state and domestic industry in Pakistan. It not only erodes its revenue base, but also assists in growth the informal economy, promotes corruption, money laundering etc. Recognizing the challenge that smuggling poses to the socio-economic policies, a number of high-level meetings have been chaired by the Prime Minister to curb smuggling and related phenomena of hawala and hundi. Such high-level focus indicates that the political leadership appreciates the fact that illegal cross-border movement of goods creates problems for society like violation of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, quality standards, intellectual property rights, environmental protection, drug controls etc. At the time that this article goes to the press,  Dr Abdul Qudoos Shaikh sadly passed away in the early hours of Tuesday, 9th August, 2019. At a reference (Widely attended by Customs and Trade) held to condole his passing away, Dr. Jawwad Agha, Member Customs (Operations) extolled the deceased’s commitment to his duty and organization and called upon the officers and staff to emulate the enviable conduct and ultimate sacrifice of Dr Qudoos in the line of duty.