Case of missing containers

                        pakistan supreme court
 By Mohammad Jamil

Last month, Federal Minister for Finance Muhammad Ishaq Dar informed the members of the lower house of the parliament that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was investigating the cases of 11,000 NATO/ISAF missing containers on the directives of Supreme Court of Pakistan. “They (NAB) are in the process of finalizing the investigations and has not yet communicated the number of persons found involved in the said scam. NAB has to submit their investigation report before Supreme Court of Pakistan. Information in this regard may be obtained from NAB authorities,” the minister said. The Supreme Court of Pakistan had ordered NAB authorities to investigate this issue. NAB is presently conducting investigation and has not yet firmed up its findings. Therefore, the exact number of containers and quantum of revenue loss thereof has not so far been determined. He said that the FTO’s report and the report submitted by FBR were placed before the Supreme Court of Pakistan detailing the investigation so far into the matter.

It has to be said that internal security problems and lawlessness in the country has not only created social disorder, anxiety, chaos and confusion among all segments of society but it has also led to serious lack of political will and professional competence to safeguard the national interests, especially when the country is passing through a crucial stage of its history. Serious lapses of security and smuggling when pointed out for their exhaustive investigation and conclusive probes are wasted in political point-scoring. Efforts are made to protect the criminals having political clout. The anti-Pakistan elements find the ambiance for their exploitation of some elements by making them unwitting agents of foreign agencies to facilitate smuggling of huge caches of illegal arms into Pakistan. It seems that 19000 missing containers in Karachi had the same fate, as the statements by MQM leaders were strong enough to remove the issue from media forefront and place the blame on the government departments. Such blame game should end and the culprits should be brought to book.

Although ISAF/NATO officials issued a statement that none of their containers were missing, yet the issue cannot be dismissed as 19000 missing containers (as pointed out by DG Rangers) have the potential to disrupt peace in Karachi and other parts of the country. Hence, the probe pertaining to missing containers must be completed at all costs, and probe regarding 19000 missing containers must continue to find out as to what material was transported in the containers smuggled into Pakistan. It should also be established that who was responsible for such large scale smuggling in Pakistan and what was his real intent. Foreign hands involved in sending unauthorized substance to Pakistan must be uncovered and their purpose exposed through media. Pakistan government must understand that the rule of law will be established only when matters of such nature are allowed to be probed thoroughly. Former minister for shipping and ports Babar Ghauri’s statement that clearance of cargo was given to private sector and that a minister cannot monitor the movement of containers is tantamount to shirking the responsibility.
According to a report in July 2010, more than 10000 containers destined for ISAF did not reach destination in Afghanistan but vanished in Pakistan till that date. This meant that the material including items of daily use, weapons and liquor were smuggled into Pakistan under the legal cover. The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had started investigation into this mega scam involving a company, which submitted fake documents including ‘cross border certificates’ to import containers in the garb of supplies being made to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and NATO forces operating in Afghanistan. In fact transit trade agreement with Afghanistan has caused loss to the local industry because many items of daily use are being imported by Afghanistan in collusion with Pakistani businessmen and customs authorities. In June 2010, the fact came to light that one of the companies permitted to transport consignments for ISAF failed to submit ‘cross border certification’ of certain containers designated for Afghanistan via Pakistan.

One would not know how many containers were redirected to Pakistan or never left Pakistan. But investigation was carried out regarding 42-43 containers of this company that crossed Pakistani borders for transit to Afghanistan. The company was involved in submission of fake documents to show that the containers were destined for ISAF/NATO forces in Afghanistan under the transit trade facility. The FBR had reportedly found that the ‘cross border certificates’ of 5-6 consignments were not submitted, which needed verification whether the containers have reached the destination in Afghanistan or not. The customs intelligence was trying to get verification of all 42-43 consignments of the said company to check whether the containers reached the ISAF forces in Afghanistan or not. Three customs officials out of nine accused including inspectors were arrested from Peshawar for their involvement in issuance of ‘cross border certificates’ of those containers, which did not cross the border.

Further investigations were under way to check the documentation of the same company which showed transit movement of containers to Afghanistan for NATO/ISAF forces. Some customs officials had taken the position that they were not authorized to open and inspect these containers, and therefore they would not know the contents of the containers. The argument that consignments including arms, ammunition and even liquor cannot be checked by the Pakistani customs is without substance because the problem is not of checking but not leaving the Pakistan borders, as illegal liquor and arms and ammunition must have been sold in Pakistani market. Secondly, arms cleared through false declaration or fake documents could pose a serious threat to our security. It is a question mark on our leadership’s wisdom that ISAF and the US government got away with either no or an agreement that suits their interests. The question is why Pakistan had signed agreements with the ISAF/NATO and the US regarding the transit facility having serious implications for our security and also having destroyed the social fabric of our society.

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