It is no secret that Pakistan’s western border is an open sieve, allowing foreigners to bypass it and stay here illegally. At the same time, the border’s porous nature facilitates smuggling, undermining the economy. Amidst a recent crackdown on smuggling and illegal cross-border movement, interim Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti admitted that Pakistan’s security forces are involved in this crime too, adding all culprits would be prosecuted. Lending credence to his claims, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Asim Munir has vowed that the military will take all necessary steps to “rid Pakistan of the substantial losses it continues to suffer due to pilferage.”
According to officials, the ongoing crackdown has recovered “nearly $2.3 million,” and 168 police cases registered. This sum is a fraction of the estimated Rs. 60 billion Pakistan annually loses to smuggling of over 2.81 billion liters of oil from Iran to Pakistan, reportedly with the involvement of “90 government officials and 29 politicians.” This criminal activity has allegedly been supported by Pakistan State Oil (PSO) vehicles. Apart from essential commodities like fuel, luxuries are also smuggled, with traders avoiding import duties to make hefty profits at the cost of the economy.
It is evident that Pakistan cannot overcome this issue so long as state employees are involved in it, especially those in positions of law enforcement. Essential commodities, such as sugar and urea, are transported out of Pakistan illicitly, while products like petroleum are smuggled into the country across the Afghan and Iran borders, distributed inland using trucks and even passenger vehicles.
The incumbent government’s current crackdown is a step in the right direction, with Pakistan Customs claiming it has confiscated essential commodities valued at Rs. 2.25 billion since its launch. But it can only prove useful if it is sustained over the long-term. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s history is littered with “crackdowns” with limited impact because they are halted within months of their launch; if the country is to overcome its prevailing economic crisis, it can no longer afford to continue in this manner.